The size of Janet Zipper's weekly lifeline: $579.
But at the end of December, Congress took no action to renew emergency jobless benefits. The unemployment checks stopped coming, and Zipper started letting friends and family pay for her trips to the supermarket.
"At first, I felt embarrassed. And then I thought, well you know I need help," she says.
Zipper is 49 and lives in suburban New Jersey. She isn't a victim of downsizing. But the bank where she used to work as a systems administrator switched its computer operating system. Out of a job, Zipper learned the OS she knows so well is becoming obsolete.
"Those skills that I had before that were very popular, paid well, are no longer in such demand," says Zipper.
Since the New Year, Zipper has applied for food stamps, and gotten a foreclosure notice.
Olga Calhoun is also fighting to stay in her home, a rental in Queens. She's been without work since last spring.
When I caught her on the phone, Calhoun had just applied in person for a job as a bank teller.
"I gave them the resume. They said they'd call if they have an opening," Calhoun says.
But she's not hopeful. Calhoun is 64, and thinks companies don't want to hire older workers. To make ends meet, she reluctantly started drawing social security early.
Calhoun also kept busy, emailing the members of Congress. She can't understand why anyone would block extended jobless benefits.
Don't they have the same problem in their state," Calhoun says, "What about the people in their state that voted them in?"
So far, there's not much momentum in Congress.
Things are looking a little better for Janet Zipper. After signing up for classes in another operating system, she found out she was eligible for a state program that supports workers who are learning new job skills.
Now she's getting a weekly check - the equivalent of her old unemployment benefit - for six more months.
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