A precarious position for unemployment benefits and the unemployed

Senate passes extended unemployment benefits; House unlikely to follow

Over 2 million long-term unemployed Americans remain inexplicably and unacceptably caught between a divided Congress and nearly stagnant economy.

The Senate voted 59-38 to pass extended unemployment compensation Monday, which would provide five additional months of unemployment benefits to the unemployed in struggling states beyond the current 26-week limit. The bipartisan bill received primarily Democratic support with five Republicans joining in. It now goes to the House of Representatives, where it faces an uncertain future, at best.

Opposition in the House is likely to either kill this bill or indefinitely delay its implementation, while millions of long-term unemployed Americans struggle to get by without benefits. Extended benefits were cut off at the end of last year due to similar congressional inaction and inability to compromise.

Making matters worse, Congress leaves for a two-week spring break at the end of this week, while their constituents wait for action. The situation would be absurd if it were not so serious.

In the wake of the recession in 2008, Congress acted to extend unemployment payments of about $256 per week to a maximum of 99 weeks, which was later reduced to a 76-week maximum. Extended benefits ended Dec. 28 after Congress failed to reach an agreement on the measure.

The debate then was similar to now - Democrats want the benefits extended quickly in a relatively "clean" bill while some Republicans state they want "job-creating measures" included and others refuse the extension on ideological grounds.

The failure led to over 2 million Americans losing benefits. Approximately 72,000 people are added to that tally every month.

Claims that the recession "has been dealt with" by Republicans like Tom Cole, or that these extended benefits are "a disservice to these workers" by Rand Paul, are baseless if not ludicrous. Job-creating measures, however, are necessary as the economy continues to make its stubbornly slow recovery.

Long-term unemployment continues to plague the country. Though it has decreased from its peak in 2010, it remains at 191 percent of pre-recession levels, according to The New York Times. And last month, the nation finally replaced the number of jobs lost during the recession, though this seemingly good news doesn't include the 14 million additional adults who have since entered the workforce.

The economy continues to struggle. Some measures Republicans have proposed, such as job training, are practical and deserve consideration. Extending benefits is beyond practical - it is necessary and strategic.

Extended unemployment payments help families as well as the economy. The U.S. economy lost $4.7 billion between January and March this year due to benefits ending, according to House Ways and Means Committee Democrats. Further, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has repeatedly lauded the job creation spurred by unemployment benefits, because it de facto stimulates national spending.

Action on unemployment benefits is a common-sense measure and should be considered with reasonable job creation provisions. This, however, requires a level of cordiality Congress has proved itself incapable of.

Ahead of a difficult mid-term election, both parties are playing political football with unemployed Americans' livelihoods. The Republican House is currently obstructing the progression of this bill, but fault lies throughout Congress. Stubborn Democrats are unwilling to negotiate on reasonable job-creating measures and obdurate House Republicans are generating an all-too-familiar result - heated rhetoric without action.

What is costing Americans access to desperately needed unemployment benefits and potential access to more private-sector jobs is not something outside our control - it is political posturing and intransigence.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com