For 1.3 million Americans, the dawn of 2014 is anything but happy. In fact, despair, hopelessness and fear usher in the new year for those who have mercilessly lost their life-saving extended unemployment benefits
The pain burns disproportionately deep for tens of thousands in Ohio and the Mahoning Valley as jobless rates in our state and our three-county region have ticked up far beyond the already dour national average.
As we editorialized last month before the bottom fell out for those Americans for whom the nation’s slow economic recovery has eluded, cancellation of the benefits makes no sense on grounds of economic policy or human compassion. Now that the benefits have ended this week, the U.S. Congress must work passionately and aggressively to restore them post haste.
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In Ohio, laid-off workers are eligible for 26 weeks of state-paid benefits. If they exhaust those payments, they then can collect as many as 37 weeks of emergency unemployment insurance paid for by the federal government. Such compensation typically amounts to about $300 a week per jobless victim. But in a heartless display of insensitivity U.S. House members adjourned late last month by callously rescinding those benefits while thumbing their noses at their most vulnerable constituents.
Clearly they’ve lost touch with the reality of need, particularly in the heartland of Ohio where the anemic recovery appears to be stalling out. In November, for example, unemployment in the Mahoning Valley climbed to 8.1 percent, a full percentage point above November 2012, when the benefits were in full effect. In the city of Youngstown, the 10.1 percent jobless rate is nearly 2 percentage points higher than one year ago. Add to those numbers the thousands of unemployed who go uncounted because they’ve already exhausted extended benefits and have simply given up.
As Northeast Ohio economist George Zeller pointed out on release last week of the dismal new job data, “We are recovering from the recession, but it is painfully slow, and these numbers show it is slower than we thought,” he said.
The National Employment Law Project further validates the logic of extending the federal benefits. It notes that the current rate of long-term unemployment is two times higher than when federal emergency benefits were ended during earlier economic recessions.
In addition, continuation of the benefits stands to increase the momentum of recovery. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that extending the benefits through 2014 would add 300,000 jobs. From the perspective of human decency, the benefits also will help the unemployed maintain at least a subsistence-level existence and encourage many to remain vigilant in their job search. It also will help keep tens of thousands of children from falling into the grips of poverty, according to the Center for Poverty Research.
Zeller rightly calls the benefits a “definite economic boost” and assails inaction by congressmen as a “damaging decision.”
Congress can undo the damage immediately upon its return to Capitol Hill this month by passing Senate legislation that would extend the benefits three months while a comprehensive unemployment plan is drafted.
The bill likely will pass Senate muster, which means it will be up to Ohioan John Boehner, Republican speaker of the House, to muster up the intestinal fortitude to buck tea partyers and other extremists by calling for unity and support for our state’s and nation’s ranks of the jobless, many of whom are mere steps away from falling into the ranks of the homeless.