Tell Congress: Don’t Go Home Without Extending Jobless Benefits

Isaiah J. Poole

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today said that continuing extended unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed will be the first order of business in the Senate when it returns after Congress’ Christmas vacation.

Good, but not good enough for the 1.3 million long-term unemployed who are going to lose their benefits by the end of the year unless Congress acts this week. These are some of the more than 4 million people nationwide who have been out of work for six months or more, and are being denied jobs simply because they have been unemployed for so long. They are not, as conservatives blithely claim, people who have been made lazy and soft by a $300-or-so-a-week check. They have been trapped in an endless loop by prospective employers who won’t even give these workers a chance to prove themselves.

Nonetheless, too many in Congress do not think that it is a priority to make sure that these 1.3 million people should be able to continue fighting in this hostile job-search environment with the most minimal lifeline – not even enough to pay rent and utilities in most cases.

That is why we have been calling on our supporters to flood their members of Congress today with this simple statement: “A budget deal that abandons the unemployed is no deal at all.”

Use our click-to-call tool to get in touch with your congressperson’s office.

“There are people who are going to lose their homes over this,” said Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project. That’s not hyperbole: After six, nine or sometimes more than a year without a permanent job, most of these 1.3 million people now collecting extended unemployment benefits have exhausted their savings, and sometimes what they can get from relatives and friends as well.

Conti said that starting on December 28, after the last checks go out under this program, we are going to see an uptick in people showing up at homeless shelters and food banks – during what is shaping up to be a particularly harsh winter in much of the country. “It’s not pretty,” she said.

A recent study, first highlighted by National Journal this week, underscores how particularly cruel, immoral and nonsensical Congress’ failure to act on this unemployment extension actually is.

Rand Ghayad, a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and a graduate student in applied economics at Northeastern University, sent thousands of made-up resumes in response to job openings. The resumes often pitted “applicants” with minimal experience but who have not been unemployed for more than a short period of time against those depicted as having more experience but a longer time out of work.

In an interview today, Ghayad said his research led to this stark conclusion: “Once you become unemployed for more than six months, it is almost impossible to get a job interview.”

“The only way out,” Ghayad said, “is to create more and more jobs.”

In fact, Ghayad said, people who are collecting unemployment benefits – and are thus in a system in which they have to verify that they are looking for work – are more likely to remain attached to the labor force than those who have no benefits. Members of the latter group are more likely to become the “discouraged workers” whose numbers have raised the percentage of working-age adults not in the labor force to historic levels.

Remember that these extended unemployment benefits, beyond the benefits the unemployed receive through their state unemployment funds, were enacted by Congress specifically because of the massive loss of jobs that accompanied the financial crash – and we are still years away from repairing the damage done to the job market. In fact, perversely, ending these benefits for the long-term unemployed will actually result in more unemployment – an estimated 300,000 jobs will be lost – because of the spending that will be taken out of the economy when we cut these benefits.

What Congress should be doing is taking immediate steps to accelerate economic growth. The number one priority should be marshaling our resources for such tasks as revitalizing our transportation networks, fixing our schools and investing in clean energy and conservation – steps that would create jobs in the short run, help us sustain long-term economic stability and make it easier for us to address our long-term deficit.

House Republicans are insisting that we should somehow “pay for” these benefits. That is especially ridiculous coming from conservatives who have embraced years of “unpaid-for” tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations. If anything needs to be paid for, corporations should be finally asked to pay for the legal tax evasion they have engaged in thanks to policies conservatives have put in place.

But we must not wait for that argument to be settled. Congress is about to literally leave 1.3 million Americans out in the cold. Tell your member of Congress that lawmakers should not go home to the comfort of their congressional districts until they make sure that struggling unemployed Americans can keep the lifeline of expended unemployment benefits.

(Update, 5:30 p.m.: The House is about to vote on the budget deal announced between Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and afterwards is scheduled to adjourn without acting on extended unemployment benefits. You should still call your member of Congress and register your disapproval of their failure to act.)

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