Even President Bush acknowledges that there are lots of
Americans who can't find jobs, but says there are not enough of them to justify
granting the jobless more of the unemployment benefits that have helped sustain
Not enough? There are at least 8 million workers who want
and need jobs but can't find them. And month after month, more than 200,000 of
the jobless exhaust the benefits that have kept them going while they looked
for work. Nearly 20 percent of them have been searching for more than six
months, the others for an average of four months.
In the meantime, the number of available jobs has been
declining steadily - by 300,000 over the past six months alone. Which means
there is roughly one job available for every two people who are actively
seeking work, and explains why as many as one-fourth of the jobless have simply
Given the generally poor state of the economy, the
jobless aren't likely to have any better luck soon. Those who've exhausted the
26 weeks of unemployment benefits, provided by the government through state and
federal taxes on employers, are in great need of at least 13 more weeks of
benefits. There's money for that in the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund, which
currently holds more than $35 billion.
Congressional Democrats have proposed measures to extend
benefits, currently averaging $285 a week, but have been blocked by Republican opposition
and, most importantly, by President Bush's threat to veto any extension of
The Democrats and their AFL-CIO allies had hoped to make
extension a key part of an economic stimulus package, not only as a way to give
jobless workers and their families badly needed help, but also to boost the
sagging economy by putting $1 billion to $2 billion a month into circulation
Boosting the economy was a main reason for creation of
the Unemployment Insurance system during the Great Depression of the 1930s. For
it puts money into the hands of people who must immediately spend it - for
food, housing and other basic necessities. It could be particularly important,
for example, to the homeowners and communities hardest hit by the current
Certainly the economy was noticeably helped during
recessions of the early 1990s when Congress extended the benefit payout period
on five different occasions. Benefits also were extended with a positive effect
during the recession of 2001, when some Republicans who opposed the move
actually warned that extended benefits would encourage idleness. Bush hasn't
gone quite that far. Yet.
There's even more reason now for extension, since finding
jobs is even more difficult than in the past. The Democrats in Congress
understand that. Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Wisconsin, who's
co-sponsoring a bill that would extend the benefits, notes that "the
economy is in trouble, the American people are in trouble, and we intend to
help. If ever there was a time when the American people expected action out of
Congress, this is it ... Finding a decent job becomes harder and harder as more
jobs are shed."
Even those who manage to find jobs often can find only
part-time work, and many have no choice but to take jobs paying less than their
previous jobs and providing lesser fringe benefits. That in turn can put a
strain on local governments, which might have to provide services, such as
health care, that the workers' previous employers had financed. Workers who
remain jobless put an even greater burden on governments, of course.
McDermott and his Democratic colleagues are stepping up
their attempts to extend jobless benefits, with particular attention to
Congressional Republicans from states with especially high unemployment.
They're also hoping for the election of a Democrat after Bush leaves office,
since both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama support extension.
Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister