State's first wave of unemployed running out of benefits
Thousands of Americans in the first large wave of recessionary layoffs in 2008 are now exhausting their 79 weeks of unemployment benefits without having found work. In Washington, those benefits just ran out for some 6,000 people, with the number expected to reach 19,000 by December. Congress is considering a bill to extend the benefits by 13 weeks.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Only four months ago, Casi LaLonde stood before her graduating class at The Evergreen State College, blazing with hope.
Chosen class speaker, LaLonde told them about losing her job at a pulp mill three years ago. But with graduation upon them, "it's time to recognize the new face of success," she said of herself and the beaming faces before her.
She now chuckles ruefully at that optimistic speech.
The 38-year-old Aberdeen resident, single mother to an 11-year-old daughter, figures she's applied for about 100 jobs since losing hers.
"At this point, I'm desperate," she said. "I'm applying for everything."
LaLonde, like others at the now-shuttered Weyerhaeuser mill in Cosmopolis, was eligible for federal Trade Act benefits. In addition, she ultimately qualified for 79 weeks of unemployment benefits.
Now she's among the first large wave of workers across the state — about 6,000 — and nationwide who last month reached the end of their unemployment-insurance benefits. Many were laid off in spring 2008, in the early days of the recession, which hit the construction, manufacturing and retail industries particularly hard.
By December, an estimated 1.3 million Americans will have exhausted their benefits, including some 19,000 Washington residents.
Most states offer at least 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, and the federal government extended that by up to 53 weeks in some states, including Washington. A bill sponsored by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, which would add 13 more weeks in Washington and other states with high unemployment, easily passed the House of Representatives last week but has bogged down in the Senate.
For LaLonde, such an extension would be welcome news.
She had worked at the pulp mill for 12 years when it shut down.
"I just kind of panicked and said: 'I'll go back to school,'" LaLonde said. "There wasn't a lot of jobs in the area anyway." She filed for unemployment and found out she was also eligible for benefits through the state's dislocated-worker program and the federal Trade Act — federal funds used to help those in jobs where markets are diminished because of foreign competition.
All told, she received $446 a week and her tuition was paid for. Her ex-husband — who got laid off about eight months ago — also pitches in now and then.
That's not bad, and she knows it. "There were some people who had the rug pulled out from underneath them."
Still, it was a big adjustment, going from an $80,000-a-year job at the mill. She and her daughter moved from a house to a small two-bedroom apartment. She struggled to pay for new clothes for her daughter, who grew three inches over the summer. She's depleted her savings and has just gone on welfare.
At first, LaLonde looked for jobs related to her field of study: social services. Now she's applying for everything: secretary, bartender.
"Every job that comes open, 200 people apply for," she said. "I have to get over this 'I have a degree; I can't make motel beds,' " she said. "I have to pay the bills."
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