WASHINGTON – The number of jobless Marylanders expected to exhaust their unemployment insurance benefits in the first six months of this year is up 59 percent over the same period last year, according to a report released last week.
The study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities predicts that 21,000 Maryland workers run through their benefits by July, compared to 13,198 who used up their unemployment in the first six months of 2001.
Experts said that while Maryland’s economy is still strong, with an overall unemployment rate of 4.1 percent in December, the center’s report is an indicator that the economy is slowing down.
“This report is consistent with what we are seeing in Maryland,” said Anirban Basu, senior economist at RESI, the consulting arm of Towson University.
“Even though Maryland’s economy is doing well compared to the national economy, it’s not nearly as strong as it was two or three years ago,” Basu said.
A spokesman for the Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation said the agency does not estimate the number of people who might use up their unemployment benefits, and he could not comment on the center’s projections.
“There will be no talking of that until the time comes,” said spokesman Marco Merrick.
The center released its report as Congress continues to consider legislation that would grant jobless workers another 13 weeks of benefits. Jobless workers can currently draw up to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance.
The center said that an unusually large number of people began drawing unemployment last fall, after the Sept. 11 attacks, and that many of them will likely be exhausting those benefits this spring. Nationwide, 2 million unemployed workers will exhaust their benefits in the first half of 2002, a pace of about 80,000 a week, the report said.
“But because the federal government has not provided additional weeks in this recession, the vast majority of those exhausting their regular benefits will receive no unemployment benefits to replace their lost wages unless Congress and the president take action,” the report said.
It said Oregon and Washington already provide additional weeks of benefits to those who use up their regular benefits and Wisconsin will begin providing additional weeks of benefits on March 3.
California has the largest number of workers who are expected to use up their regular benefits this spring, at 303,000.
Basu said these are tough times for many workers, given the stagnant labor market since 2000 nationally and since 2001 in Maryland. While the economy has been rebounding from the tragic events of Sept. 11, he said, “there are more difficult times ahead.”