Helping low-income adults obtain higher-quality jobs can lead to better job retention and wage growth. These individuals and others who experience difficulty in the labor market need access to employment services that enable them to enter the workforce and become reemployed if they lose their jobs.

Senate Prepares to Renew Jobless Benefits

By Neil Ridley

Update: The Senate passed a temporary extension of federal unemployment benefits on Monday, April 7.

This week, the Senate is expected to pass a five-month extension of federal unemployment benefits, which lapsed at the end of 2013 when Congress failed to renew the program. Since December 2013, more than 2 million jobless workers have been cut off from benefits—deprived of a critical lifeline while they search for work in what is still a tough job market.

Even though the national unemployment rate has dropped below 7 percent, long-term unemployment remains persistently high—a disturbing aftereffect of the Great Recession.  In February 2014, 37 percent of jobless workers—3.8 million people—had been out of work for 6 months or more. Studies show that the longer workers are unemployed, the more difficult it is for them to find work. One recent study finds that long-term unemployment remains at historically high levels and employment transitions remain challenging, even in states with low unemployment rates. 

Unemployment benefits are not only one of the first lines of defense in a weak economy, but also a proven anti-poverty strategy. Census data show that unemployment benefits kept 1.7 million people above the poverty line in 2012, even as workers faced a reduction in the number of weeks of federal benefits.

The Senate bill includes two notable policy changes. First, it eliminates unemployment insurance benefit payments for individuals whose adjusted gross income in the preceding year reached $1 million or more. Second, it authorizes intensive assessments and reemployment services for long-term jobless workers.

When the Senate approves the extension later this week, the scene of action will turn to the House of Representatives.  It will be up to House members to restore and maintain current unemployment benefits for workers who need additional assistance while they look for jobs in a slowly recovering economy. 

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