Unemployed Struggle As Congress Considers Reinstating Benefits
Last week, the Senate advanced a bipartisan bill to reinstate benefits for 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers, passing the first hurdle for an extension of federal emergency unemployment compensation. Although it is an important step in the right direction, those who have lost their unemployment benefits continue to struggle as Congress works to resolve the issue.
The seriousness of the situation was underscored in a pair of Huffington Post pieces this morning. In "Unemployment Cuts Leave Many With Bleak Options," those who lost their benefits in the new year spoke of their limited choices for staying afloat: retiring early, accruing crippling debt, leaning on family and friends, or hoping they can get by with help from other federal safety net programs, such as SNAP.
Stan Osnowitz, a 67-year-old Baltimore electrician who is currently unemployed, said that without his weekly $430 benefit, he no longer has enough money to put gas in his car, which has hampered his job search. At a time when there are still three applicants for every job opening in America, this is a huge blow. He is considering taking a low-wage job, or leaving the workforce altogether. "I have two choices," Osnowitz told Huffington Post. "I can take a job at McDonald's or something and give up everything I've studied and everything I've worked for and all the experience that I have. Or I can go to retirement."
In a Huffington Post op-ed piece, "Will the Real Unemployment Rate Please Stand Up?" economist Jared Bernstein says that the actual unemployment rate is higher than the 6.7 percent figure cited by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While he notes that the problem with the figure is secondary to problem of " joblessness for those looking for work and those who've given up for lack of opportunity," he also argues that the idea that the figure is lower than it actually is may lead some members of Congress to believe that they don't need to take action to extend unemployment insurance.
"It's as if your speedometer is off kilter such that when you're driving 40 mph it says 60 mph," he writes. "Under those conditions, you'd be likely to put on the brakes to slow down before you really wanted to."
But in reality, for those who rely on unemployment insurance to make ends meet until they are able to get back on their feet again, the matter couldn't be more urgent. And every additional week that Congress fails to act, another 72,000 unemployed workers continue to lose their benefits. “Without unemployment insurance, the number of individuals living in poverty would have doubled between 2010 and 2011,” Bread for the World President David Beckmann said in a recent statement.
While the Senate's vote to consider the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act (S.1845), is a victory, advocates must continue to pressure Congress to pass an unemployment insurance extension. Call or email your members of Congress today, and tell them to pass S.1845 immediately, and extend unemployment assistance without delay.
Photo: Construction workers experienced the highest percentage point increase in long-term unemployment during the recession. Read more how full employment is the first step to ending hunger in America in the 2014 Hunger Report (Rick Reinhard).
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