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25 posts categorized "Unemployment"

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/

By Robin Stephenson

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.

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


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.

Chicago-area Clergy Call on Sen. Mark Kirk to Help Illinois’ Unemployed


By Zach Schmidt

More than 100 religious leaders from the North Shore and elsewhere in the Chicago area have sent a letter to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), calling on him to help families struggling with unemployment. The clergy have asked Sen. Kirk to support the extension of emergency unemployment compensation (EUC), a federal program that provides unemployment aid after state benefits have been exhausted. This aid helps families pay bills and put food on the table, while they seek work in a difficult job market. EUC expired last December, and Congress has so far been unable to reinstate it, causing more than 2 million people to lose this vital assistance, including more than 110,000 from Illinois.

Sen. Kirk has twice voted against reinstating EUC, even though the unemployment rate in Illinois is 8.9 percent—the third highest in the nation. The last vote, which happened in February, fell one vote short of passage. Sen. Kirk’s “no” is widely seen as decisive in killing that bill, and he will hold the key vote when the Senate again considers the bill, which may be as early as next week. [Update, 3/13: On March 13, Sen. Kirk added his name to a bipartisan bill to restore EUC. This issue will remain important in the weeks ahead, and we are still gathering signatures.]

Clergy in Illinois: to add your signature, please send your title, name, congregation, and email address to Zach Schmidt at zschmidt@bread.org.

The letter and signatures follow.

Continue reading "Chicago-area Clergy Call on Sen. Mark Kirk to Help Illinois’ Unemployed " »

More than Snow Keeping Nearly 2 Million from Work

DC Snow by RobynBy Robin Stephenson

Today’s snow day is an inconvenience for members of Congress who can’t get to work, but the snow cannot be blamed for the fact that they have been frozen by inaction around renewing emergency unemployment benefits. That Congress continues to leave 2 million job seekers out in the cold without help, while the market is still weak, is irresponsible and unacceptable.

While senators bicker over how to pay for the extension, 38-year-old former medical biller Trista Selmar-Steed wonders how she can pay for basic necessities, like food. While senators talk about the deficit, Illinois resident Jennifer listens as her phone rings with calls from bill collectors, but no job offers. Without benefits, she doesn’t have access to the resources that could help her find a job, she recently told PBS Newshour. 

The stories of the long-term unemployed all follow a similar path – downhill. Congress can change that by reinstating their benefits. These are people who once got up and went to work each day, paid their bills, and contributed to the economy, but now live the daily nightmare of unemployment. An estimated 200,000 are veterans, and new people are joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed everyday.

There are still three applicants for each job opening in this country; the United States has not reached full employment and January’s jobs report shows growth is anemic and wages are lagging.

For the third time, the Senate is expected to vote on extending unemployment insurance this week. A few weeks ago, Congress failed to advance this bill by just one vote. It is likely that one vote will again determine the outcome. It is also likely that one of three Republicans holds that decision in his hands: Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, or Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana. They must hear from constituents, as well as their colleagues, and be urged to do the right thing.

If your senators are on record with a vote to renew benefits, still call them and tell them they have your support. You may even ask them to reach out to their colleagues Kirk, Portman, and Coats, and ask them to vote to renew emergency unemployment benefits (EUC) immediately. If you are from Indiana, Illinois or Ohio, it is even more urgent that you call 800-826-3688, or send a personal email.

It is easier to build a fence at the top of a cliff than to drive an ambulance to the bottom, goes the adage. Each week that passes without action, more and more Americans are headed in the wrong direction when Congress could easily act on their behalf and help them change course.

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

Photo: Washington D.C. March 3, 2013 (courtesy of Robyn Johnson).

The American Nightmare: Long-Term Unemployment

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)
By Robin Stephenson

Updated: February 27

Too many families are watching the American dream unraveling right before their eyes. Their stories follow a pattern: after years of hard work, a job is lost. Hundreds of applications are filled out, but employers are slow to hire – especially if a job seeker has been out of work for a while. Savings fill the paycheck gap, but soon the savings are gone and then the retirement account is drained. For the first time, they find themselves standing in line at a food pantry and signing up for food stamps; they do everything they can, but the phone does not ring with a job offer. Long-term unemployment has become the American nightmare.

Emergency unemployment insurance for those who have been jobless for longer than 26 weeks expired in late December, and Congress has done nothing.

On February 6, in yet another close vote, the Senate failed to advance a bill to renew emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) by one vote. Passage could have helped 1.7 million job seekers who are struggling to survive without a paycheck — or an unemployment check. The Senate will try again, with another vote on extending unemployment insurance expected in the next few days.

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 long-term unemployment rate remains twice as high as any time Congress has let emergency unemployment benefits expire.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) voted "no", even though 48,485 Ohioans have been cut off from their unemployment benefits. His could have been the vote that would've helped his constituent Vince Congiglio, an IT professional who is looking for work.

“I worked for a living—I paid into the system my entire life,” 53-year-old Congiglio told an MSNBC reporter after yesterday’s vote. “The first time in my life I ask for something, I get punched square in the gut.”

Another surprising "no" vote came from Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.). Illinois has an unemployment rate of 8.6%, significantly higher than the national unemployment rate of 6.6%. Kirk has 99,000 constituents who desperately need an extension of unemployment benefits. He has said he would vote for an extension with a cost offset, which the legislation included, but apparently changed his mind. The congressional gridlock around extending unemployment benefits won’t help unemployed teacher Diana O’Conner; she needs solutions.

O'Connor, a constituent of Kirk's, lost her job last February. “We are not out of work because we are lazy,” O’Connor told The Chicago Tribune. Her story is a reminder that job loss can happen to anyone. "I'm your sister, I'm your neighbor, somebody you go to church with,” she said.

The final vote tally was 58-40. In a procedural move that allows the bill to be reintroduced at a later date, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) changed his vote to "no."

Congress goes back to the negotiating table, while for millions in America — and 72,000 more each week — the nightmare continues.

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


Call Now! Senate to Vote Tomorrow on Unemployment


By Eric Mitchell

Tomorrow the Senate will vote on whether to consider reinstating emergency unemployment insurance for the more than 1.7 million unemployed workers who have seen their aid lapse in recent weeks. For many of these jobless individuals, this assistance is their only source of income as they struggle to find work — and feed their families.

Please call (800-826-3688) or email your senators today! Urge them to vote yes on extending unemployment insurance!

This proposal extends unemployment insurance through March, is retroactive to Dec. 28 (when long-term aid expired), and it is completely paid for. The Senate is expected to vote tomorrow on a motion to advance the bill. We believe they are just a couple of votes shy!

Take two minutes right now and call or email your senators and urge them to VOTE YES on extending unemployment insurance.

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

Renew Unemployment: This is Getting Desperate

Janitorial 2
Each week Congress does not act, 72,000 people lose the emergency unemployment benefits that help support their families as they search for work (Joseph Mollieri/Bread for the World).

By Eric Mitchell

The situation is getting desperate. More than 1.6 million unemployed workers have now been cut off from emergency unemployment insurance. For many of them, this is their only source of income as they struggle to find work.

Last night, President Obama made a powerful call to reinstate unemployment insurance. But there's a voice that's even more powerful to members of Congress — yours!

Call (800-826-3688) or email your members of Congress today! Tell them to reinstate unemployment insurance without delay!

Every day that Congress fails to extend unemployment insurance, it becomes harder to reinstate necessary assistance. We cannot give up on the unemployed, and neither should Congress! Unemployment insurance helps people look for work, put food on the table, and keep their homes. It provides a sense of security during difficult and stressful times.

Urge your representative and your senators to press on until unemployed workers see their insurance extended.

Call or email your members of Congress today, and urge them to extend unemployment assistance immediately.

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

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