ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
American economic numbers have been stronger lately. Consumer spending rose in November, according to the Commerce Department today. Last week, there were strong growth numbers and unemployment in November sank to a five-year low, seven percent. For many Americans that is not reassuring. We'll hear in this segment about those who are still not working and those making minimum wage.
One point three million Americans will get their last unemployment checks at the end of this week. The latest budget agreement in Congress did not extend benefits for the long-term unemployed.
From Chicago, NPR's David Schaper reports on some families who are preparing to lose that safety net.
MIKE FRANKLIN: My main theory is try to remain calm at all times - do not panic.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: These are the words Mike Franklin tries to live by during some pretty difficult times.
FRANKLIN: It doesn't do a lot of good to panic.
SCHAPER: Franklin worked for 40 years in manufacturing, mostly as a plant or operations manager in small to mid sized factories, making everything from brake cables and stereo speakers to pinball machines and yes, kitchen sinks. He's been out of work for over a year now but inside his Lake Zurich, Illinois home, Franklin still maintains a daily routine.
(SOUNDBITE OF A KEYBOARD)
FRANKLIN: Putting' in the password and I'm in. What I'm doing is I'm signing on to the Illinois Department of Employment Security's, IDE's website, and it's the job hunter's website.
SCHAPER: Franklin is so diligent about his job hunt, he's recognized patterns about when certain job boards are updated and when certain companies advertise new jobs. He estimates he sends out about seven to 10 resumes a week. He makes calls daily but to no avail.
FRANKLIN: The difference here is age.
SCHAPER: Mike Franklin is 59. So with few nibbles in his field of manufacturing, it's time for Plan B.
FRANKLIN: With benefits going away, Plan B is finding something that you have to do yourself.
SCHAPER: In 2008, Congress and President Bush extended the length of time laid off workers, such as Franklin, could receive unemployment benefits to up to 99 weeks. As the economy has improved, the extended benefits have been shortened.
But this month, Congress ended the extensions so unemployment benefits will now only be available for up to 26 weeks. And Franklin is one of the 1.3 million Americans getting their final unemployment check December 28th.
FRANKLIN: Well, this is our new budget.
SCHAPER: Franklin says he and his wife have been going over their sparse spending to see where else they can cut and save. She works full time but unemployment helped cover groceries, utility bills, and gas to get to and from job interviews. Losing those benefits...
FRANKLIN: It's going to hurt. It's going to hurt. It's going to hurt. I've stopped everything. I've bought as much food as we can put in the freezers. Obviously we don't eat out, we don't go to movies. It's going to hurt. Will we survive? Oh, yeah. We'll come out OK.
KAREN NORINGTON-REAVES: Long-term unemployment is a tremendous problem.
SCHAPER: Karin Norington-Reaves heads up the Chicago-Cook Workforce Partnership, a non-profit offering job training and placement services. She says cutting off benefits after 26 weeks doesn't make sense when the average length of time people remain unemployed nationally is 37 weeks.
NORINGTON-REAVES: So it means a lot when you can have an extended period of receiving the unemployment benefits, because it gives you a buffer as you are trying to search for jobs.
SCHAPER: A buffer that can help the unemployed pay for necessities, such as groceries, medication and the rent.
ANDREW JONES: It's going to make a pretty immediate impact.
SCHAPER: Andrew Jones is a video and film producer and multi-media specialist who was laid off from a small college over a year ago. The 36-year old is married with four kids, and almost lost his house to foreclosure this fall. Friends hosted a fundraiser to help the family catch up on payments. But now Jones worries that without unemployment income, he'll fall behind on his mortgage again.
JONES: January we might make it, February definitely not. And beyond that, no.
SCHAPER: Jones' wife Sarah is now working part-time. And he says with her paycheck and unemployment, things were looking up.
JONES: And then I get that letter - oh, no - it's going to end the 28th.
SCHAPER: So he and his family are back to barely scraping by, month to month. Andrew Jones says the last thing he wants is another hand out. But he says he could not have made it out of work for this long without the generosity of others and weekly unemployment checks.
JONES: Having that money there has really made it like possible for us to, you know, to continue on.
SCHAPER: Jones remains optimistic he and his young family will continue on in 2014, even without unemployment income. He says his prayer for the New Year is to be working as soon as possible.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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