The number of long-term unemployed workers who would be getting benefits if the program hadn’t been allowed to lapse hit 3 million on Monday, according to the House Ways and Means Committee.
The numbers keep climbing, as this counter made by the committee shows:
In December, the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program that gave benefits to those who had been out of work for 26 weeks or more lapsed after Congress failed to pass an extension. That immediately dropped 1.3 million people from the program. Since then, the numbers have continued to tick up while Republicans have filibustered proposals to retroactively extend the benefits. There are 3.4 million people who have been out of work for that extended period of time, making up more than a third of all unemployed workers.
The more than 3 million people who aren’t getting benefit checks have few options. In 2012, the Government Accountability Office found that those who stop receiving benefits have a poverty rate 5 percent higher than the rest of the population, while more than 40 percent lived on the brink of poverty. To get by, about 90 percent had to rely on a family member’s income, money from retirement, savings, or collecting rent. A third turned to other government programs.
Meanwhile, they face long odds in getting back to work. The chances of getting a new job for someone who has experienced long-term unemployment are less than half of those for those with shorter spells. Just 22 percent of people who were long-term unemployed in 2008 found steady, full-time work five years later. Fourteen percent were still out of work and looking for a job, while 35 percent had stopped looking, either because they gave up for they did something else like going back to school or retiring. Many may get penalized just for being out of work so long: being unemployed for nine months or longer is the same as losing four years of experience in the eyes of a prospective employer, and the qualified long-term unemployed get fewer calls back on their applications than the unqualified employed.
Some felt that it was the benefits themselves to blame for this problem and that taking them away would push people to find a job. But that hasn’t panned out. A look at one state, Illinois, found that of the 74,000 people no longer getting checks after the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program lapsed, four out of five were still unemployed two months later. In North Carolina, which cut off benefits before the federal program lapsed, the unemployment rate has dropped, but likely because people are dropping out of the labor force, not necessarily finding jobs. The state is seeing the largest labor force contraction ever.