Don’t Leave Long-Term Unemployed Out in the Cold
As the news reports plummeting temperatures across the nation, another no less devastating yet human-made storm is wreaking havoc on the lives of 1.3 million Americans who lost a vital safety net last month. Congress failed to extend federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) as part of the budget deal, leaving the long-term jobless out in the cold.
This evening, the Senate is expected to vote on a three-month extension of emergency unemployment. On average, unemployed workers receive only $269 in federal emergency unemployment benefits a week. This covers less than half of a family's basic expenses for food, housing, and transportation as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the benefits give job seekers the help that allows them to spend their time and energy in finding employment.
Constituents like those of Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois are depending on Congress to act as they return to Washington, D.C., after the holidays. Illinois is one of the hardest-hit states with an estimated 80,000 affected by last month’s EUC expiration and more to come. Nationally, an estimated 1.9 million more Americans will lose benefits in the first half of 2014.
Unemployment has improved since peaking at 10 percent at the height of the Great Recession, but there are still three applicants for every job opening in America. In states like Illinois, which have seen less recovery in the job market, unemployment remains at 8.7 percent. Resident of Elgin, Ill., Lynn Richards told the Chicago Sun Times before Christmas that she was laid off in April and hasn’t been able to find work, although she has been sending in many applications.
“I’ve been working since I was 20. I’ve never had this much trouble getting a job in my life,” Richards told the Sun Times. “I’ve applied to like 200 places. I’ve gotten less than 10 calls and a couple of interviews.”
EUC has been a vital part of the safety net that has helped people like Richards pay rent and utilities and buy food as they look for employment. Keeping families from falling into deeper poverty is good for the nation. Besides an average of $1.55 in economic stimulus created by every dollar of unemployment benefits received, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) estimates that allowing emergency unemployment benefits to expire will cost the economy 238,000 jobs.
What the nation needs is jobs. Job seekers everywhere, but especially in states like Illinois and Nevada, where unemployment has stayed at record highs, are depending on Congress to help and not hinder their own efforts in finding work. As the Senate takes up debate and a test vote later this evening, anti-hunger advocates can urge Congress to do the right thing and pass a EUC extension.
Call 800-826-3688 now or email your members of Congress today. Tell them to extend unemployment insurance immediately as their first action in 2014.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior organizer at Bread for the World.
Photo: At Our Daily Bread Employment Center in Baltimore, people line up for the Hot Meal Program, held seven days a week (Jim Stipe).
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