70,000 Georgians stand to lose federal unemployment benefits on December 31st

If you’d asked me a few weeks ago, I would have said that the federal government would almost certainly extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless as part of a package extended the payroll tax cut. But now it looks like the payroll tax cut — one of the main reasons the U.S. economy did not go back into recession in 2011 — might not even be extended.

And an extension of federal unemployment benefits looks less likely by the day.

That 70,000 number in my headline comes from the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute:

In January 2012, nearly 70,000 Georgia workers, who lost their jobs due to no fault of their own, will be cut off from unemployment payments unless Congress passes legislation to renew the program before it expires on December 31st.

Unemployment payments help workers make ends meet while they search for another job. Nationally, the average unemployed worker has looked for work for about 40 weeks, but the Georgia unemployment payments max out at 26 weeks. And in the South, for 4 out of 5 unemployed workers, there simply are no jobs. Georgia needs to create at least half a million jobs to return to its pre-recession level but ranks dead last in job growth since the “recovery” started in June 2009.

Sure, if benefits expire, a relatively small number of that 70,000 will find work out of sheer desperation. But most probably won’t. Some will lose their homes and/or be forced to move in with family members, exacerbating the housing crisis. A small percentage might end up homeless. Lower retail spending will be a drag on jobs and on tax revenues.

As I noted recently, current projections say that Georgia won’t recover all the jobs it has lost since 2007 until 2020. Georgia is the only state in the country to have statistically significant job loss over the last year.

We face enough economic headwinds already; we don’t need to create more.