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Local Unemployed Residents Call on Congress to Extend Benefits

Friday's news that unemployment in the U.S. has fallen to 8.6 percent is a mixed bag for some local unemployed Pittsburghers. On the one hand, the falling rate is going in the right direction, and last month some 120,000 new jobs were created. On the other hand, the unemployment rate may be lower because more than 300,000 people left the workforce, according to Co-Director of The Mon Valley Unemployed Committee, Antonio Lodico.

"We still have 89,000 people completely out of work and unemployed in this region; we still have about 14 million people out of work nationally. On top of that, the real number is about double when you count unemployed people, discouraged workers, and other people who aren't part of the full economy," he said.

The group, along with some Occupy Pittsburgh participants and others, marched from the Federal Building in downtown Pittsburgh to Senator Robert Casey's office. They delivered some 15,000 petitions from across the U.S. with more than 80,000 signatures, calling on the Senator to support an extension of unemployment benefits.

"We know that Senator Casey supports this. What we want him to do is, in this holiday season, be a champion for it and really step up and make this happen in these times of need," said Lodico.

Federal unemployment insurance program extensions are set to expire at the end of the year. If that happens, nearly 2 million unemployed people would have their benefits cut off in January alone.

"This is a crisis, and government needs to act on it. Until the job crisis is over, we're calling for a continuation of unemployment extensions," said Lodico. "The average person is unemployed for 41 weeks right now, and at the end of the year they're going to cut unemployment to 26 weeks, which means that most people will lose their unemployment well before they can find a new job."

Supporters of extending the benefit window say that keeping benefits flowing to those who need them helps spur economic growth. Generally, people who get unemployment checks spend that money right away on living necessities rather than saving it, so it's quickly funneled back through the economy.

The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act was recently introduced in the House and Senate, and would renew federal unemployment insurance programs through 2012.