WASHINGTON - The longest US recession since World War Two is exposing gaping holes in the social safety net, putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk of falling through.
Some 6.7 million jobs have been lost since the downturn began in December 2007. This has left the unemployed are at the mercy of a confusing and complicated patchwork of aid programmes.
Many of the programmes, such as unemployment benefits, are less generous than those available in Europe or Japan, reflecting deeply rooted American beliefs about who is deserving of help and what role government ought to play.
â€œOur safety net was always skimpy at best and it has frayed very substantially over the last 30 to 40 years, for reasons both ideological and financial,â€ said Alex Keyssar, a Harvard University professor, who studies unemployment and poverty.
Providing a solid safety net is certainly costly, although that argument looks a bit thin when the US is committing trillions of dollars to ensure Wall Street has a soft landing. â€œWhereâ€™s MY bailout?â€ has become a common complaint heard across the country.
Yet there has been little activity inside or outside of Washington aimed at shoring up the safety net. Policy experts say the system urgently needs repair.
President Barack Obamaâ€™s effort to patch one of the biggest holes, ensuring health care even for those who lose their jobs, has met fierce opposition, suggesting the chances for broader aid reform are slim.
Government figures released on Friday showed that the unemployment rate dipped to 9.4% in July from 9.5 % in June, although many analysts attributed that to people giving up looking for work.
The ups and downs of the business cycle mean regular recessions, and with that, spikes in joblessness. But countries differ on how far a societyâ€™s responsibility runs to those who get caught in the downdraft.
In the US, the answer has long been limited public sector support, in terms of both the size and duration of unemployment relief, compared with Europe and Japan.
Job losses expose gaps in stingy US safety net