The Senate took a critical step last night when it moved legislation that would reinstate long-term unemployment benefits for some 2.8 million Americans. But a major hurdle still exists in the House, one that will be difficult to overcome.
Politics, again, is getting in the way of passing a measure that would help millions of U.S. families keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Some House members are suggesting that unemployment insurance just isn’t the major policy concern that it was just a few months ago.
Several are quick to point at the declining unemployment rate as proof of this. Once at 10 percent during the height of the Great Recession, the jobless rate has dropped to 6.7 percent according the latest numbers released last week. But those statistics don’t give a full picture of the employment marketplace.
As it stands, only slightly more than 62 percent of Americans 16 and over are in the labor force, still down significantly from where it stood in 2000. There is a significant subset of middle-class workers who lost their jobs in the last five years and can’t find a new one. Outsourcing of skilled employment overseas due to lousy trade deals led millions to lose their jobs and many are only left with low-income alternatives.
As it stands, 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.
There is also an issue of where the jobs are. Many times, finding people to fill jobs is a challenge because the openings are in areas where the market is thriving, not where unemployment is highest. That can put those job candidates at an extreme disadvantage when they apply for jobs that are outside their local area.
It’s because of these reasons that Congress must move forward with extending unemployment benefits to cover the long-term jobless. Contrary to the picture being painted by some in the House leadership, the unemployed are not trying to take advantage of the system. Instead, they are merely trying to have a basic backstop in place to be able to support their households while they continue with their job search.
The middle class has been hit with a two-by-four across the skull by the policies put in place on Capitol Hill in recent years. They deserve to be tended to instead of being left to die.