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Columbia's jobless prepare for end of extended benefits

Friday, December 3, 2010 | 2:55 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — For Columbia resident Jeremy Johnson, this holiday season doesn't hold great promise.

“We don’t have a holiday this year,” he said.  

Johnson, who is unemployed, is one of 2 million Americans set to lose extended unemployment benefits by January unless Congress reverses course and restores them.

Missouri's unemployment rate hovers around 9.3 percent, just below the national average of 9.8 percent.

For Johnson, a 32-year-old former cook and graphic artist, the end of extended benefits means that securing a job becomes even more vital — but not any easier. 

“I’ve been looking for a job for a solid two months,” he said, flipping through an open folder stuffed with printed copies of his resume. He had just come from a job fair at the Boone County Family Support Division in Columbia. 

“If you’ve got a job, hold on to it,” Johnson advised. 

The job market is heavily stacked against job seekers, said Robin Acree, director of Grass Roots Organizing in Mexico, Mo. There are about five job seekers for each open job in Missouri, which is near the national median, she said.

Although Missouri's unemployment rate is below the national average, Acree does not think the rate accurately reflects the actual level of unemployment in and around Columbia.

“This doesn’t count all the people that lost jobs with the plants that closed around here that have deepened the level of recession,” she said.

Columbia resident Karla Wentzel, 33, is also anticipating a harsher winter than usual.

Wentzel, a greenhouse worker at Wilson’s Garden Center in Columbia, will be unemployed in two weeks after the company’s seasonal layoffs.

“Last winter, I had some cushioning” in the form of savings that have since dwindled," she said. “This winter, I don’t have that. People are in survival mode.”

Wentzel, who plans to resume working at Wilson’s Garden Center in the spring, hopes to find a retail job to tide her over. She would like the job to be close to her home and preferably downtown, she said, because her car isn't running well.

Wentzel was flummoxed when she heard about Congress’ decision.

“Someone said we need to focus on more important things,” she said. “I would say there’s a lot of people out there who think surviving is important.”

Acree also criticized Congress.  

“During the holiday season, charitableness and compassion used to be a quality you saw from your elected,” Acree said. “This is just a blatant act of disrespect to families that are suffering.”


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Comments

John Schultz December 5, 2010 | 11:13 a.m.

I would ask Ms. Acree the same question I asked of David Rosman. How long should unemployment benefits last? Three years? Five years? Lifetime? And how should Congress pay for it?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 5, 2010 | 11:54 a.m.

"We have long since discovered that nothing lasts longer than a temporary government program. - Former President Ronald Reagan (1992)

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