Members of the California School Employees Association listen to Rep. John Garamendi's speech on the economy. (Photo from Flickr user Randy Baynes.)

Congress extended federal unemployment benefits last February when the program was set to expire, but that extension came at a price.

The number of weeks for the unemployed can receive benefits was reduced and maximum aid qualification for states was made more difficult to attain. According to the New York Times, 70,000 more people will lose their unemployment benefits sooner than expected next month.

Joe Sangataldo is one of the 70,000 people losing his benefits. He lost his job as a federally funded job trainer after budget cuts. Sangataldo said he has been out of work for over a year and has been unable to find employment, even for what he referred to as low-level jobs.

While critics view unemployment benefits as a crutch that inhibits job searches, Christine Owens, the Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project, said unemployed people receiving benefits are more likely to look for jobs than those not receiving benefits, which is due in part to a job search requirement for some benefits.

"The reality is, as in Joe's case, people rely on their unemployment assistance and benefits in order to meet their basic needs and to look for jobs. It actually takes some income support in order to look for jobs," Owens said. "The survey data released last year by the Heldrich Center at Rutgers University in New Jersey actually found that people who were collecting unemployment benefits had undertaken more job search activities each week than who were not collecting benefits."

Owens noted that unemployment benefits are also beneficial to the economy because those receiving them need to spend the money they receive in order to meet the cost of living. Sangataldo said that while losing his check does make him more fearful of his future without employment, he has already lowered his standards for an acceptable job.

"I've been applying for cleaning bathrooms in casinos. I mean, I'm at the point where I'm very desperate, where I should be working as an employment counselor or a job trainer. I was hoping, in the first few months, to get another civil service job and go back into employment counseling, but it's just become a series of long applications and waiting lines, and nothing has come up. It's denied all the different positions I've applied for," Sangataldo said.

While it's unclear whether the economy in the United States is improving, Sangataldo said there has been more interest in his resume recently.

"There's been some uptick lately. I would say, within the last 60 days, it seems like things are getting a little better. I don't know if that's just because of summer activity or not, but I feel a little bit more encouraged. I really do," Sangataldo said. "There seems to be more activity. More people are interested in talking to me. I see hire signs. A lot of it is lower level, service-industry work, but there's more than what was before, which was absolutely nothing."

Owens said more should be done for the country's unemployed, including extending benefits and taking actions against what she called discrimination against the long-term unemployed. She said job applicants should be considered based on their qualifications — rather than a period of unemployment.

Unemployment and the economy have been major political points in recent years. Statistics show a sharp rise in unemployment numbers since the 2007 global financial crisis.

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