There are 12.5 million unemployed people still seeking work in the United States, and over 5 million of them have been looking for work for twenty-seven weeks or longer.
These are “the long-term unemployed,” and their prospects for finding employment or getting assistance are rapidly diminishing.
The long-term unemployed now make up over 40 percent of all unemployed workers, and 3.3 percent of the labor force. In the past six decades, the previous highs for these figures were 26 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively, in June 1983.
Instead of helping these folks weather the storm and find ways to re-enter the workforce, our nation is moving in the opposite direction. In fact, this past Sunday, 230,000 people who have been looking for work for over a year lost their unemployment benefits. More than 400,000 people have now lost unemployment insurance (UI) since the beginning of the year as twenty-five high-unemployment states have ended their Extended Benefits (EB) program.
What makes the denial of this lifeline all the more absurd is the reason for it. As Hannah Shaw, research associate at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), writes, “Benefits have ended not because economic conditions have improved, but because they have not significantly deteriorated in the past three years.”
It’s all about an obscure rule called “the three-year lookback.”
Under federal guidelines, for a state to offer additional weeks of benefits it must have an unemployment rate of at least 6.5 percent, and—according to the lookback rule—the rate must be “at least 10 percent higher than it was any of the three prior years.”
“Unemployment rates have remained so elevated for so long that most states no longer meet this latter criterion,” writes Shaw. She points to California as a prime example. For more than three years, its unemployment rate has remained above 10 percent, but it fails the three-year lookback test because the rate didn’t rise sufficiently. As a result, over 90,000 Californians lost their benefits on Sunday.
Prior to Congress reducing the maximum number of weeks of unemployment benefits earlier this year, there was some discussion of changing the lookback rule to four years, or even suspending it. But in the end there wasn’t the political will to do it and there certainly isn’t now.
Shaw wants people to understand the real impact that these cuts have on the long-term unemployed.