Losing his financial analyst job at an electronics company in May 2009 brought instant lifestyle changes for Jay Bachstein: He switched to a cheaper cable-TV package, rarely eats out and skips vacations as he searches for work even far from home in western New York.
A month ago, the 45-year-old divorced father of two had to turn to his parents for help when his unemployment benefits stopped.
"I'm getting some assistance from my parents because there's no money right now," he said. "I don't think I'm alone in that situation but it's not a good feeling."
More than 1.3 million laid-off workers — 117,000 in New York — have been left without federal jobless benefits after Congress adjourned without an extension. That number could grow to 3.3 million by the end of July if lawmakers can't resolve the impasse when they return from a weeklong break for Independence Day.
Senate Republicans expressed worries about the ballooning federal deficit when, for the third time in three weeks, they blocked a bill this week that would have kept unemployment checks going to people who have been laid off for long stretches.
The bill would extend unemployment payments for up to a total of 99 weeks, for people whose state-paid benefits have run out. The benefits would be available through the end of November, at a cost of $33.9 billion. The payments, averaging more than $300 a week, would have been borrowed, adding to the deficit.
Losing that safety net is a calamity for those like Bachstein, who are stretched to the financial breaking point without savings to fall back on.
"I know a lot of guys like Jay, and it is traumatic for them," said John Adams, who launched a job-networking group in 2003 in this city of 208,000 on Lake Ontario's southern shore. "I don't know how you can expect somebody to go for two or three years in their earnings prime without income or with substantially reduced income."
Bachstein said his biggest concern is the looming prospect of having to sell his house in suburban Rochester, move to a far-off place for a job and leave his sons, ages 11 and 16, behind.
"You do have that fear in the back of your mind of 'Jeez, maybe only seeing my children for a week or two in the summer, if that,'" he said. "My ex-wife does live here also, and they would stay up here, I'm sure. But you have to start putting everything on the table."
Bachstein thinks it's shortsighted to cut benefits when most of those people will eventually be back in the workplace helping the economy get rolling again.
"I'm sure there are some people who are trying to take advantage of the system, but most people are just really trying to survive," he said. "They're just trying to put food on the table and put gas in the tank to look for a job.
"You hear the whispers of, 'Well, you're just being lazy and now you don't want to get a job,'" he added, veiling his anger with a laugh. "If I had the choice between making what I was making before in previous positions and unemployment, I'd certainly take those other pay scales."
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