Unless Congress and President Bush act quickly, more than
one million Americans will soon run out of the Unemployment Insurance benefits
they desperately need to survive in these perilous economic times.
The unemployment rate, already at its highest level in
almost five years, seems certain to continue rising. So will the number of
jobless workers who will lose their eligibility for the benefits that have kept
them going while they looked for work. The number losing benefits should reach
800,000 by October, 1.1 million by year's end.
Man or woman. White or a minority.
white-collar. Well-educated or with less than a high school education. All
groups have been hard hit.
Curing the many economic ills that have contributed to
the workers' plight, and to the nation's other severe economic problems, is a
very large order. But surely we can at least try to ease the suffering of those
who've been denied the chance to earn a living because of economic developments
beyond their control.
The vehicle for that is a bill now pending in Congress.
It would extend unemployment compensation for those who've exhausted the 39
weeks of benefits - now averaging $285 a week -- that are provided by the
government through state and federal taxes on employers
The benefit payout
period was raised in June from 26
weeks. But the steep and steady increase in unemployment since then to the
current level of almost 6 percent or more than 9 million workers, has made
further extension essential. The pending bill would extend the basic period by
seven weeks to 46. States with jobless rates of 6 percent or more would have
the authority to extend benefits beyond that, for up to 52 weeks. Currently,
that would include 13 states and the District of Columbia.
Extension would not only give jobless workers and their
families badly needed aid, but also would help boost the sagging economy by
putting $1 billion to $2 billion a month into circulation almost immediately.
Boosting the economy was in fact 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.
Certainly the economy was noticeably helped during the
recessions of the early 1990s when Congress extended the benefit payout period
on five different occasions. Benefits also were extended with a positive
effectduring the recession of 2001. The latest extension, in June, had at least
the apparent effect of helping ease recessionary pressures.
Congressional Democrats and their AFL-CIO allies hope to
make extension a key part of an economic stimulus package that also would
include an expanded food stamp program, and a public works program that would
put jobless Americans to work building or repairing schools, roads, bridges and
other essential facilities.
Although the main concern should be about the millions
who can't find jobs, many of those who do manage to get work need help, too.
They often can find only part-time jobs or have no choice but to take jobs
paying less than their previous jobs and providing reduced 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
But, of course, it is workers who remain jobless who
suffer the most and who put the greatest burden on government. And it is they
who most need help - and need it now.
Copyright (c) 2008 Dick Meister