The number 72 represents the horrific state of the labor market in New Hampshire far better than the state's September unemployment rate, which coincidentally, is 7.2 percent.
There are five or six unemployed Americans for every job opening. It's not unusual for qualified job seekers to apply for hundreds of positions and not get a single interview. That's why 72 is now the maximum number of weeks that a jobless New Hampshire worker can collect unemployment benefits. That's almost triple the 26 weeks of unemployment compensation benefits that workers could normally collect. And soon, thanks to efforts by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, 72 will become 86 weeks. For a qualifying unemployed worker, that will mean more than a year and half of modest checks that peak at about $400 per week.
Nationally, fewer workers are being laid off, which is a sign that the depths of the recession have been plumbed. But companies have not yet begun hiring, and more and more unemployed workers have exhausted their benefits.
To provide relief, a House bill calls for extending benefits by an additional 13 weeks in states where the unemployment rate tops 8.5 percent. But a jobless worker in New Hampshire, which has a higher-than-average cost of living, is just as broke as a worker in a state with a higher unemployment rate. Recognizing that, Shaheen used her legislative acumen to garner support for a bill that will extend benefits by 14 weeks in every state and for an additional six weeks after that in states with an unemployment rate above 8.5 percent.
Rep. Paul Hodes and other House members support Shaheen's bill which is reportedly guaranteed to pass. That means an unemployed New Hampshire worker who tries and fails to find work will soon be able to collect for up to 21 months.
Kudos to Shaheen for her effort. For some households, the extended unemployment benefit will mean food on the table and a roof overhead.