I beg to differ. It is extremely hard to support so many browsers. Try testing your website on 8 versions of Firefox, 5 versions of Internet Explorer (Mac and PC), 3 versions of Opera and 5 versions of Safari. Ironically, this is what jquery insulates you from to a degree, but at the same time it tends to stifle new features.
We're talking about supporting IE8, not every version of every browser that's ever been made.
Where I work, we support browsers with over 2% of traffic, which means IE7,8,9, Chrome (latest), FF (latest and possibly 3.6 or something like that) and Safari (latest, IIRC, possibly latest + 1 older version.) The last 4 are largely the same, except for small bugs, and minor visual degradation is fine for the IEs. If your work requires you to support every browser, maybe you should start trying to build a case against that by making clear that requiring you to support every browser is a poor business decision.
I might have been a little unclear - I'm not currently developing (hope to soon). Of course it depends on your market - if your market is a whole bunch of corporations that have IE8, then use jquery 1.9.x... if 2% of your clients bring in a substantial amount of money and it's worth your while, then by all means develop for them.
But at some point, it becomes a zero-sum game. I believe this is what is happening with jquery: the amount of effort to support new features on older browsers (yes, that includes IE8) becomes less and less of an advantage. Hence their decision to compromise and support two versions of jquery, and have all or most of the new features implemented in the 2.0 version.