What the end of jobless benefits means to one unemployed worker

Congress continues to debate over the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits. Here's how one unemployed person is already being affected.

Kai Ryssdal: Mostly lost in the politics of the Washington fight over the payroll tax cut are the real world economics of unemployment benefits. They're both in the same bill, so if there's no deal on taxes, there's no continuation of federal emergency unemployment benefits.

Stephanie Elsenpeter lives in New Hope, Minn. She's been out of work for a year and four months; she got laid off from a company that does flood and fire cleanups. On unemployment ever since.

She got a letter in the mail yesterday.

Stephanie Elsenpeter: Um yeah, I got a letter in the mail from the state of Minnesota saying that my -- what is it -- emergency-extended unemployment benefits were to be running out the week of Jan. 8, and that was for federal and state.

Ryssdal: What happens now? What are you going to do?

Elsenpeter: So basically, when this thing runs out here, I have to sit here and figure out how I'm going to go and find a job. I've been applying for the last year and four months, trying to find work, OK? I've been cleaning for about 10 years -- house, commercial, whatever -- and I'm right now trying to hopefully build up on some clients to see if I can get on my own to just house-clean. But, that being said, how long is that going to take me to do that? How long is it going to take money to start rolling back in, you know?

Ryssdal: How much were you making when you were on unemployment?

Elsenpeter: $304 a week.

Ryssdal: $304 a week -- $1,212 a month.

Elsenpeter: And before I was laid off, I was making about $600 a week. I got basically cut in half on my income on top of that.

Ryssdal: How do you get by on $1,200 a month?

Elsenpeter: I'm living with my dad right now in a two-bedroom apartment, and he took me and my kids in and you know, there's nothing more we can do right now, you know?

Ryssdal: I guess I'm wondering if you feel like you've been forgotten.

Elsenpeter: I think we've all been kind of forgotten by Congress. They need to really come up with a new plan on how to deal with this government, because right now, things are not working like they should be. It just seems like everybody's got their thumbs up their butts and they don't know a direction to go with this stuff. It's just not helping, nothing's happening; any of these jobs bills that have been put into effect by Obama, stuff like that. I mean, it hasn't really helped. Shoot, it's like every five people around me, seriously -- four of them are unemployed. And this is at the end of the last year. What are these people supposed to do? What am I supposed to do? What are they going to do after this thing runs out?

Ryssdal: Stephanie Elsenpeter lives in New Hope, Minn. It's not far from the Twin Cities. She got a letter yesterday saying unemployment runs out in January. She came to us through our Public Insight Network.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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