Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Insult to injury

Congress’ refusal to extend long-term jobless benefits harms the economy as well as out-of-work Americans


Toledoan Robert Geis checks online job sites that email him daily, but he has not yet found employment.

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More than one-third of unemployed workers in Ohio have not held jobs for at least 27 months, the Economic Policy Institute estimates. Many of these people are men of prime working age — victims of otherwise positive advances in global technology.

They fight depression and a loss of self-worth. They try to keep their marriages and families together as they submit application after application. The longer they are out of work, the harder it is to get even an interview, studies show.

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These workers surely weren’t helped by the U.S. Senate’s failure this week to advance legislation that would have restored extended federal benefits for long-term unemployed workers. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) could have provided the decisive vote, but didn’t. Instead, Senate Republicans blocked the measure.

About 1.3 million unemployed Americans lost their long-term benefits in late December. That number has since climbed to 1.6 million workers. Congress has never before denied benefits when the long-term unemployment rate was as high as it is now.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) says the state’s economy has lost more than $66 million since the benefits expired. About 52,000 Ohioans have lost benefits, he says, and that total could reach 128,000 this year without a policy change.

Senator Portman says the negotiations over resuming the benefits have not made adequate progress on such issues as double-dipping and the effects of pension changes. But holding up the restoration of benefits over such relatively minor matters seems a false economy.

Workers who collect long-term jobless benefits don’t hoard them; they are spent in local communities on necessities. They help preserve other jobs. And they enable unemployed workers to stay in the job market instead of seeking disability payments, or just giving up.

Ohio’s jobless rate continues to exceed the national rate. The Blade recently wrote about the plight of Robert Geis, a 58-year-old Toledoan who spent 40 years working as a welder, fabricator, and shop supervisor before he lost an $18-an-hour job he had held for five years.

Eleven months later, he still hasn’t found a job. Mr. Geis said he sends out an average of 15 applications a week. He concedes: “I feel helpless.”

Congress has reached bipartisan agreement on a new farm bill that continues to subsidize big agriculture (even as it cuts food stamps). Lawmakers owe at least as much to Americans such as Mr. Geis. They need to extend long-term unemployment benefits without further delay.

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