Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Job Market Still Weak as Congress Debates Unemployment Benefits

Photo credit: www.LendingMemo.com

By Robin Stephenson

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen says the U.S. labor market is still unhealthy, making it difficult for many who lost their jobs during the recession to find adequate employment. In December, Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment (EUC), a program that helps job seekers meet basic needs as they look for work.

Yesterday, during public remarks at a conference in Chicago, Yellen said that although the unemployment rate has dropped from a high of 10 percent in 2009 to a federal average of 6.7 percent, the nation’s unemployment levels are still way above pre-recession levels. And more than 7 million people employed in part-time work would like full-time positions. The slow recovery, Yellen made clear, has still not reached everyone on Main Street.

Over 2 million people are classified as long-term unemployed, meaning they’ve been out of work for more than six months. This figure is the highest it has ever been. And the obstacles this class of workers face to find employment is even more difficult than it was pre-recession. "Research shows employers are less willing to hire the long-term unemployed, and often prefer other job candidates with less or even no relevant experience," said Yellen.

The root problem is a lack of jobs. "No amount of training will be enough if there are not enough jobs to fill,” Yellen stated. A maximum sustainable employment rate should be between 5.2 and 5.6 percent – we still have a long way to go.

For the last several months, I have followed the Twitter hashtag #RenewUI, where many unemployed workers gather for mutual support. As I read stories from people who need Congress to act immediately, the urgency to pass legislation is apparent. For many without benefits, finding work has given way to keeping their homes and their families together.

I met Tracey from Pennsylvania after she tweeted about a job interview she was hoping would bring good news. Tracey said she lost her job in 2012. She is worried about losing her home. As finances got tighter, her children moved in with her parents. Tracey, who worked in staffing for 10 years, told me, “There just aren’t jobs out there.” As the Senate argues about costs, Tracey and the #RenewUI community make it known that their basic needs that can’t wait for months of negotiations and partisanship. “I don’t want to lose my house,” she told me. “And I want to bring my kids home.”

This week, senators continue working on H.R. 3979—a bill to extend benefits through May and make them retroactive to the Dec. 28 expiration. With 30 hours of debate to go, a final vote is expected to come as early as Wednesday. This will be the third time the Senate has voted on a reinstatement. The attempt to pass the extension through bipartisan effort is a testament to mounting pressure from a vocal grassroots. As the bill moves over to the House, even more pressure will be needed to push the it through.

Congress must renew emergency unemployment insurance today. Call 800-826-3688 and tell your senators and representative to act.


Behind every statistic is a story – and telling those stories can move hearts and minds to action. If you have a story of how the ongoing budget battles have affected you, we invite you to share with us through our Faces and Facts site.

Robin Stephenson is national social media lead and senior regional organizer, western hub, at Bread for the World.


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You wrote: Over 2 million people are classified as long-term unemployed, meaning they’ve been out of work for more than six months. This figure is the highest it has ever been.

This is a scandal. These people need help now. It is not acceptable to think that long-term unemployed members of the society can be forgotten. They are not damaged goods. They are human beings and they deserve a helping hand.

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