The unemployment rate inched downwards to 9.1 percent today, with private sector jobs increasing by 154,000. While a slight improvement, these better-than-expected figures provide little comfort to the 14 million Americans who are unemployed. 44.4 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for six months or more.
For these Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, the federal unemployment benefits program provides much needed financial support. Every dollar the federal government spends in federal unemployment generates two dollars of economic growth. These benefits, however, are set to expire at the end of the year.
In response to today’s jobs report, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) declared that “unemployment is far too high” and that Congress “must push pro-growth policies to get back on track.” Noting Cantor’s apparent concern as “spot on,”, CNBC host Jim Kramer told Cantor that obviously, “you’re for extending unemployment benefits given the chaotic situation.” Cantor’s response? Nope, because “for too long in Washington now we’ve been worried about pumping up the stimulus moneys and pumping up unemployment benefits”:
Cantor declared that “the most important thing we can do for somebody who’s unemployed is to see if we can get them a job” and declared that the only way unemployment benefits could be extended is if “we find commensurate cuts somewhere else”:
CANTOR: Jim, the most important thing we can do for somebody who’s unemployed is to see if we can get them a job. I mean, that’s what needs to be the focus. For too long in Washington now we’ve been worried about pumping up the stimulus moneys and pumping up unemployment benefits and to a certain extent you have states for which you can get unemployment for almost two years and I think those people on unemployment benefits would rather have a job. So that’s where our focus needs to be.
KRAMER: I just want to be very, very clear, on a day when we have a good unemployment number, that’s terrific, but not a great one and you confirmed not a great one, you are not in favor and will go against the president’s wishes to extend those unemployment benefits?
CANTOR: What I have said all along, Jim, is if we’re going to spend money in Washington, we better start to make choices and we’ve got to set priorities. If we’re going to spend money, we better cut it somewhere else.
A brief survey of Cantor’s priorities quickly reveals why his callous lack of concern for the unemployed is not surprising. He has always intimated that extending jobless benefits, or even preventing layoffs, are not his priorities. Even though unemployment benefits actually spur economic growth, Cantor prefers to focus on preserving tax cuts for the wealthy — something he even admitted actually would “dig the hole deeper” on the deficit.
In considering whether to fund programs like unemployment benefits that spur the economy and buoy struggling families, Cantor adopted an all-too-familiar Republican attitude: “I would say that sort of, we’ve been there, done that.” “So if nothing else,” he said, “let’s at least try something else.”