House Rejects Payroll, UI Extension, Leaving Families in Limbo

Dec 20, 2011

Dec. 31 this year brings a sense of foreboding for millions of jobless workers instead of a time for renewal and resolutions. By the end of January, more than 1.2 million workers and their families will lose their unemployment insurance benefits if Congress fails to act, leaving the question: Why are lawmakers not laser focused on the needs of the nation's families?

The House Tuesday afternoon rejected a bill that would extend unemployment insurance benefits and payroll tax cuts for the next two months. House leadership justified the action by claiming they preferred a bill that would extend the payroll tax and UI benefits for an entire year, instead of two months. This talking point clouds reality. The House proposal that passed last week included highly controversial provisions that had little chance of clearing both houses of Congress and getting the president's signature. The Senate bill was overwhelmingly bipartisan and included compromises. Lawmakers in that chamber recognized the need to provide some kind of resolution for families before the end of the year.

Unfortunately, the rejection of the bipartisan Senate bill continues to leave millions of jobless workers in limbo. It's political theater at its finest, only it's not so enjoyable to watch, particularly given the stark reality:

  • For 34 months (since March 2009) unemployment has remained above 8 percent, a period that months ago shattered other records. It is, in fact, the longest period of time that unemployment has remained above 8 percent since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping track. The previous record duration was a generation ago during the early 1980s recession when unemployment remained above 8 percent for 27 months.
  • There is still a long way to go before the economy recovers the roughly 6.5 million fewer jobs today than there were before the recession began. At the rate of 120,000 jobs per month, economists estimate it will be a decade or more before the economy adds enough jobs to move unemployment to pre-recession levels and keep up with the pace of people entering the workforce.
  • Long-term unemployment remains problematic, with 43 percent of unemployed workers out of a job for six months or more. To put this in proper perspective it's important to examine historical trends. Before the recent recession, the previous high for long-term unemployment was 26 percent of all unemployed workers in June 1983. In April 2009, long-term unemployment climbed to 27 percent and continually grew, reaching a high of 45.5 percent of the jobless population in March of this year. For 31 months, long-term unemployment has remained at record levels.

Dec. 31 is 11 days away. Unemployed workers and their families are waiting. The House should act in the best interest of families and ensure the New Year doesn't begin without a resolution for workers struggling to find jobs in this tough economy.

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