Has America Forgotten the Long-Term Unemployed?
By Robin Stephenson
Has America forgotten the long-term unemployed? The House of Representatives doesn't seem too worried as we slip into June — its members still haven't voted on emergency unemployment compensation benefits (EUC).
In April, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill for a five-month retroactive extension, but House Speaker John Boehner has not put the bill on the House floor for a vote. May 31 marked the expiration date of the short-term extension. At the end of last year, Congress failed to renew the emergency program, and Americans unemployed for more than 27 weeks lost vital assistance.
Leaving millions of Americans with no hope and no help is unacceptable. It is also bad economic policy when 3.5 million Americans – many with advanced skills – are pushed out of the labor force, many unlikely to return.
A college degree and steady work history did not guarantee Pennsylvanian Kimberly Chandlee a job. After 30 years of employment, at age 53, the single mother was laid off in 2013, after her company reorganized. Even with her credentials, and an aggressive search for work, her phone didn't ring with job offers. "I’m either too old, overqualified, or the companies hire within, expanding position responsibility to avoid adding head count,” she said in testimony given on the steps of the U.S. Capitol last month.
Chandlee does not want pity. She wants a job and support to help her find one.
Unemployment rates are falling. TPM reports Speaker Boehner said this good news “should discourage calls for more emergency government stimulus.” However, data shows job seekers out of work for six months or more are not benefiting from decreasing unemployment, which should instill in Congress a greater sense of urgency to act.
Cutting off EUC has made it more difficult for the long-term unemployed, who are now more likely to stand in line to sign up for food stamps than to get into a job fair. Many were depending on EUC to get them through the crisis. Five Thirty-Eight’s Ben Casselman says that the idea that an improved economy will help the long-term unemployed, or that cutting benefits will push them to look harder for work, does not hold up against the evidence. Instead, the longer one is unemployed, the further they are pushed into the margins of the labor market.
A Brookings Institute study found only 11 percent of the long-term unemployed returned to full employment within a year. More troubling for the economy, however, is that these displaced workers are no longer putting pressure on wage growth or inflation.
Instead of blaming – and shaming – the unemployed, Congress should take a look at the evidence and pass EUC, and then begin to seriously address the larger problem of long-term unemployment. Chandlee’s story is not a tale of personal woe; it is our collective tragedy. We must act.
“What is going to happen to me now and in the future, if I use all my retirement money to live?” asked an exasperated Chandlee last month. “These are the questions that keep me up at night.” They are questions that should keep members of Congress up at night, too.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.
House Republicans are not feeling pressure to pass this bill. We must change that. Please call (800-826-3688) or email your representative today and urge him or her to vote to extend unemployment insurance.
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