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Should we throw the long-term unemployed a life raft or an anchor?

Mar 28, 2014
In The News

By Congresswoman Robin L. Kelly

In December, Congress allowed federal emergency unemployment insurance to expire. Since then, more than 2 million unemployed Americans have been left in the lurch.

In Illinois, nearly 171,000 people have lost or will lose their unemployment benefits. This is absolutely reprehensible.

Although the national unemployment rate has dropped, long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high. In November, 37 percent of jobless workers had been out of work for six months or more. Studies show the longer workers are unemployed the tougher it is for them to get jobs because some employers discriminate against the long-term unemployed.

My Democratic colleagues in Congress have been working on passing an unemployment extension. With the deck stacked against the long-term unemployed, extending their benefits is the fiscally and morally responsible thing to do.

Unfortunately, Republicans have pushed back against an extension. Some have callously called the long-term unemployed lazy. If we extend benefits, they say, unemployed workers will lose their incentive to find jobs.

What an erroneous and offensive notion. Unemployment insurance is a benefit earned through work. Why would people who have worked for years in order to be eligible for benefits all of a sudden lose their will to work? This idea is especially ridiculous given that unemployment benefits are often far less than what most workers previously earned.

For anyone who thinks unemployment insurance is a free ride, I’d like to share the story of my constituent Stacy Noble. Stacy worked for 19 years at a south suburban nonprofit before being laid off in May. Her husband, Carlton, is an unemployed college instructor. The South Holland couple, who have two sons, is living off loans from relatives. They have to scrape together gas money for interviews.

“It’s really difficult,” Stacy told me. “We’re barely surviving.”

The Nobles aren’t deadbeats. They are hard-working neighbors who, like millions of Americans, are casualties of the worst recession we’ve seen in 70 years. And as they struggle to keep their heads above water, are we going to throw them a life raft or an anchor?

I am optimistic about the bipartisan Senate bill that would reauthorize emergency unemployment benefits for five months, allowing for retroactive payments back to December. I encourage my colleagues in the House to follow the Senate’s lead and quickly restore unemployment benefits.

Federal unemployment benefits are a bridge over troubled waters for jobless workers like Stacy and Carlton. They also support our economic recovery — delivering $1.52 in economic activity for every $1 spent. Blocking an extension will cost America 240,000 jobs this year. States have already lost more than $3 billion since the benefits expired.

As lawmakers, we owe it to the families we represent to pass an unemployment extension and help create jobs so that further extensions are no longer needed.

Unemployment insurance isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about Stacy and Carlton and the millions of unemployed Americans of all stripes all across the country. On their behalf, I urge my colleagues to act now to extend emergency unemployment benefits.

Robin Kelly



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