Grimmer times are apparently just on the horizon for hundreds of thousands of workers who have nearly exhausted their unemployment benefits. Normally, jobless workers are eligible for as long as six months of benefits, of as much as $362 a week. But as the dimensions of the present recession became clear, Congress extended benefits to a maximum of 99 weeks.
In previous downturns, that ought to have provided ample time to find a job for most. But not today. For example, Michigan, in many ways the state hardest hit by the Great Recession, has more than eight unemployed people for each available job. By the end of next month, 142,733 jobless Wolverine State workers will have exhausted their benefits.
That number is expected to more than double by April in Michigan alone, unless Congress approves a further extension of compensation. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) has introduced a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) that would extend eligibility for another 20 weeks, and also extend Hire Act tax credits to employers who hire the long-term unemployed. But the bill has bogged down, partly because of election-year politics.
Opponents point to ever-rising federal deficits and say the government simply cannot afford to spend more. They have a point, but it's a wrongheaded one. True, ballooning, trillion-dollar-plus deficits are a legitimate concern. Yet the consequences of not extending jobless benefits could be far worse. Regardless of the outcome of the elections, Congress should reconvene and extend unemployment compensation as speedily as possible.
Otherwise, the effects of millions of Americans losing their only income over the next few months could be devastating to the jobless and their families. Hopelessness of that magnitude could be potentially dangerous to society as well.