About1.3 million Americans, including 39,000 Ohioans, who have been out of work for more than six months are in line for a thoughtful holiday gift from their elected representatives in Congress: elimination of their unemployment benefits. Surely not even Washington lawmakers are that heartless, or feckless.
The bipartisan budget deal reached this week (see the guest editorial below) does not include an extension of federal jobless benefits for long-term unemployed workers. Lawmakers must renew that program separately before it expires on Dec. 28 — and should not think about adjourning until they do.
In Ohio, laid-off workers are eligible for 26 weeks of state-paid benefits. If they exhaust those payments, they then can collect as much as 37 weeks of emergency unemployment insurance — a time period linked to the state’s jobless rate — paid for by the federal government. Such compensation typically amounts to about $300 a week in our state.
As the national economy has gradually improved, the average number of weeks of extended benefits has fallen by more than a third over the past two years. The mindless budget sequester has cut benefits even further.
Yet extremists such as Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) continue to make the insulting assertion that extended benefits discourage long-term unemployed workers from accepting any job that becomes available. Other critics say the payroll taxes that states must levy to pay for their own benefits create a disincentive to employers to hire workers.
By definition, extended unemployment benefits are designed to provide jobless workers and their families with a lifeline to stay out of poverty, and they do. Not inconsequentially, they also pump tens of millions of dollars each month into local economies across Ohio, including Toledo’s. Ending the program would cost our state an estimated 6,000 jobs.
The extended benefits finance job searches by helping to pay the cost of such things as transportation. But they don’t subsidize a luxuriously lazy lifestyle; those who claim otherwise are invited to try living on them.
Democratic lawmakers propose paying for a renewal of extended benefits for a year by going after tax evaders. By contrast, cutting off benefits now, while long-term unemployment remains so high, could deny compensation to 88,000 Ohioans by mid-2014, and 128,600 by the end of next year.
Despite the nation’s recovery from the Great Recession, and a jobless rate that has reached a five-year low of 7 percent, 4.1 million Americans have been unemployed for longer than six months — more than one-third of all jobless workers.
Because 1.3 million jobs lost during the recession haven’t come back, there are still three applicants for every job opening. Ohio’s unemployment rate currently exceeds the national rate.
Only sustained economic growth accompanied by meaningful job creation will reverse these harsh trends. As those things occur, extended benefits will become increasingly unnecessary.
But that happy day hasn’t arrived. Further punishing people who are having an especially tough time finding new jobs — whatever their level of skills, experience, and training — won’t solve anything.