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Thousands of Mass. residents to lose jobless benefits

Darlene Boylan of Waltham has lost her job twice in the last three years.

Dina Rudick/Globe staff

Darlene Boylan of Waltham has lost her job twice in the last three years.

Nearly 60,000 Massachusetts residents will lose unemployment benefits Saturday when the federal extension program expires, according to state labor officials, even as joblessness remains historically high and long-term unemployment hovers near record levels.

Across the country, more than 1.3 million jobless workers will be cut off from benefits because Congress adjourned without reauthorizing the extensions as part of the recent bipartisan budget deal. Democratic leaders say they will press to restore the emergency program when lawmakers return to Washington next month, but it remains unclear whether the Republican-controlled House will support another round of extensions.

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If not, an additional 3.6 million people, including 141,000 in Massachusetts, would lose benefits next year, according to the Labor Department.

“It’s unconscionable,” said John J. Drew, chief executive of Action for Boston Community Development. “They’re getting hammered for something they didn’t do. They’re victims of the economy.”

According to Congressional Budget Office estimates, extending the jobless benefits would cost nearly $26 billion over two years — a cost some Republicans balk at.

The economy and labor market have gained momentum in recent months, but unemployment in the US and Massachusetts remains at about 7 percent. The job market, many economists stress, is even weaker than suggested by the official unemployment rate, which counts only people actively seeking work.

Add people who have given up job searches and those who can find only part-time employment, and the rate jumps to more than 13 percent, according to the Labor Department. Meanwhile, nearly 40 percent of the unemployed Americans and Massachusetts residents have been out of work for more than six months.

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“We have never seen in our lifetime anything like this,” said Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies.

Darlene Boylan of Waltham was laid off from a market research firm last year — her second layoff in three years — and since then has managed to get by with part-time jobs supplemented by unemployment benefits (Massachusetts allows residents to collect reduced benefits if they can get only part-time work.)

Now Boylan, 45, will lose $150 a week in unemployment benefits just as her part-time job as office administrator at a local college comes to an end. With her savings nearly wiped out, she is struggling to meet mortgage payments and save her home from foreclosure.

“I don’t sleep well,” Boylan said. “Finding a job is on the top of my mind every day. From a survival standpoint, I’m open to taking whatever I can and hoping for the best.”

The federal unemployment benefits, which have helped support consumer spending, have been eliminated just as the plodding economic recovery appears poised to accelerate. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, a forecasting firm in West Chester, Pa., said the benefit cuts will suck some $25 billion from the US economy over the next year, slowing job growth the economy desperately needs.

In Massachusetts, the loss of the benefits could further buffet an economy that has seen unemployment rise more than a half-point since spring, to 7.1 percent last month.

Daniel Hodge, director of economic and public policy research at the University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Institute, estimated that the total economic impact to the state could be a loss of $750 million to $900 million over the year, largely due to reduced consumer spending.

“It will be a drag on the economy,” Hodge said. “Anytime you are not extending this program, which has provided a fairly substantial amount of income benefit to the long-term unemployed, it means less income and spending in the economy and more hardship for those families.”

Congress first approved emergency benefits at the beginning of the recession in 2008, eventually allowing jobless workers to collect benefits in some states for more than two years, depending on local unemployment rates. During the worst of the recession, Massachusetts residents could collect up to 99 weeks, or just under two years. That was later cut to 73 weeks as the economy improved.

Prior to the recession, Massachusetts provided unemployment benefits to jobless workers for up to 30 weeks.

The job market remains tough, particularly for older workers and those with less education and skills. The unemployment rate for high school dropouts is double that of those with at least a bachelor’s degree, according to the Labor Department. Americans over 45 account for 40 percent of those workers unemployed for more than a year.

In March, Lori Cairns, 55, of Worcester lost her job as a case manager at the Henry Lee Willis Center, a nonprofit social service agency, when its funding was eliminated and the center closed. A college graduate, she has sent out 10 resumes a week, even applying for jobs that do not require a degree. She said she feels lucky if she gets one call back a month. “It’s terrifying to need to look for a job,” Cairns said. “There are a lot of part-time and minimum wage jobs. There’s no other options.”

The Massachusetts economy has created nearly 47,000 jobs over the past year, a job growth rate of about 1.5 percent, but that is not fast enough to absorb laid-off workers trying to find employment and new workers entering the labor market, said Robert Forrant, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

Yasmani Santiago, a 32-year-old father of three from Dorchester, had only about four weeks left to collect if Congress had extended the emergency benefits, but it would have helped support his family while he completes a training program to become a plumber. Laid off from a food services company about a year ago, Santiago said he sought a variety of jobs, including at hospitals and social service agencies, only to encounter disappointment when interviewers told him his high school diploma and skills would not qualify him for the positions.

Now, he worries how he will make the rent and buy groceries without the $320-a-week unemployment check.

“I can’t keep my head above water [now],” Santiago said. “I’m going week to week.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated how the loss of unemployment benefits would impact the state. The total economic impact to the state could be a loss of $750 million to $900 million over the year, largely due to reduced consumer spending.

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