Missouri's 7.4 percent jobless rate is the lowest it's been in more than three years - but that's bad news for about 9,000 of the state's 112,000 people receiving unemployment benefits.
State lawmakers last year outlasted a determined filibuster by Republican Senator Jim Lembke to approve an additional 20 weeks in benefits - funded entirely by the federal government - for Missouri residents who had been out of work for 79 weeks, or more than a year and a half.
But the state Department of Labor announced today that "Missouri no longer meets one of the criteria to remain in the EB program. Specifically, its current three-month average total unemployment is less than 110 percent of any comparable unemployment rate in the last three years." The cutoff took effect Saturday, and applies to everyone receiving the extended benefits, no matter how long they had left on their claim.
Howard Wall, the director of Lindenwood University's Institute for the Study of Economics and the Environment, says the loss of the benefits may have an economic upside, as some of the long-term unemployed take jobs they may have turned down while receiving benefits.
"But you balance that with the welfare concerns," he said. "You want to help people out. And the majority of them probably aren't getting offered jobs to take."
And Wall says the lower unemployment rate doesn't mean the economy is getting stronger.
"It's not people getting jobs," he said. "The unemployment rate went down last month, but the number of people employed hardly rose. In fact, it fell slightly."
Paradoxically, Wall says, a number of the unemployed who stopped looking for work were probably those getting the long-term assistance.