One person's ordinary is another person's crisis
Nov 04, 2011
By Jenice R. Robinson
"Crisis may have merely given way to something more ordinary, yet still miserable for tens of millions of people ... with demand for goods and services weak and jobs hard to find."
This quote from a May 8, 2009, news article about unemployment could just as well have been written today. Then, the nation's unemployment rate stood at 8.9 percent, at the time its highest level since October 1983. Thirty months later, unemployment at 9 percent remains high but perhaps seems more ordinary after hovering there or higher for nearly three years. Still, joblessness represents a source of misery for 13.9 million unemployed people and an additional 8.9 million more who are working part-time because they can't find full-time work.
Advocates and news outlets over the last three years have well documented what high unemployment and the corresponding increase in poverty means for communities and struggling families. For the more fortunate, losing a job means burning through savings or prematurely cashing out retirement funds. But for millions of low-income working people without the luxury of a rainy day fund or other safety net, it means struggling to pay for basic necessities. It means missing mortgage or rent payments or moving in with family members. It means relying on important safety net programs to put food on the table. It means having to be extraordinarily resourceful and resilient.
Yet today, as one headline reminds us of the millions who are jobless, another declares that senators blocked yet another jobs bill in part because Republicans oppose its provision to raise taxes on the wealthy. It is the third time in as many weeks that a jobs measure failed to secure enough votes to get past debate. President Obama's comprehensive $447 billion American Jobs Act failed in the Senate Oct. 11, and a scaled back $35 billion package to aid the states and hire teachers and firefighters failed Oct. 21. These, too, were blocked in part because Republicans say they oppose its provisions to increase taxes on millionaires.
Thursday, Reps. Lloyd Doggett and Sandy Levin introduced the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act in the House, and Sen. Jack Reed introduced companion legislation in the Senate. The measure would extend federal unemployment assistance and prevent more than 6 million jobless workers from losing their unemployment insurance benefits next year, a summary of the bill stated. With more than four in 10 unemployed workers out of a job for six months or more, extended benefits are a vital lifeline.
Lawmakers should pass this bill to prevent millions of workers struggling to find a job from experiencing even more hardship. This is the least they could do for workers and their families, but the bar shouldn't be set that low. They should demonstrate that they are in touch with Main Street and their constituents by passing a comprehensive jobs measure instead of flat out refusing to consider anything that raises taxes on the wealthy.
After three years, perhaps high unemployment has become ordinary. But given the negative long-term repercussions for families, communities and the nation, we cannot allow it to persist. Although 9 percent unemployment no longer rates headlines that blare "crisis," it doesn't mean millions of unemployed and underemployed workers and their families aren't in crisis and struggling to find suitable employment so they can make ends meet. And even though we are quickly approaching an election year, lawmakers shouldn't continually punt when it comes to policy solutions that can help put people back to work.