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Jobs Report Won't Juice Unemployment Benefits Debate

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WASHINGTON -- Gersley Kendricks figures Congress has given up on him.

Kendricks, 63, has been unemployed since early last year and without an income since Congress declined to renew long-term unemployment insurance at the end of December. He is one of the nearly 3 million people who have missed out on compensation since then.

Democratic efforts to revive the benefits have stalled. Friday's news that the economy added 217,000 jobs and the national unemployment rate held at 6.3 percent in May probably won't change the situation. Lawmakers have moved on.

"They're setting their sights on other things, like what happened with the guy from Afghanistan, and those are bigger issues right now," Kendricks said. "I don't know if and when they'll give attention to unemployment again."

The Senate passed a bill in April that would have given Kendricks and others checks for the benefits they'd missed, but the bill's sponsors have suggested it's been too long to keep trying to enact retroactive benefits. Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) simply ignored the Senate bill, and a House GOP leadership aide said press interest has dwindled to "perfunctory" levels.

Gersley has followed the news closely and is realistic about the political situation, but that doesn't mean he's given up hope for Congress to do something.

"You still can't wash away people like myself, people that's been unemployed for over a year. [You can't] forget about them now," he said. "That would be just really devastating."

Long-term unemployment insurance had been the only federal policy that specifically targeted people out of work six months or longer, who numbered 3.4 million in May. That's down nearly a million from the year before, but not because all of those people found jobs. A recent Brookings Institution study on the long-term jobless in the Great Recession found that between 2008 and 2012, about a third of America's long-term unemployed found work, a third continued looking for work and a third gave up the search altogether.

The analysis found that the long-term jobless were likelier to be older than 50, unmarried and African-American -- kind of like Kendricks.

Kendricks, who lives in Calumet City, Illinois, lost his job handling community relations for a Chicago nonprofit in January 2013. Before that, he said, he'd already taken a pay cut that dropped his salary from around $50,000 to $30,000. He's been drawing down savings since he lost his job. He doesn't want to retire, but he might need to take early Social Security benefits.

"I still have something to offer," he said. "I can go ahead and just get Social Security, but I'm not ready to do that. I'll do that if I have to do that."

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