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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You people have no clue except one who knows for sure and I will say having unemployment is not a form of income but the sad part is none of you know me so do you really know my hardship..I think not and as far as looking for a job WTF do you think I've been doing since day one of being laid off!? I'm not a stupid person nor am I one who likes to sit back and let the cards fall as they may. Yes I report earnings and NO I am not doing anything illegal or a person with a criminal back ground my name is listed and you can check for yourself. So please don't assume you really know my situation and YES I know there are jobs in the 55428 zip code that I match with BUT are you gonna pay the daycare or the rent or bills or buy our groceries not to mention that is just a few expenses for my children that doesn't include gas other bills RENT DAYCARE AUTOMOTIVE REPAIRS THAT I HAVE HAD THROUGHOUT BEING UNEMPLOYED!!! Is Unemployment helping with that? I think NOT and I don't agree that the government is without fault. The whole system as 1 is guilty by having their heads up there wazoos and example Minnesota Vikings Stadium...Really? Is it more important then making sure our children are educated fed and well taken care of? Well if your a Minnesota Vinking maybe you got it like that but I am not and my children DO NOT BARE THE FRUITS OF THEIR LABOR... Is this stadium going to help get me a job? They say it will create jobs but is that helping unemployed people now? NO! Again all I have done is job search, resume editing, emailing of cover letter after cover lettter for jobs I have experience in and nothing even after professional help to reassure myself I have not gone about the job hunt headed backwards and I have NOT gone the wrong way just in a fight for the well being of my family and I am not alone in this fight not by a long shot and until something real is done about it I have chosen to give up my right to vote. "OUR GOVERNMENT" does NOT get my attention this presidential election year.... SO GOOD LUCK TO ALL THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIVES THIS UNITED STATES CITIZEN HAS LOST HER FAITH AND AFTER THE COMMENTS I JUST READ I HAVE FOUND A REASON WHY EXCEPT ONE OF THEM THAT ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE...AND MEN OR WOMEN OR BOTH IT SHOULD NOT MATTER BUT HEY ASK THE MAN WHO STARTED FACEBOOK "WHERE ARE THE WOMEN AT" YOU'D BE SUPRISED TO FIND THERE ARE NONE ON THE BOARD SO YOU TELL ME? IS THIS A ONE TIME DEAL OR ONGOING ORDEAL. HAVE A NICE DAY!! I WILL STILL SMILE, KEEP FOCUSED AND CONTINUE TO LOOK FOR A JOB THAT WORKS FOR ME AS HARD AS I WILL WORK FOR IT AND IF YOU KNEW ME YOU'D KNOW THIS IS ALL I DO PROFESSIONAL OR OTHERWISE.....AND I WILL NOT GIVE IN I AM THE 99% AND THOSE IN DENIAL OF THIS COUNTRIES PROBLEMS ARE CONSIDERED THE 1% IN THE BOOK OF THE 99....

Kaj, why do you support socialism? why do you want to take from me, my disability income is $754 a month, to give to increase the long term unemployment benefit of someone who is capable of working? steal from the lower income to give to the higher income. that's nice, Kaj, real nice.

Oh, boo hoo. Unemployment benefits for nearly a year and a half?? Whenever the economy would take a nosedive with a Bush in office and whatever company anyone was working for would tank, you'd get 26 weeks AND THAT WAS IT. After that, you started looking for a cardboard box to live in. And Stephanie's benefit was about the average take-home pay at the time! Unemployment paid a little over a hundred a week, and $8.00 an hour was a great job! My kid grew up largely without benefits - thankfully, we managed to stay healthy - but it was always a worry.

On the one hand, I feel for her and her family. It does suck out there. But I DO see signs in stores and restaurants looking to hire. Don't want to flip burgers for the same money you get from unemployment? Too bad. I'm UNDER employed and 'make too much' to qualify for any kind of assistance...but had to go nearly a year without gas - no heat and no hot water. I still have to buy day old bread and overripe produce to be able to afford to eat, and it's not getting any cheaper to get to my job.

One day I hope to be able to afford to get my 6 bad teeth fixed. But until then, I just scrape by.

What freakin' percent am I???

I heard the interview as well as read the transcript. Where I live, $8 an hour is considered the new norm as is a job with NO benefits because nowadays, companies are making do with part-time help, not full-time. AND THAT IS THEIR CHOICE!

What really made me angry about the interview is that Stephanie has been working, cleaning houses she said, yet she has been collecting unemployment while doing so. This could be ILLEGAL!!! Was she telling the State of MINNESOTA that she had been paid to do cleaning? Or was it done on a "cash only" basis so she would not have to claim it and have her unemployment benefits cut accordingly ... because that is what she is supposed to do if she is making money on the side! Receiving unemployment benefits is not a supplement to the income that one earns, just because that income may not be up to what the previous job paid. Was she paying her income tax? Or was she being a tax cheat which is also one of the reasons for the huge deficit of our nation's budget? So here it is in print that single mother and family glue or not, this woman may have committed several FELONIES, all the time whining that it is the fault of WASHINGTON, DC's! Sorry. No sympathy here. The younger generation appears to have been raised with a sense of entitlement and now that they are realizing that REAL LIFE does not work like that, they want to cry about it and have everyone feel sorry for them.

The interviewer would have done well to have asked her these questions:

How much did you make cleaning houses?
Did you file federal/state income tax returns on the income you earned doing it?
Did you notify your unemployment case worker that you had made the money?
Was that income deducted from you unemployment payments?

Now, that would have really been a good interview! I know that BBC newspeople would have probably done it that way. They do not allow people to get off the hook so easily as your correspondent did.


Minnesota unemployment is now 5.9%. States lose extended benefits when they fall below 6.5%. So Stephanie can be mad at congress all she wants, but will still not be eligible even if they file an extension. Someone on marketplace should have done some fact checking before interviewing this poor woman. I feel for her, but she is not affected by the conflict in Washington, while I am sure you could have found many that are.

Kai, I never, never complain - but I do listen religiously and the story of Stephanie losing her unemployment prompts a reply. 2 things: She said she has to figure out what she is going to do NOW that benefits will end. Kai, that's what the last year and 4 months were for! WTF! Secondly, I'm afraid you unwittingly contributed to this "something for nothing" mindset when you asked, "how much do you make on unemployment" -- truth is, you don't MAKE anything. There is no contribution here - nothing productive. You TAKE on unemployment. It is crucial to our society that we remember this basic concept. Keep up the otherwise excellent work!

DDAY, did you get the impression like I did that her unemployment payments were supplementing the money that she was making cleaning houses? I agree with you wholeheartedly that she needed to be figuring out what to do for the last 16 months..... I have friends in Minnesota who were laid off for one reason or another and they have been treating their unemployment period like a paid holiday while complaining that it is so little. Where I live now, people are so used to having a high unemployment rate that everyone lives simply. There are plenty of ways to cut spending. Most people dislike making those changes, though, and will wait until the last minute and then cry, "Foul!" when there has been none made.

I did a brief search of jobs in the 55428 zip code for New Hope, Minnesota. In the area of housekeeping, janitorial, maintenance and warehouse associate there were 326 job openings; with a total of 28,321 job openings across all business segments. My guess would be that many of those jobs would pay more than the $1212/month that Ms. Elsenpeter currently receives in benefits. Maybe we don't need a jobs bill; we might be better served if we find a way to get unemployed people connected with the businesses who have openings.

@Sojoh I happen to know Stephanie, and you are way off base here. Stephanie is one the the most dedicated and driven people I know. She is a single mother of two young children and is the glue which keeps her household together. For the 2 years I have known her she has done nothing but work her ass off and provide for her family. When she lost her job, she picked herself up and proceeded to fill out apps, hand out resumes, knock on doors and rang thousands of phones. All in hopes to find a job that DOES NOT exist. I understand that today, for every one job opening, there are four (4) applicants competing for it. I don't know where you come from but that sure as hell is not a sound economy or means of governing a country by any means of the term.

Also, sir, she is not an Obama basher... she is upset that our country has found itself in this fubar'd state. It has been progressing to today for the past 50 years. Every President and congress person should be held responsible, "republicrats" all of them. Obama just happens to be the stooge in the figurehead office of President. Stephanie is experiencing the pain this government has provided for us first hand and has seen many of her close friends having to deal with the same! Now she will have to work two jobs, 39 hours a week for $8/hr and NO benefits because she isn't "full-time"! Who the hell will care for her kids? There are hundreds of thousands of Americans in this very same bullshit situation. THIS IS NOT RIGHT!

The two party system is failed and corrupt, writing and interpreting law based on which conglomerate has the deepest pockets, certainly not in the best interest of the people. No need to mention the sickening abuse of power of today's law enforcement. The tax code of our country is a joke, a blind man could see how crooked it has become. The constitution has been picked apart and modified to the point of oblivion. It is all but ignored and the people want it restored... we have had enough!

If you are fortunate to find yourself to be "ok" and happy... with no one in your life hurting, without a home or job... trying to figure out how the hell they are going to keep their kids fed and the heat on... well then sir I suggest you stay in your castle and allow those who feel there is another way to push for revolution to demand our government, our country back! This sure as hell isn't working for hundreds of millions of us!

Again, with all due respect. I am angry. I am astounded at the numbers of blind, ignorant, sheeple willing to keep looking the other way! The occupy movement will not stop! The beginning is here!

"The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything." Albert Einstein

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Lil King -- you are right in your rant about our govt - and it shouldn't even be labeled a rant, more a voice of reason from the people. And it is sad, sad, sad that your voice will carry no weight with elected officials. The rules have long been changed to protect and serve the plutocracy. If you are young, and I suspect you are, keep yelling. Only your generation can save this country.


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