Extending Help to the Unemployed


It’s not getting easier for these people to find jobs, either. Employers shed 263,000 jobs in September, putting the unemployment rate at 9.8 percent. Long-term unemployment has reached record highs and continues to rise at about three times the rate of growth in overall unemployment. And while the jobless rates for all major worker groups are much higher than at the start of the recession in 2007, black and Hispanic workers have faced double-digit rates of unemployment and are even more likely to be among the long-term unemployed.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in February, took important steps to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed and boosted weekly benefits. It also provided billions of dollars in incentives for states to modernize their unemployment insurance systems, producing an unprecedented wave of state UI reforms that include the expansion of benefits for low-wage and part-time workers as well as for those who may leave work due to family responsibility conflicts.

But the additional weeks are already running out—according to estimates from NELP, up to 600,000 Americans will have exhausted benefits provided by the Recovery Act by October’s end. And about 1.3 million workers will exhaust their unemployment benefits by the end of this year.

These benefits are not retroactive. While workers who ran out of benefits will be eligible if Congress passes an extension, they will never be able to recoup the benefits they lost in the interim, pushing them closer to poverty. Every day of delay in getting the bill to the president’s desk translates into benefits the unemployed will never be able to access.

Helping the unemployed helps us all. As the unemployed run out of benefits, they are less likely to spend money to stimulate the economy and more vulnerable to home foreclosures—both trends that could stall economic recovery. Moreover, unemployment benefits are not just social insurance. The income support they provide allows workers to take advantage of training opportunities, retooling their skills for a leg up in a new economy, and ultimately translating into a stronger economy in the long run.

It is critical that Congress put the needs of struggling families first by quickly and decisively extending UI benefits.

Alexandra Cawthorne is a Research Associate at the Center for American Progress. Melissa Boteach is the Half in Ten Manager at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.