BUSINESS
04/03/2014 01:04 pm ET | Updated Apr 03, 2014

Here's One Way We Know How Much Unemployment Insurance Means To People

WASHINGTON -- People really, really want to know what Congress is doing about unemployment insurance.

Right now, the interest in a variety of terms related to unemployment and Congress is escalating on Google, the most widely used Internet search engine. At HuffPost Politics, we've seen a huge increase in the demand for news on "unemployment extension" -- that phrase has remained one of our top incoming search terms since December.

On Dec. 28, Congress let federal unemployment insurance expire, abruptly stopping benefits for 1.3 million Americans who had been out of work six months or longer. Each week since then, another 70,000 jobless have reached the end of their state benefits and would have become eligible for federal benefits had those programs not lapsed. The total missing out has now reached 2.2 million.

The chart below shows how Google searches for "unemployment extension," "unemployment extension 2014" and "2014 unemployment extension" skyrocketed after Congress let federal unemployment insurance expire:

Interest begins to build in the second week of December and suddenly spikes after Jan. 1, just as unemployment insurance expired and the holidays were winding down. Each month since then shows a new peak in traffic as those in need of unemployment benefits keep searching for information on what Congress is doing.

All that time, members of Congress have talked about bringing the benefits back, giving hope to some of the people who've been cut off. But you can't get the story on this particular topic just from watching the news.

"I watch the news every day, and they're not saying anything about it," said Amy Rojas, a 52-year-old mother of three in Queens, N.Y., who has been unemployed since losing her administrative assistant job in July. "You have to go to the Google, put it in, 'What's going on with the extensions?'"

When Rojas searched on Google, she found a HuffPost item that asked readers to send in their own stories. She said she hoped writing in might yield some additional information, but the HuffPost reporter who interviewed her on Thursday couldn't tell her anything that she hadn't already learned from all her searching.

The Senate is expected to pass a bill reauthorizing the benefits soon, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) hasn't given any signal that he's willing to bring the legislation to the House floor for a vote. Democrats hope that once the Senate bill actually clears, Boehner will change his mind.

One reason that people without jobs are such busy Googlers is that being an unemployment insurance claimant chains you to your computer. By definition, to be eligible for benefits you have to be looking for work, and today's job search is almost entirely online. Knock on doors, and businesses will tell you to go home and file an application through a website.

Rojas said that since her benefits ended in December, she has sold her furniture, lost her car and been evicted from her apartment. She and her kids are couch surfing with friends. She's had some interviews but no luck.

"They say, 'You're so overqualified, I have to talk to someone else and call you back.' They don't call you back," Rojas said.

If Congress reauthorized the benefits, Rojas and others would be eligible for lump-sum checks covering all the payments they've missed since December. Rojas hopes that happens because she's not sure how else she's going to find another apartment with no income.

"I'm hoping it can turn around," Rojas said, "because we're not talking about two or three people out there; we're talking about millions of people out there."

The story has been updated to reflect a delay in the Senate's final vote on passage of its unemployment extension bill.

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