IT'S BAD ENOUGH for Pennsylvania's unemployed that the state's needle on joblessness has barely budged for two years.

But now they're fighting to keep from being thrown off a cliff - the so-called "fiscal cliff."

Unless Washington gets its act together before the end of the year, an estimated 115,000 jobless workers in the Keystone State will immediately stop getting unemployment checks after Dec. 31, threatening their ability to pay their bills and feed their families. That's the number that will be cut off if extended unemployment benefits - Pennsylvanians are now eligible for 63 weeks, up from the normal 26 weeks - are killed by legislative inaction.

Nationwide, an estimated 2.1 million people could lose benefits, which could help snuff out the slow economic recovery. On Tuesday, about 75 Philadelphians rode buses to the U.S. Capitol to join several thousand of their unemployed comrades from around the country to lobby members of Congress and rally support.

John Dodds, who heads the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, which brought the workers to the rally, argued that the benefits should be extended because so many of the unemployed have been unable to find work for months. "Even a year after the recovery started, there are still way more people out of work than in the history of the country since the Great Depression," he said.

The unemployed aren't the only folks who will take a hit if Congress fails to reach a deal before the New Year:

  • All workers will see their weekly payroll tax rise to prerecession levels - in essence, a 2 percent pay cut.
  • Generally, taxes will rise for all Americans - partly because lower rates for most taxpayers (the so-called "Bush tax cuts" of 2001 and 2003) would expire and partly because an expansion of tax credits for low-income families raising children or paying college tuition are due to expire. The average middle-income family will pay $2,000 more, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
  • In addition, the "fiscal cliff" would raise taxes on investments and on the estate tax paid after the death of wealthy individuals.