One of the key components of the payroll tax compromise legislation is extending long-term unemployment insurance.

Republicans sought to shrink the maximum length of benefits from almost two years to 73 weeks.

"This legislation will also guarantee that millions of hard-working Americans looking for a job in this tough economy will not have the safety net ripped out from under them," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters.

This would be the 10th extension or expansion of unemployment since 2008.

Yet with some 7.5 million Americans collecting benefits, and what appears to be an improving economy, how long is too long?

"It's really a philosophical question of how strong is your safety net and how long and where is the point at which you influence lack of search versus for a search for a job," said Senator Tom Coburn of, R.OK 

There is research suggesting that extending the duration of benefits increases the length of time workers remain unemployed -- reducing the need to make tough choices such as moving or changing industries.

"It's interesting in the last couple of weeks as I've talked to people, every one of them has told me somebody that's on unemployment that's not about to go, cause they're doing just fine on unemployment, and if they didn't have it they'd be out, have a job," Coburn told reporters.

A new study from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says some reasons for high unemployment are employers not being able to find workers with the right skills or in the right location, or those out of work losing the skills they had.