Unemployment is serious business: Time for Congress to step up
In December, the unemployment benefits for over one million people expired, because Congress did not renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
Today (Tuesday), the Senate, in a 60-37 vote (barely squeaking by a filibuster) decided to move forward with a three-month extension. Five Republican senators voted yes, but with the caveat that they want the cost of benefits offset by other expenses. The Senate will now begin negotiations to pass the legislation
It is a good step toward protecting the long-term unemployed, who have an upward climb in front of them in looking for work. (A person who has been unemployed for more than 27 weeks only has a 12 percent chance each month of getting a job, and there are about 2.9 unemployed workers for every job opening.)
But the extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program faces a more serious hurdle: the House, where two Catholics, John Boehner and Paul Ryan, are the gatekeepers. So far, Boehner does not seem inclined to support the extension without offsetting the expenses elsewhere in the budget.
For millions of people who are out of work, unemployment assistance gives them the ability to meet their basic needs while they search for work. This helps families to get food on the table and to keep the lights on. It doesn't provide much else.
Congress has done very little in terms of actually addressing the long-term unemployment crisis that this country is facing. There are some ideas floating out there from economists and policy wonks alike. In 2011, President Obama proposed the American Jobs Act, which was completely shuttered by House leadership.
So something needs to get done in order to help out those people who are working to beat the rather incredible odds in the job market, because it is a real problem for individuals, for communities, and for the country as a whole. But in the mean time, Congress should step up and at least help them to keep the lights on.