Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate are saying that they will push for an extension of unemployment benefits for those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, and the White House threw its support behind an extension on Friday.
Without Congressional action before the end of the year, 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers will lose the unemployment insurance they currently receive from the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. The typical cut off for benefits at the state level is 26 weeks, so the federal program extends them past that threshold, but it will disappear if isn’t reauthorized. The program has been reauthorized 11 times since it was first enacted in June 2008 to deal with skyrocketing unemployment during the recession.
House Democrats have indicated that during the budget conference that was begun as part of the deal to re-open the government in October, they will not just push for an end to sequestration, but also for investment in infrastructure and a reauthorization of the EUC program. “We’re going to be focused on stepping up our investment in infrastructure, on replacing the job killing sequester, and on extending unemployment,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “If we don’t address that issue, more than a million Americans who are still looking for work will have no means of supporting their families.” Senior Senate Democratic aides also told The Nation’s George Zornick they would push for an extension during the negotiations.
In backing this push, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “These benefits are crucial for maintaining incomes of the unemployed and their families, and it has been shown to reduce poverty and increase the chances of returning the unemployed worker to a good job.”
There are 4.1 million people who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more, only 8,000 lower than a year ago, and the figure has stayed above 4 million for more than four years. They account for about 37 percent of all unemployed workers, a higher level than at any time during the recession. Benefits not only help people who are out of work get by, they also encourage them to find another job, as recipients actually work harder to get reemployed than those who aren’t in the program.
Even so, benefits are not cushy, as the United States has one of the stingiest programs in the developed world. Checks have also been lopped off by sequestration, cut by 15 percent or more depending on the state. North Carolina has been dropped from the program altogether.
Long-term unemployment doesn’t just mean a lack of income for an unbearably long time, it also can be a barrier in and of itself to getting another job. Being out of work for six months has such an impact on how a worker is viewed by a potential employer that applicants will get called for an interview less often than those who have a job but lack the right experience. Being out of work for nine months is the equivalent to losing four years of experience from a worker’s resume. Yet the long-term unemployed look a lot like other jobless workers — the most defining characteristic is that they have struggled to find a job in such a slack market.