A new study has dashed some of the hopes that unemployment benefits are shoring up the economy at a time of heavy and spreading job losses.
Fewer than half of jobless workers in the US receive weekly unemployment compensation, according to a just--released Labor Department statistical study.
The study was seized on quickly by AFL-CIO to back its appeal to Congress for more help for the unemployed. The labor federation is asking for:
* An additional 13 weeks of unemployment compensation for the jobless.
* A tighter immigration program with safeguards for the jobs of US workers. Such a program would reject the ''guest worker'' policy sought by the Reagan administration and include greater efforts to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.
* Maintenance of family assistance and social services for those who have lost jobs. The administration has sought cutbacks in such programs.
The Labor Department study shows that of 10.3 million workers who were officially listed as unemployed in March, only 4.95 million received jobless benefits during a survey week that ended March 20. The 4.95 million figure was a million more than during the comparable week in 1981.
Weekly benefit payments varied from state to state under the federal-state program, averaging $111.06 nationwide, with the lowest payment in Hawaii and the highest in Alaska. Most state programs are geared to pay workers about 50 percent of regular earnings.
According to the government report, the 5.3 million who were not receiving benefits were largely those with little or no employment background and therefore not eligible for compensation in many states, or those who had exhausted their unemployment compensation rights.
In the week of March 20 alone, 32,500 who were unemployed exhausted their benefits. In most instances, jobless pay is limited by states to no more than 26 weeks plus a 13-week federal supplement.
The government study was based on reports from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and California, all states hit hard by job cutbacks.
ALF-CIO has been warning members of Congress that ''near-depression unemployment may be exacting an even greater toll in human tragedies than that indicated by startling official reports,'' most recently of 9 percent unemployment.
According to the federation, layoffs, production cutbacks, and plant closings have left ''hundreds of thousands in desperate straits, cut off from unemployment compensation, food stamps, and other buffers against extended joblessness.''
United Auto Workers president Douglas Fraser, who was unemployed for 11 months in 1938, says thousands of his members are undergoing similar ''searing'' experiences now after exhausting jobless benefits. United Steelworkers leader Lloyd McBride also is warning of the ''terrible consequences'' of the loss of benefits.
AFL-CIO is backing a House bill that would add another 13 weeks of jobless benefits for those who have used up their state and federal supplemental benefits.