Resolved for 2014: Renew Jobless Benefits for the Long-Term Unemployed

January 06, 2014 |  |  Link to article

By Neil Ridley

During the final days of 2013, 1.3 million jobless workers and their families were cut off from federal extended unemployment benefits as a result of congressional inaction. These benefits help long-term unemployed workers make ends meet while they search for work in a tough job market.

If federal benefits are not renewed soon, an additional 1.9 million Americans will lose their coverage over the next six months as they exhaust their state benefits and are then unable to receive federal unemployment insurance. By the end of 2014, 4.9 million workers will be denied benefits and about 3.6 million children will be directly affected by the lapse of benefits available to someone in their household, according to the Council of Economic Advisers and the Department of Labor.

Even though the national unemployment rate has dropped to 7 percent, long-term unemployment remains persistently high—an unfortunate and troubling legacy of the Great Recession. In November 2013, 37 percent of jobless workers—4.1 million people—had been out of work for six months or more. Studies show that the longer workers are unemployed, the more difficult it is for them to find work—with some employers screening out applications from those who have been unemployed for months or years.

Federal unemployment benefits provide a critical lifeline to jobless workers and their families. While the payments do not sustain families at their previous standard of living, they can make the difference between distress and desperation, between cutting back and facing hunger and homelessness. Census data show that unemployment benefits kept 1.7 million people above the poverty line in 2012, even as the number of weeks of federal benefits available to workers declined.

Americans value unemployment insurance and the promise it represents—that those who have lost jobs through no fault of their own and face hard times will not be left out in the cold. A recent poll by Hart Research Associates found that a solid majority of citizens think Congress should act to maintain (55%) rather than cut off (34%) federal extended unemployment benefits. Doing so should be at the very top of the resolution list for Congress as it resumes work this week.

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