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Budget Deal Misses Big on Unemployment

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A proposed congressional budget compromise approved by the House late Thursday, while generally a good first step for America, whiffed when it came to the long-term unemployed in this country.  Lawmakers cannot leave those in the U.S. who want to work out in the cold.

While there is a reason to be heartened by a Capitol Hill measure that would end the perilous forced sequester cuts which would have automatically taken effect early next year, Congress should not require the nation’s most vulnerable to carry the burden of such a deal.  It is never wrong, morally or economically, to invest in our own people.

If the budget agreement were to move forward as is, Matthew Yglesias of Slate wrote, the U.S. unemployment rate will likely decrease because many of the nation’s long-term unemployed will stop looking for a job and wouldn’t be counted under the statistic. That would be a false victory, especially when the “bad news is that the long-term unemployed are screwed.”

Some 1.3 million jobless cannot be served up as a sacrifice to balancing the nation’s books. Currently, there are three times as many unemployed workers as there are jobs available in this country. That is worse than during the bottom of the last U.S. recession wrote Robert Reich, President Clinton’s former labor secretary, in the Huffington Post.

Investment needs to be part of the equation of getting the U.S. back on its feet.  Yes, infrastructure is part of that, but so are people.  The federal government needs to support hard-working Americans who are having a tough time getting back on their feet in an economy that is still unforgiving for many in the middle class.

Extending unemployment insurance to workers is not “causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy,” as Sen. Rand Paul so ineloquently stated earlier this week. Instead, it protects against misfortune that can hit anyone. As Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee stated, “20 million Americans want a full-time job and can’t find one. 69 million people lived in households that received these benefits since 2008, including 17 million children. 40 percent of the people who received [emergency unemployment compensation] made $30,000-$75,000 a year before they became unemployed; 20 percent were college grads.”

Elected officials shouldn’t be trying to divide the nation on this question of giving assistance to those still looking for work. This is a situation that knows no color, education level or income bracket. While Congress took a step in the right direction in reaching a budget compromise, leaving the unemployed holding the bag is not a solution that betters America.