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Unemployed Workers Need Compassion from Congress
I recently read an unsettling New York Times article that sheds light on just how many people are still struggling in this poor economy. According to a study cited by the Times, of all the people who lost their jobs after the financial crisis, only 7 percent have managed to return to their previous financial position. This is no surprise to the millions of families who continue to struggle, but for many on Capitol Hill this data should serve as a sobering call to action on behalf of those struggling families. Winter is coming, and unemployed families in need of shelter and heat could be left out in the cold.
While economists say that we’re out of the recession, most Americans clearly aren’t experiencing a recovery. The unemployment numbers released last week were positive, but also show that we’re not creating enough jobs to return us to full employment before 2027. For every four unemployed workers, there’s only about one job opening. We need more jobs, but these numbers also remind us that unemployed workers will continue to struggle for some time.
Many of these workers rely on unemployment insurance for basic necessities. The National Employment Law Project explores the benefits of unemployment insurance in this briefing paper, which states that 3.2 million people, including 1 million children, would have slipped into poverty without unemployment insurance last year. Research also shows that people receiving unemployment insurance are more likely to keep looking for a job. Recipients can worry less about where their next meal might come from and focus more on finding a job.
Unfortunately, Congress’ focus on deficit reduction has delayed consideration of extending long-term unemployment insurance benefits. These benefits will expire at the end of the year unless Congress acts. As the Times article discusses, those who have been unemployed the longest often have the most trouble finding a new job. Now, 6 million people stand to lose their benefits in 2012. This sudden cut-off from a critical source of income will have devastating effects for families who rely on it to pay their rent and put food on the table.
No previous Congress has cut off unemployment benefits when the jobless rate was above 7 percent. Congress must focus both on creating jobs and forming a circle of protection around those who do not have one. To do otherwise would leave millions of families out in the cold.
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