When Klobuchar’s hearing on long-term unemployment began at 10:30 Wednesday morning, she was the only member in attendance. She was later joined by three other members, though not a single one of the committee’s 10 Republican members managed to attend, as National Journal’s Niraj Chokshi reports:
The Joint Economic Commitee is one of a handful of committees whose members come from both parties and both houses of Congress. Klobuchar was eventually joined by three colleagues (in order of their appearance): Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings. All four are Democrats.
As Chokshi noted, it’s not uncommon for lawmakers to be absent at the beginning of hearings, and there were 25 others going on simultaneously at the time. But perhaps the poor attendance at a hearing dealing with unemployment shouldn’t be a surprise, given the general lack of focus from members of Congress on unemployment since the end of the recession. Instead, Congress has focused on debt and deficits, cutting spending even when evidence shows that the opposite needs to be done to grow the economy and create jobs.
There are currently 4.7 million American workers who have been unemployed for at least six months, and the challenges they face are immense. Not only do they long-term unemployed face discriminatory hiring policies that make it nearly impossible for them to find work, they are also losing federal unemployment insurance thanks to state-level cuts and sequestration, which slashed 10 percent from federal benefits.
Unfortunately, even if they had attended, it’s unlikely members of Congress would have gotten the complete picture of unemployment they needed. All four of the panelists invited to speak were white men, the least likely to be affected by the long-term unemployment crisis. A report that accompanied the hearing, in fact, noted that even as long-term unemployment rates have fallen for blacks and Latinos, “progress has been slower than for other racial and ethnic groups.”