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Long-Term US Unemployed Face Difficult Year

Five years after the financial crisis, many indicators suggest a recovery is finally taking hold in the world’s largest economy.  U.S. gross domestic product is growing at its fastest pace in two years, and unemployment has fallen to pre-crisis levels.  Despite the prognostications, 2014 may prove to be a difficult year for some unemployed Americans.

We met Kathy Biscotti on New Year’s day.

"I’m 51 years old, born, bred, raised in Baltimore. My father was a plumber, my mother was a nurse. I’ve worked my whole life for everything I’ve ever had," said Biscotti.

Kathy lost her job as an office assistant six months ago. She received her last unemployment check on December 31.

"I received on Tuesday $332 and now I have to decide what to do. If I give it to my landlord, then I have no money at all," she said.

Biscotti is one of 1.3 million Americans grappling with the same dilemma. Congress allowed their extended unemployment benefits to lapse on December 28 - because conservative lawmakers said extending benefits beyond the standard 26 weeks makes people less likely to look for work.
 
Among them:  Republican Senator Rand Paul - who spoke on Fox News.

“If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers," said Paul.
 
But advocates for the unemployed say that’s not true.  Christine Owens, executive director at the National Employment Law Project, says the majority of the four million Americans who receive benefits want to work.

“These are not folks who are just sort of sitting around on their couch watching TV and eating Christmas candies," she said. "These are people who have made a full time job out of trying to find another job."

For Biscotti - that's 10 to 20 job applications per week.

“I applied for a job yesterday.  There were 865 applications went in for that one job," she said.

Without benefits, Biscotti fears she could soon be homeless, unable to afford food or even bus fare for job interviews.  

Her New Year's resolution is to find work.

"I hope that things turn around in 2014 and I find a job," she said. "But I’m pretty much hopeless, in despair, discouraged, ashamed."

Lawmakers have extended long term benefits 11 times, something President Obama insists Congress needs to do when lawmakers return from holiday recess.

“I think we're a better country than that," he said. "We don't abandon each other when times are tough."

A bipartisan group is expected to introduce a three month extension when Congress resumes work. But proponents say it could be a tough sell.

Support for extended benefits has waned as the economy has improved. But despite recent job gains, the number of Americans unemployed 27 weeks or longer remains at a record high - representing about 40 percent of all unemployed Americans.

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