Opinion Pieces

Critical Lifeline Lost When Unemployment Benefits End

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Washington, DC, February 13, 2014 | Elizabeth Murphy ((202) 225-1766) | comments
Published by the Eastern Group Publications

Even as our economy moves toward recovery, albeit slowly, the scourge of unemployment persists in many greater Los Angeles communities. Among them are communities in my 40th Congressional district where unemployment stubbornly remains well above the national average.

While local businesses tell me they see improvement, there are still far too many Angelenos looking for work who need their unemployment benefits to feed their families. Tragically, by blocking the extension of these benefits the Congressional Republican Leadership is preventing them and millions of Americans from receiving this critical lifeline.

Unemployment payments average $300 per week and replace less than 50% of what a person was earning. Yet these benefits can make the difference in preventing homelessness and hunger. In 2012, for example, unemployment benefits kept an estimated 2.5 million Americans including 600,000 children, out of poverty.

Republicans say they oppose extending Emergency Unemployment Insurance because these benefits provide a disincentive to work and make unemployed Americans content to live off of taxpayer-support.

I say this is an insult to America’s workers and our strong work ethic that has made this country the best and most powerful in the world.

The reality is there are 1.3 million fewer jobs today than when many of these Americans became unemployed during our country’s economic downturn often called the great recession.

The reality is that in spite of continued efforts to find employment, there are nearly three jobseekers for every available job.

American workers are unemployed not because they are lazy and unmotivated to work but because currently there are simply not enough jobs for everyone who needs one.

This fact is magnified in our state of California where we have 400,000 fewer jobs available today than we did six years ago.

A recent report by the House Ways and Means Committee Democratic staff found that 263,916 individuals already have lost their benefits. One such Californian is Vincent Bussey, who has been looking for work for a year. His federal unemployment insurance ran out on December 28, and he is concerned he may have to start sleeping in his car and going to local food pantries.

Another American is Jessica Kruh. Since May, when she lost the $12.40-an-hour receptionist job she had for two years, Jessica had been receiving $270 a week to support herself and her 5-year-old son. Even with a certificate in medical coding, she didn’t get her first interview until October. Since then, she has interviewed for five jobs. Two, she didn’t get. She is still waiting to hear about the other three. If her unemployment insurance is cut off before she finds a job, the combination of rent and utilities would take all but $100 of her family’s monthly after-tax pay, not enough to cover car insurance, gas and food. Jessica says she feels a sense of dread about how this cut will not only impact her, but her son’s life as well. It is simply unconscionable to punish Americans like Vincent and Jessica who lost their job through no fault of their own and are actively looking for work.

It is also important to note that unemployment benefits do more than provide a critical lifeline for out of work Americans. They also help support our national economy. Economists estimate that every dollar of unemployment benefits generates a dollar and fifty five cents in new economic activity. This means our national economy is losing $400 million every week Republicans in Congress refuse to extend these benefits. Furthermore, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the economy will lose 200,000 jobs if these emergency unemployment benefits are not extended. Simply put, unemployment insurance is not only a moral imperative, but one that helps keep our economic recovery moving in the right direction.

We are a country of hardworking Americans who value work and are the best and most productive in the world. We are also a caring country whose values do not support turning our backs on our fellow Americans who are struggling to survive as they look for work. I strongly urge Speaker Boehner and Leader Cantor to heed the cries of the unemployed struggling to find work and pass the extension of unemployment insurance without delay.

U.S. Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard is a Democrat and represents California’s 40th Congressional District.
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