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WASHINGTON (WUSA) --We currently have 5 million Americans receiving unemployment checks.If we head over the Fiscal Cliff, 4 out of 10 of those Americans are going to have an even tougher time getting by.About 2.1 million will lose those benefits if federal programs expire as scheduled at year-end.

Back in 2008, Congress passed federally-backed, emergency unemployment programs. This was a temporary patch at the time so states didn't run out of money for jobless benefits at the peak of the Recession. At the peak of the jobs crisis, workers in many states were eligible for up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.

The WSJ reports that hundreds of thousands of people have already exhausted their jobless benefits this year. Now, essentially everyone left in the federal programs would lose their benefits at year-end.This is not only bad news for the families trying to get by while looking for new jobs. The Journal reports that some economists are worried that cutting off those benefits could harm consumer spending and, therefore, the economy.

The bottom line: benefits are expiring faster than unemployed workers are finding jobs. As of October, about half of job seekers were receiving unemployment benefits, down from about 70% in early 2010.

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