About 1.3 million Americans are in line for a Christmas present from their representatives in Congress: elimination of their unemployment benefits. Surely not even Washington lawmakers are that heartless, are they?
The budget deal passed last week by the House, which we hope will receive Senate approval, does not include an extension of federal jobless benefits for long-term unemployed workers. Lawmakers must renew that program separately before it expires on Dec. 28, cutting off 86,000 Pennsylvanians.
As the economy has slowly improved, the average number of weeks of extended benefits has fallen by more than a third over the past two years. The mindless budget sequester has cut benefits even further. Yet extremists such as Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, continue to make the insulting assertion that the extended benefits discourage long-term unemployed workers from accepting any job that becomes available.
Extended unemployment benefits are designed to provide jobless workers and their families with a lifeline to stay out of poverty. Democratic lawmakers would pay for a one-year renewal of extended benefits by going after tax evaders.
Despite the nation’s recovery from the Great Recession, and a jobless rate that has reached a five-year low of 7 percent — 7.5 percent in Pennsylvania — more than 4 million Americans have been unemployed for longer than six months. That’s one-third of all jobless workers.
Only sustained economic growth accompanied by meaningful job creation will reverse these harsh trends. But that happy day hasn’t arrived. Further punishing people who have had a tough time finding new jobs won’t solve anything.