Will The Lame Duck Congress Extend Unemployment Benefits?

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the economy added 151,000 jobs last month — and that private sector payrolls grew by 159,000 — but that the unemployment rate held steady at 9.6 percent. Nearly 15 million Americans are unemployed, and 41.8 percent of them have been unemployed for six months or more.

With job growth still sluggish and such a high percentage of unemployed persons in the ranks of the long-term unemployed, extending unemployment benefits is a necessary step. President Obama yesterday reiterated his support for such a move, saying “I think it makes sense for us to extend unemployment insurance because there are still a lot of folks out there hurting.”

This will have to be a job for the lame duck Congress, as benefits are set to expire at the end of the month. If no extension is approved, two million workers will lose their benefits in December (just in time for the holidays!), according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP). “The current expiration date will cause a cascade of unemployed workers to fall off the unemployment rolls, prematurely cutting benefits for some and making any form of an extension completely unavailable for others,” NELP noted.

Plus, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted, there are still far more unemployed workers than there are job openings:

Finding a job remains extremely difficult: about 15 million people are competing for about 3 million job openings. That means that even if every job opening were instantly filled with an unemployed worker, four out of five unemployed workers would still be looking for a job. This situation is far worse than in the recovery from the 2001 recession.

And let’s get one thing clear: an extension doesn’t mean that those who have completely exhausted the maximum 99 weeks of benefits will get any more. It merely assures that those already in the UI program don’t get cut off midstream.

Last time around, Republicans in Congress made a huge stink over extending benefits, and approving the extension took 51 days. But in a lame duck session, that kind of time is simply unavailable. So will Republicans concede that an extension is the right thing to do, or will two million workers see their benefits disappear at the end of the month?