Yes, there’s another “cliff” at the end of this year—and another already disadvantaged group ready to fall off Washington’s self-made escalator to nowhere. This time it’s the long-term unemployed, many of whom will lose their benefits if Congress doesn’t act by the end of the year.
Those who have been jobless for more than six months are categorized as “long-term unemployed.” Unfortunately, thanks to an extremely anemic recovery, there are actually more long-term unemployed than ever before. There were 4.1 million long-term unemployed workers in September, which is higher than in any month during the Great Recession, and the share of unemployed workers who are long-term unemployed (36.9 percent) is also at historic highs.
Many of these workers receive benefits from the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which was created in 2008 to support workers who remained jobless after their state unemployment benefits expired. It was necessary then—when the unemployment rate was only 5.6 percent—and has only become more vital since. It has been expanded or renewed eleven times, most recently during the fiscal cliff deal at the end of 2012.
That renewal expires at the end of 2013, and there is alarming silence from Capitol Hill about renewing it. This would be catastrophic for over 2 million long-term unemployed: 1.3 million would be cut off immediately in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and about 850,000 would lose access to EUC in the first quarter of 2014, as this chart from the National Employment Law Project shows:
Many of the past renewals have happened during crisis standoffs like the fiscal cliff. But advocates for the unemployed are calling for an immediate fix. “Unemployment levels are still unacceptably high, labor market conditions are persistently weak and long-term unemployment remains at crisis levels,” said Christine Owens, executive director of NELP. “Lawmakers in Washington must renew federal unemployment insurance for 2014, and should do so without delay or brinksmanship.”
Sequestration has already battered the long-term unemployed by reducing benefits by 15 percent. Without action from Washington, this already fraying lifeline will break away completely, leaving those that have already paid the steepest price for the financial crisis of 2008 all alone.
In the GOP, compassionate conservatism is out, and poverty denial is in. What is it going to take to get America’s poor back on the agenda? asks Michelle Goldberg.