End of $600 Unemployment Bonus Could Push Millions Past the Brink

For people depending on the checks, that uncertainty is frustrating.

“I have no idea why Congress would wait until a few days before the checks are going to run out,” said Jacob Perlman, a benefits recipient in Chicago. “This should have been done a month ago.”

Mr. Perlman, 26, earned $12 an hour as a housekeeper at a fitness club, making him one of the millions of Americans earning more on unemployment than they had on the job. But he is eager to return to work.

“The jobs simply are not there right now,” he said.

Mr. Perlman’s regular benefits from the state of Illinois total $159 a week, barely enough to cover his $500 share of the monthly rent, let alone food or other expenses. So he is already trying to save as much as possible.

Decisions like Mr. Perlman’s to curtail spending even before the benefits expire, multiplied across millions of households, are a sort of uncertainty tax on the broader economy, damping the stimulative effect of the payments.

“There are people who are on the precipice of financial disaster here,” said David Wilcox, a former Federal Reserve official who is an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “We may think that the odds are that Congress will come to a reasonable conclusion. But for a person who is on the precipice of financial disaster, it’s very low comfort to be told, ‘You know, I think there’s a 70 percent chance that this is going to work out fine.’”

The risk is particularly acute for Black and Latino workers, who have been disproportionately affected by job losses and are less likely to have savings or other assets to fall back on. A recent working paper from researchers at the University of Chicago and the JPMorgan Chase Institute found that Black and Latino households cut spending by far more than white households when their income drops.

“When 30 percent of your population has no wealth, this has real implications,” said William E. Spriggs, a Howard University professor and the chief economist for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “There isn’t a piggy bank. This is it. So when you cut their benefits, their drop in consumption is going to be huge.”