The Crisis Continues for More Than 3 Million Long-Term Unemployed
David Beckmann reads Pamela's story on June 16, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Screenshot from event video).
By Robin Stephenson
The unemployment crisis is not over – especially if you are one of the long-term unemployed. For Pamela the crisis is never-ending. The 61-year-old from Glenn Springs, S.C., lost her job in December of last year. She says the only silver lining is that her adult children, who live far away, are not there to witness to her downfall.
Rev. David Beckmann read Pamela’s story on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., as part of the fifth Witness Wednesday this week. The events, scheduled throughout June and July, are an effort to keep a spotlight on long-term unemployed people by telling their stories. “I feel defeated,” says Beckmann, reading Pamela’s words. She has received no job offers or offers of help from Congress since she lost her job.
Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) in December, cutting off critical assistance to over a million job seekers out of work for more than 27 weeks. When unemployment rates are high, lawmakers have always made provisions to help Americans until the economy returns to full employment — namely, by passing EUC. Today, the number of long-term unemployed has ballooned to record levels of more than 3.3 million job seekers.
Job loss turns into a surprising reversal of fortune for many as they watch savings and homes disappear. Some are facing hunger for the first time in their lives and seek help from food banks and local charities. Many, like Pamela, are grateful for programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps) that provide access to food that once was easily purchased with a reliable income.
“The fastest way to reduce hunger in America is to reduce the unemployment rate,” said Beckmann. Investing in jobs and people are strategies outlined in Ending Hunger in America, the 2014 Hunger Report. Investing in a strong safety net is also necessary to chart a path out of hunger by 2030. When hardship does hit, the climb back to security is faster when we activate programs like EUC, which afford job seekers resources so they can concentrate on finding work.
Buoyed by a national trend of improving unemployment rates, some members of Congress feel no pressure to act. The Senate passed a short-term extension in April, which has expired due to an absence of corresponding action in the House. In her July 15 report to the Senate Banking Committee on monetary policy, Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve, recommends a cautioned approach when looking at unemployment data. Calling the recovery incomplete, she says, “Labor force participation appears weaker than one would expect based on the aging of the population and the level of unemployment.”
There are still two job seekers for every job opening. Never before in the history of EUC has a Congress failed to extend the emergency aid when unemployment is so high. Additionally, a slack job market hurts wage growth.
Ignoring the crisis of long-term unemployment won’t make it go away. As long as our government fails to act, persistent hunger will plague too many of our citizens and puts a drain on our economy. As long as advocates fail to force action, we must all share Pamela’s sense of defeat.
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