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AZ Labor Leader Decries Delay in Jobless Benefits Extension

October 20, 2009

PHOENIX - Arizona's top labor leader says there's no excuse for the U.S. Senate failing to pass another extension of unemployment benefits. The House voted overwhelmingly to extend benefits nearly a month ago, but the Senate has yet to follow up.

Arizona AFL-CIO executive director Rebekah Friend says checks are running out for 7,000 more jobless workers every day.

"These are just middle-class families who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. There's no place to go to get work. I have calls in here from people who have college degrees that can't find work. I had one from a woman who had a master's degree."

Senate Republicans object to renewing an employer surtax to pay for the benefits extension. They want an amendment to use unspent stimulus money instead. Friend says jobless benefits would be an appropriate use for stimulus funds.

"I think the unemployment checks are being spent on food and shoes and medicine. These monies are not being invested. These are being spent right away, so it goes right back into the economy, and usually the local economy."

Friend says Congress needs to know that the employment picture is not improving.

"Certainly the Dow looks better. There're indicators that the recession is on the wane, and we hear it on the news every day. But that has not translated into real jobs for real people."

The nation's official jobless rate is now 9.8 percent, but when underemployed and discouraged workers are added in, Friend says, the rate jumps to 17 percent, or 26 million workers out of work.

Without an extension, according to the labor leader, by year's end nearly two million unemployed will have exhausted benefits, including 23,000 in Arizona. The Senate bill would extend benefits another 14 weeks, plus an additional six weeks for states like Arizona with the highest jobless rates.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ