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Unemployment benefits Read this shirt A titanic struggle to decide whether the jobless should get money for longer Jul 22nd 2010 | WASHINGTON, DC THE news is not yet official, but America’s recession probably ended in June last year. Americans could be forgiven for failing to notice. Nearly 15m remain out of work, close to the peak that followed the recession. This summer, Congress has been busy rubbing salt in their wounds. Some 2.5m unemployed lost access to their benefits when the Senate failed to extend the government’s programme of emergency unemployment assistance in early June. This week the swearing-in of a successor to Robert Byrd, the veteran senator who died last month, delivered to Democrats the extra vote they needed to break a Republican filibuster, and the extension passed at last. But the episode is a glaring reminder of the crisis in America’s labour markets. Congress had never before failed to extend benefits when unemployment remained above 7.2%, and this week’s action marked the seventh extension in this recession. But passage has become steadily more difficult. In February Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, held up an extension vote before giving ground under pressure from colleagues fearful of bad press. This time, Republicans were nearly united in their opposition. Only the defection of two liberal-minded colleagues, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, allowed the measure to move forward. But the delaying tactics were not entirely unsuccessful. The $34 billion extension bill was all that remained of a hoped-for mini-stimulus package, which included aid to states and business tax credits totalling $120 billion.
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