The Unemployed Held Hostage, Again - NYTimes.com
It is hard to believe, as the holidays approach yet again amid economic hard times, but Congress looks as if it may let federal unemployment benefits lapse for the fourth time this year.
Lame duck lawmakers will have only one day when they return to work on Monday to renew the expiring benefits. If they don’t, two million people will be cut off in December alone. This lack of regard for working Americans is shocking. Last summer, benefits were blocked for 51 days, as senators in both parties focused on preserving tax breaks for wealthy money managers and other affluent constituents.
This time, tax cuts for the rich are bound to drive and distort the debate again. Republicans and Democrats will almost certainly link the renewal of jobless benefits to an extension of the high-end Bush-era tax cuts. That would be a travesty. There is no good argument for letting jobless benefits expire, or for extending those cuts.
The recession that began in 2007 has led to the worst unemployment in nearly 30 years. We have record levels of long-term unemployment. The jobless rate, 9.6 percent, has been essentially unchanged since May, and nearly 42 percent of the 14.8 million jobless workers have been sidelined for six months or more.
Some opponents of unemployment benefits — mostly Republicans but a few Democrats as well — would have you believe those figures are evidence of laziness, enabled by generous benefits. They conveniently ignore three facts. One, there are five unemployed people for every job opening — a profound scarcity of jobs. Two, federal benefits average $290 a week, about half of what the typical family spends on basics and hardly enough to dissuade someone from working. Three, as unemployment has deepened, benefits have become less generous.
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