As our economy struggles to regain its footing after the worst recession in the lifetime of most Americans, some Republicans in Congress seem determined to erect barriers to economic recovery. They threatened the full faith and credit of the United States. They brought our government to the brink of a shutdown. They have consistently failed to offer meaningful legislation to encourage job creation. And most recently, they refused to ask our nation's wealthiest individuals and corporations to pay their fair share toward our national security and other vital public services.
Now, in the midst of the holiday season, many unemployed Americans and their families are left wondering if Republicans will once again undercut consumer demand and business confidence. At the end of December, the federal unemployment insurance programs will begin to shut down, despite the fact that there are still roughly 6.5 million fewer jobs in the economy today than when the Great Recession started in December of 2007. As a result, over 6 million will have their benefits terminated by the end of 2012.
My legislation, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, would ensure that this does not happen.
Termination of extended federal unemployment coverage would deal a devastating blow to Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who depend on this lifeline until they can again make ends meet. And make no mistake—allowing these families to fall through the safety net would also hurt our economy. Depriving jobless Americans of the money they need to put food on the table, shoes on their children, and keep a roof over their head will cut consumer demand for thousands of local businesses and increase the number of home foreclosures. According to the Economic Policy Institute, cutting off unemployment benefits would cost over 500,000 jobs.
Nonetheless, some Republicans suggest we cannot afford to maintain assistance for the unemployed. That's right, the same crowd that continues to promote big tax breaks for the wealthiest few, while preserving multinational corporate tax loopholes, argues that helping the unemployed is just too high a mountain for our country to climb.
These are the same Republicans who blame unemployment on the unemployed. Never mind that unemployment insurance replaces less than half of a worker's former wages and the average unemployment check fails to get a family of four above 70 percent of the poverty level. There are over four unemployed workers for every job opening, meaning that even if every single available job was taken by an unemployed worker there would still be over 10 million of our fellow citizens without work.
As Congress debates my bill, I hope representatives don't recall just the numbers, but the real people behind them, people like Lynnette, an unemployed worker: "I'm fifty now. It's the first time I've drawn unemployment in my life. I'm tired, I'm demoralized. It was extremely hard for me to get where I was. I strived and fought and suffered. I paid more than my share of dues. I did everything I was supposed to do...Please extend the benefits. Please be aware that this country didn't suddenly become filled with lazy folks who don't want to work."
Americans don't turn their backs on Americans in need. The time to extend this critical program that serves as a lifeline for so many families is now.
About Lloyd Doggett U.S. Representative, Texas’ 25th District
Howard Rosen Resident Visiting Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics
Geoff Davis U.S. Representative, Kentucky's 4th District
Sander Levin U.S. Representative, Michigan’s 12th District
James Sherk Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics at the Heritage Foundation
Carl E. Van Horn Professor of Public Policy and Director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University