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Fairy Tales About the Jobless
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That's some election-year fairy tale we're hearing from President Bush and his Republican buddies in Congress. You know, the one about how the economy is recovering rapidly under their brilliant leadership.

Try telling that to the millions of Americans who badly need jobs but aren't finding them despite months and months of searching, or the millions of others who've finally given up the search as hopeless.

Many of the workers have used up the 26 weeks of state-financed unemployment insurance benefits that had sustained them while they've searched. But they had hoped to get another six months help through a temporary federal program originally enacted during the economic downturn that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Congress twice renewed the program, but leaders of the Republican majority allowed it to expire last December and have since rejected repeated attempts by Democrats and Republicans from economically depressed states to renew it.

And why? That's sadly obvious: Renewing the program would mean acknowledging that unemployment is a serious problem and thus contradicting the bogus GOP claims of new economic health brought about by tax cuts. That just wouldn't do in an election year, and too bad Congress' failure to act denies aid to some of the country's poorest and most needy citizens.

The figures that belie the Republicans' claims are staggering. The latest federal reports show that well over eight million people are actively seeking jobs and that several million others who also want and need jobs have given up looking. The actual unemployment rate is probably around 10 percent, or close to double the official rate, in part because those who've quit trying to find work aren't counted in setting the rate.

Don't forget, either, the five million part-time workers who are trying to find full-time jobs.

Nearly one-fourth of the jobless have been out of work for more than six months. That's about two million workers -- 46 percent more than the number that had been unemployed that long just a year ago. It isn't much better for today's other jobless workers. They've averaged five months without work. It's been 20 years since workers have had to wait so long for jobs.

The number of those who've been jobless more than six months and thus have lost their eligibility for unemployment benefits continues to swell - by 760,000 in just the few months since Congress refused to extend the temporary benefit program. More than 1.2 million others are expected to also lose benefits by mid year.

Some economists, particularly those of the Republican persuasion, say the situation will improve. But the number of long-term unemployed workers would remain at extraordinarily high levels even if the most optimistic - or even most partisan - predictions for job growth came true.

Although it appears that a majority of House and Senate members may now see the need to provide benefits to the workers, it seems certain that the Republican leaders in both chambers will keep proposals for doing that bottled up in committee. At least until after the election in November, of course.

But though the GOP won't admit to the severity of the jobless problem and continues to insist that tax cuts for the party's wealthy backers is the answer to any problems there might be, Democratic candidates are sure to make the pressing need for extended unemployment benefits an issue. As well they should.

The benefits not only would help millions of unemployed Americans escape poverty. They'd also help boost the general economy by putting money into the hands of people who would immediately spend it - for food, housing and other basic necessities.

That's exactly what happened during the recession of the early 1990s, when Congress extended the benefit payout period on five different occasions.

That is not a fairy tale.

Copyright Dick Meister