Millions of Americans may be dreading New Year's Day—because that's when their unemployment benefits are scheduled to expire, reports the Wall Street Journal. Some economists dread it too, saying the federally backed emergency payments help the economy and put food on the table for 2.1 million Americans. With unemployment at 7.9% nationwide, Congress could extend the payments as it has before—but Republicans oppose an extension in the battle over the "fiscal cliff."
Some economists also question the wisdom of an extension. Generous benefits may keep people looking for a job they won't find, they say, or limit their incentive to seek a new job. But for some Americans, the argument is academic—because certain states have already contracted unemployment benefits. Mary Livingston, 63, of Wayland, Mass., lost her benefits because the state's 6.6% unemployment rate didn't justify longer payouts. Yet she still can't find work. "I don't want more unemployment benefits," she says. "I want a job."