Long Term Unemployment Benefits on the Chopping Block Again

by SixFigureStart | February 09, 2010

  • My Vault
"We have unprecedented long-term unemployment." –Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project, quoted in the Washington Post. Now there's a statement to get your heart pulsing and your optimism flowing of a Tuesday morning. But wait—he's not finished yet: "Record unemployment is not the right term; it far surpasses any previous period of unemployment."

Florida unemployment lineEmsellem is referring, of course, to the fact that it is now taking the average job seeker some eight months to find a new position in this economy. And that's the average job seeker. As Bob Herbert points out in today's New York Times, the damage from the current situation gets worse the further down the economic ladder you go. So not only are people in higher income groups suffering lower unemployment rates (3.2 percent among households earning more than $150,000, according to Herbert) they're also bouncing back faster when they lose jobs. That points to a picture where lower income people are suffering disproportionately in this environment—a fact also underlined by Herbert, who points to an unemployment rate of 30.8 percent among members of the lowest income group. Imagine how much longer it takes to find work when you're competing with almost a third of your economic group for a new position.

That scenario is one of the major drivers behind a bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits in states with the highest unemployment rates. At issue is whether or not to fully ratify a series of "piecemeal" laws to extend benefits from 79 to 99 weeks in States with a jobless rate above 8.4 percent. The stakes couldn't be higher: if the extension is turned down, some one million people across the country could lose benefits by the end of February. And, just to underscore the point that this recession hasn't hit all areas or economic groups equally, consider that more than ten percent of those people (104,000) are in Wisconsin.

As the government extends its focus on job creation this week, it's important that those in Washington don't forget that even a wildly successful program isn't going to put one million people back to work by the end of February. In fact, given that some 7.2 million jobs have been lost since the onset of the recession a mere two years ago—a number that we really hope doesn't get any higher—creating one million jobs in a year seems like an incredible achievement at this point. For that reason, cushioning the fall of the hardest hit individuals for a little longer doesn't seem like the worst thing the government could be doing right now.

--Posted by Phil Stott, Vault.com

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