Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

20 posts categorized "Unemployment"

The Crisis Continues for More Than 3 Million Long-Term Unemployed

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 5.39.48 PM
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.

Has America Forgotten the Long-Term Unemployed?


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.


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.

Long-term Unemployed Tell House to Do the Right Thing

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 9.32.14 AM
Helen Laurusavage and six other unemployed workers told their stories on the Capitol steps on May 6, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Screenshot, CSPAN video)

They did everything right. They played by the rules. 

Kevin McCarthy, a 38-year-old father of two, got his first job, delivering newspapers, at the age of 12. After six years in the National Guard, the Boonsboro, Md., resident found steady employment in construction and always had good work evaluations. 

Helene Laurusavage, 52, of Sanatoga, Penn., has a degree in physics and is proud of having served in the Air Force. She also enjoyed a successful career as environmental health and safety officer. 

Then, it all fell apart. In shock, both McCarthy and Laurusavage watched their jobs vanish and their dreams crumble. Each received unemployment for the first time in their adult lives. Each thought finding a job would be easy. Now, they are part of the growing segment of the population referred to as the "long-term unemployed," and they are asking Congress for help. “What we have worked so hard for –our American dream–has turned into a nightmare,” Laurusavage said to those gathered for a briefing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, May 6.

Laurusavage and six others came to tell lawmakers their stories and urge the House to reinstate long-term unemployment insurance (also called emergency unemployment compensation, or EUC), which expired in December. In April, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill for a short-term extension, but House Speaker John Boehner has showed no indication he plans to bring it to the floor for a vote. Each week that passes with no extension, another 72, 000 unemployed Americans lose a vital lifeline of support as they look for work.

Their stories, which are hard to hear, leave one with a sense that nothing is safe.  The old American narrative that promises financial security for hard work is being rewritten. By the end of 2014, the number of long-term unemployed could reach as high as 4.9 million. Unemployment insurance helps job seekers make ends meet as they look for work. But even many of those aggressively seeking employment are not finding work in a labor market still rebounding from the effects of the recession.

Despite a successful history of employment, Laurusavage has applied for 229 jobs and has had 26 interviews, but no offers. Instead, she and her husband have depleted their savings. “Without a renewal of federal unemployment aid, or a job, by the end of May we are done," she said Tuesday. "We’ll have nothing to make our mortgage and we will lose our home.”

McCarthy talked about the emotional toll it takes on a family as he stood at the podium.  Even with his wife working, they are barely making it. He doesn’t know how to explain to his children why he can’t find work.  “There is no explanation except that we are being let down by the people we elected into office," he said. "You have no idea how soul-crushing it is to listen to your daughter tell you how she is a burden."

Never before in the history of EUC has a Congress failed to extend the emergency aid when unemployment is so high.

McCarthy, Laurusavage, and millions like them did everything right—and now Congress should.


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.

Advocates Help Push Unemployment Bill Through to House

Bread for the World advocates during a workshop at the 2013 National Gathering, held June 8-11 in Washington, D.C. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Jon Gromek

Yesterday, the Senate passed a bill to extend emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) benefits by a vote of 50 to 38. If the bipartisan bill passes the next hurdle in the House, it will restore benefits through May, and provide retroactive benefits back to Dec. 28, when EUC expired. More than 2 million out-of-work Americans have been cut off from assistance since the end of last year.

The final passage in the Senate is a testament to the power of advocacy: Bread for the World members made 1,045 calls and sent 24,600 emails to senators. Many people who've been affected by the loss of benefits also told their stories and kept pressure on Congress through social media networks, such as Twitter. Without the loud cry from constituents across the nation, the bill may have died after the first attempt to pass it failed.

Approximately 40,000 people in Ohio are among those who've been cut off from benefits. On March 27, I accompanied Bread members who met with the staff of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) in Columbus, Ohio. We relayed our hope that a deal would be reached and a solution implemented—a message the senator also received through calls and emails from across the state. Sen. Portman voted to restore unemployment benefits, and his leadership was critical in crafting the final bill.

In Illinois, where more than 110,000 people have lost benefits, my colleague Zach Schmidt asked several pastors in the state to sign on to a letter urging Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to pass EUC. More than 100 faith leaders— leaders who've see the devastation long-term unemployment has caused in their communities and congregations—responded. Like Sen. Portman, and three other Republicans, Sen. Kirk co-sponsored the legislation, which helped push it through final passage. (See how your senators voted here).

Now, as the bill moves to the House, where its future is uncertain, our advocacy work intensifies. In Ohio, we are already thinking of how we can reach out to Republican legislators who may cast key votes. Ohio Bread members will need to reach out to Reps. Bill Johnson (06), Patrick Tiberi (12), David Joyce (14), Steve Stivers (15), and James Renacci (16). While political observers can wait for Congress to act, our neighbors struggling to find work in a still-weakened economy cannot.

Roll Call reports that 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. At the end of the week, House members will leave D.C., and head to their home districts for a two-week recess, providing opportunities for you to engage your representative by attending town hall meetings or setting up an in-district meeting. Your organizer can help you come up with a plan of action.

Bread for the World members in Ohio, Illinois, and other states across the country are thankful for the courage of elected officials like Sens. Kirk and Portman, who are willing to put politics aside and do what is  right for their constituents. And it is clear to us that the strength of your voices in calling on members to renew unemployment made all the difference this round. Let’s do it again.

Jon Gromek is regional organizer, central hub, at Bread for the World.

Quote of the Day: Abe Gorelick

A job seeker reads a copy of the California Job Journal as he waits in line to enter the California Job Journal HIREvent February 10, 2009 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty)

"Since my unemployment benefits have run out, I’m just trying to make a little money with these part-time jobs. But, for perspective, if I combined my income from all of them, that would still be half of what my weekly unemployment benefits were."

—Abe Gorelick, a marketing professional with a  master’s in business, who has been unemployed for more than a year. Gorelick told the New York Times that he is currently working three jobs—driving a cab and picking up shifts at Lord & Taylor and Whole Foods—but has still fallen into credit card debt, wiped out his retirement accounts, and has even contemplated selling his house since losing his unemployment benefits.

Gorelick is one of more than 2 million people who are classified as long-term unemployed, meaning they’ve been out of work for more than six months. The obstacles this class of workers face to find employment is even more difficult than it was pre-recession; emergency unemployment insurance is their lifeline.

Today, the Senate is expected to vote on a bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits through May, and make them retroactive to the Dec. 28 expiration. 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 today and tell your senators and representative to act.

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.

Two Million Desperate for Congress to Reinstate Unemployment Insurance

'Unemployment Office' photo (c) 2011, Bytemarks - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Right now, it's OK to sound like a broken record--we have to keep telling Congress to extend emergency unemployment insurance (EUC) until they do it. At the beginning of the week, we sent out an action alert asking you to contact your senators again. The Senate is expected vote on EUC, for the third time, any day now.

More than 2 million long-term unemployed people are holding out hope that the bill will pass this time. For those who have been out of work for more than six months, the future looks bleak. Many have been telling their stories on Twitter, using the hashtag #RenewUI--Brian, a 36-year-old with a business degree is now homeless after losing his unemployment benefits. Others talk to reporters. Ricardo Gomez, a 51-year-old father of four, told CNN Money that after losing his job as a facilities specialist last year, he is desperate for any work. If Congress had not failed to reinstate EUC earlier in the year, Gomez could be receiving benefits that would help support his family as he looks for work. Instead, he is expecting an eviction notice.

Long-term unemployment, especially for older Americans, is a persistent problem--leaving people without aid only exacerbates it. In a recent video piece, CNN Money profiles Harry Thomson, who has two college degrees and 21 years of experience, but has been unable to find work in more than a year.  The mental stress only adds to financial worries for job seekers like Thomson as they struggle to stay positive. And last week, Brookings Institution released a paper outlining a trend toward increasing irrelevancy for the long-term unemployed in the labor market. Their skills deteriorate the longer they are not working, the research finds.

The last time Congress looked to reinstate EUC, it failed to pass because of a single vote. This time the bill must pass the Senate and we have to send a strong message to the House, which will take it up next, that our nation cannot continue to leave the long-term unemployed out in the cold. Please call (800-826-3688) or email your senators right now! Urge them to vote to extend unemployment insurance.

We must continue to repeat the message to Congress to reinstate EUC– more than 2 million people are waiting in desperation.


Behind every statistic is a story – and telling them 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.

Act Now: Senate Voting This Week on Unemployment Insurance


By Eric Mitchell

The Senate is about to attempt again to extend unemployment insurance, and this time it may have the votes to pass it! But it will be close.

As early as tomorrow, the Senate may vote on a new bipartisan deal that would reinstate aid for the 2 million people who have been cut off from long-term unemployment assistance.

Please call (800-826-3688) or email your senators right now! Urge them to vote to extend unemployment insurance.

Last time, the Senate was one vote short. But now we have a chance to pass a bill and send a strong message to the House.

Over 2 million unemployed workers have been cut off from aid since emergency unemployment assistance expired on December 28. If Congress doesn't extend emergency unemployment insurance, then 5 million people will see their assistance end in 2014. For so many people spending hours each day searching for a job, this aid ensures that they and their families don't go hungry during a hard spell of unemployment.

Please take just two minutes to call or email your members of Congress. Tell them to vote for extending emergency unemployment insurance.

Your calls, emails, and prayers can make the difference.

Eric Mitchell is Bread for the World's director of government relations.

Sen. Kirk Signals Support for Jobless Aid as Clergy Letter Tops 100 Signatures

'Unemployment Office' photo (c) 2011, Bytemarks - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

By Zach Schmidt

In mid-February, a dozen clergy from Chicago’s North Shore and South Side began signing and circulating a letter calling on Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to reinstate emergency unemployment compensation (EUC), which expired last December. Sen. Kirk had previously voted “no” twice, even though Illinois struggles with the third highest unemployment rate in the nation (8.9 percent). A group of clergy—led by Rabbi Ike Serotta of Lakeside Congregation in Highland Park (Sen. Kirk’s hometown) and Rev. Brian Roots of Christ United Methodist in Deerfield—have also asked for a meeting, so that they can tell Sen. Kirk in person why his vote is important to them. We will continue pushing for this meeting.

One month later, our list of religious leaders has grown tenfold, and Sen. Kirk has put his name on a bipartisan bill to extend EUC! We are excited about this victory, and we thank Sens. Kirk and Durbin for working together to help craft a short-term compromise that will bring relief to the more than 120,000 Illinoisans (and 2 million Americans) who have been cut off from this vital assistance.

But our work is not finished! The Senate is on recess next week, and the bill will not receive a vote until after the Senate is back in session on March 24, so we need to continue calling on Sen. Kirk to vote “yes” until it happens. Plus, this is a retroactive, five-month bill, so our long-term unemployed neighbors will again face an expiration of emergency assistance at the end of May. We also need to encourage our U.S. representatives to extend EUC, as the House will consider the issue once it passes the Senate.

There are still three job seekers for every job available in the United States, and until the economic recovery truly reaches our neighbors, we will continue calling on Sen. Kirk to support EUC—for the good of our communities and for the good of Illinois.

If you are a religious leader in Illinois, please sign and share our letter.

If you have been personally impacted by the expiration of EUC, we want to hear from you. Please share your story at the Circle of Protection "Faces and Facts" website.

Zach Schmidt is a Bread for the World regional organizer in the Central Hub, which includes Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Time for Change: Reinstate Emergency Unemployment Benefits

6999667955This Sunday, we started the day with a time change, as we "sprang forward" by an hour, but for nearly 2 million long-term unemployed workers, time continues to stand still as they wait for Congress to reinstate emergency unemployment benefits (EUC). 

Within the next couple of weeks, the Senate is expected to vote on an extension to EUC. For many of who have been laid off during these tough economic times, this is their only source of income as they struggle to find work. The Senate has failed to pass an extension twice now, and while the partisan bickering over dollars stalls action, the long-term unemployed continue to have trouble making ends meet.

After a recent editorial urging the reinstatement of the extension, The Seattle Times received hundreds of stories from laid-off workers trying to find jobs. Below is an excerpt from Todd Martin's submission. In September 2013, Martin was laid off from his job as a wildlife biologist. His tale of financial and mental struggle is common of the stories sent to the newspaper.

I have had many interviews, but none have yet ended in a job offer. Believe me, if you have not been through this experience of being laid off and searching for work, it is not only a full-time endeavor, it also barely pays the bills (and I am a single person with no dependents, no debt, no mortgage). It also takes its toll on one’s mental and physical health, going through bouts of depression and feelings of self-worth. In four weeks, my unemployment insurance will run out. It’s a scary prospect to not have any income coming in when I have been trying so hard, day in and day out to find employment in my field.

If Congress reinstates EUC, Martin will have more time to devote looking for work. The EUC program was enacted in June 2008, when the national unemployment rate was 5.6 percent. Last Friday, the Department of Labor released its latest figures, which show U.S. unemployment at 6.7 percent--this is the weakest job market since World War II.

If the last vote is any indication of how events may unfold with the upcoming third vote, a single senator could decide a final outcome. Faith leaders in Chicago sent a letter to Sen. Mark Kirk last week, urging the Republican from Illinois to reinstate benefits. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana could also hold possible swing votes that could pass the legislation. 

This week, as people grumble about having to wake up and report to work one hour earlier, we must remember the long-term unemployed who lost their safety-net when EUC expired, and continue to look for jobs. As members of the faith community, we should not turn our backs on them. Even if your senators are on record with a vote to renew benefits, still call them and tell them they have your support. Call 800-826-3688, or send a personal email, and urge both your senators to renew EUC. If you are on Twitter, you can also tag your senator and amplify the message using the #RenewUI hashtag.

Stay Connected

Bread for the World