Jobless Workers Call on Congress to Pass UI Extension

Nov 30, 2011

By Katie Haswell

There's no shortage of news stories on the tough times families face. Many are underwater on their mortgages, nearly 14 million are jobless and many more are falling into poverty.

While many news stories do a good job of illustrating the weak economy's impact on families, they often fail to demonstrate how action, or inaction, on Capitol Hill affects people's everyday realities. In other words, public policy can make a difference and our elected officials should be held accountable.

Today, hundreds of unemployed workers joined Democratic members of Congress on Capitol Hill to call for passage of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2011, a bill that extends federal Unemployment Insurance programs through next year. The workers helped make it clear: Congress's decision on unemployment insurance will affect the lives of millions.

In 2010, unemployment benefits prevented 3.2 million people, including 1 million children, from falling into poverty. Unemployment benefits for some are the difference between having a home or defaulting on housing payments and having to move in with family, friends or elsewhere. Receiving unemployment benefits for many means being able to pay utility bills, put food on the table and meet other basic needs instead of simply going without.

Jill Fleming-Salopek, an out-of-work school teacher from Munhall, Pa., during the rally discussed her struggle to find work after being laid off from her teaching position. She said what few jobs are available don't "pay enough for working families to get by on." If Congress doesn't extend unemployment insurance benefits, the married mother of three said she and her family will be "out in the cold" when her regular unemployment benefits expire in March.

Vincent Brandon of Pittsburg, Pa., lost his job as a public transit driver in April 2011. He has worked all his adult life, but is now receiving unemployment benefits and taking computer courses to sharpen his skills and become more marketable. He, too, will have no safety net if Congress doesn't pass the unemployment benefits extension.

About 2 million people face similar fates in January 2012-and the number will continue to grow every week after-if Congress fails to act. Given the state of the economy, this scenario should not be an option and extended unemployment benefits should not be a matter for debate.

From a moral perspective, extending federal unemployment benefits is the right thing to do. If a public policy prevents millions of people adversely affected by the weak economy from sinking even further, then Congress should make sure that policy remains in place.

Extending benefits is also practical. Unemployment benefits not only provide immediate income to families, it helps to stimulate the economy. For every unemployment insurance dollar spent, the return to the economy is about $2, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Further, allowing federal unemployment benefits to expire would hurt consumer demand and cost the economy about 560,000 jobs, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Long-term unemployment remains at unprecedented levels. Currently, more than 42 percent of workers have been without a job for 27 weeks or more. Although the recession that began in December 2007 officially ended in June 2009, there are still about 6.5 million fewer jobs today than four years ago. And for every job opening, there are four unemployed workers.

Stories about these statistics and their impact on families and communities will continue to dot the nation's news pages for the foreseeable future. When we read about these issues, we should also remember that public policy has a role to play. Congress can help prevent further hardship in the short term by extending unemployment insurance benefits. In the long-term, our elected officials should steadfastly focus on jobs creation so more people can access the jobs they need and want and fewer families have to wonder how they will make ends meet when or if their unemployment benefits expire. 

site by Trilogy Interactive