About 1.3 million Americans lost their long-term unemployment benefits today.
As The New York Times frames the story, beyond drastically curtailing a safety-net for jobless workers, allowing the benefits to expire sets up a “major political” fight for the coming new year. The paper adds:
“The program, in place since the recession started in 2008, provides up to 47 weeks of supplemental unemployment insurance payments to jobless people looking for work. Its expiration is expected to have far-reaching ramifications for the economy, cutting job growth by about 300,000 positions next year and pushing hundreds of thousands of households below the poverty line.
“An extension of the unemployment program did not make it into the two-year budget deal that was passed just before Congress left on its winter recess. When the federal program expires, just 1 in 4 unemployed Americans will receive jobless benefits — the smallest proportion in half a century.”
NPR’s Morning Edition spoke to Denise Jones, a single mom in Takoma Park, Maryland, who lost her HR job in April.
“I live on the edge,” Jones said. “I just — I don’t know what else I could cut. I guess the next thing to go would be Internet. And then I could go down the street to the library and use the Internet, you know, for job search.”
On Friday, Gene Sperling, the White House’s director of the National Economic Council, said allowing these benefits to expire “defies economic sense, precedent and our values to allow 1.3 million Americans fighting to find jobs to see their unemployment insurance abruptly cut off — especially in the middle of the holiday season.”
“These are our neighbors, our community members and often fellow parents who depend on this as a temporary lifeline while they are actively looking for new jobs to support their families and make ends meet,” Sperling went on.
“Started under President George W. Bush, the benefits were designed as a cushion for the millions of U.S. citizens who lost their jobs in a recession and failed to find new ones while receiving state jobless benefits, which in most states expire after six months. Another 1.9 million people across the country are expected to exhaust their state benefits before the end of June.
“Republicans and some Democrats will likely want to make sure that any proposal to extend federal unemployment benefits is paid for. Many of them look at signs of economic growth and an unemployment rate now down to 7 percent and expected to drop further as evidence the additional weeks of benefits are no longer necessary.
“The effect of jobless benefits on the unemployment rates has been fiercely debated for decades. To qualify, people have to be seeking work. Conservative lawmakers such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky argue that the payments aggravate rather than relieve unemployment.”