It has been two months since the renewal of Extended Benefits Compensation (EUC) of the Department of Unemployment Insurance (DUI) failed to pass. The number of people affected was more than 1 million and now reaches close to twice that number. Those included in the count have been searching for work for 26 weeks or longer. There are still more who are discouraged and have stopped searching. Yet, since December 21, 2013, Congress has made very little progress on the issue.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics report from January 2014 shows that while over 100,000 jobs were created, it is not nearly enough for the roughly 500,000 people who entered the workforce. The statistics are staggering: There are over 10 million people unemployed nationwide, over 3.5 million long-term unemployed, over 2.5 million who are not eligible for benefits although they are ready to work, and of those working, over 7 million can only find part-time, although they would like full-time employment.
There is pressure for Republicans to acquiesce to demands, but so far they have continually chosen to not restore extended unemployment benefits. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has pushed twice in an effort to bring legislation to a vote, but Republicans have refused. At present, seven Republican senators are making an effort to change this, especially if they are centrists and they represent constituents in states with high levels of unemployment. Republicans have reported a plan underway to reinstate benefits retroactively for the past three months.
The effect on the economy is huge. Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee issued a report that the cost to the economy is $3 billion for 2014 alone. The repercussions of losing unemployment benefits for the U.S. economy are far-reaching and some of the factors, such as personal happiness and well-being, cannot be measured or monetized.
Not being able to pay one’s bills for long periods of time, despite wanting to do so, can certainly affect mood, leading to depression and other emotional issues. When job seekers are forced to make do with less, they have to make hard choices, such as the man whose internet was shut off because he couldn’t pay for it, and then questioned how he would apply for positions – by walking around and asking for paper applications? Another individual told that at the height of her career, she was making $41,000, but is now living in poverty, making do by living with and borrowing from relatives. Those who live in states with expanded Medicaid are fortunate to have healthcare coverage; others are less so. And, those close to retirement age have some of the greatest difficulty in finding a position comparable to the one they lost.
Last week a Gallup poll was released whereby 25 percent in the U.S. say that unemployment and lack of unemployment benefits are the number one problem in the country. On Wednesday Congress returns to session after a week’s recess. If no decision is made soon, another 72,000 people will lose their unemployment benefits the week of March 3, causing additional difficulties for the U.S. economy.
By Fern Remedi-Brown