Congress left many struggling Americans with a gift of Christmas cheerlessness. A week ago, 1.3 million members of the long-term unemployed lost their benefits.
The timing was cruel, but then so was the logic of ending a five-year program started under President George W. Bush that had helped the hardest-hit jobless to weather the Great Recession and its aftermath.
It’s not as if jobs are now readily available. The nation’s unemployment rate fell to 7 percent in November, but that’s still much higher than normal. An indication is that nearly 4.1 million Americans have been out of work for six months or more.
It’s not as if recipients of the federal aid have been living high on the hog. The average monthly payment is $1,166 — less than $300 a week. Imagine a family of four trying to feed, clothe and house themselves on that.
Certainly, the cost of the program — $26 billion over the next two years — is a concern in an age of government red ink. But, as the Congressional Budget Office noted, putting money into people’s pockets also has a positive economic effect because the recipients increase their spending on consumer goods and services, encouraging businesses to boost production and hire more workers.
Instead, this fragile economy is kept fragile by political ideology. The weak economy is not the fault of the unemployed, but they must bear the brunt because too many Republicans think that unemployed Americans are simply lazy and must be coerced into finding jobs.
Economists expect that the unemployment rate may fall, but perversely not because more jobs are available. Instead, people will despair and stop looking. Some will sell their cars, complicating their ability to seek work. Others will take menial jobs below their qualifications or simply become homeless. So much for family values.
According to Democrats in the House Ways and Means Committee, Pennsylvania had 73,330 residents cut off from federal aid on Dec. 28; another 3,573 will lose unemployment aid each week during the first six months of 2014.
President Barack Obama interrupted his Hawaii vacation to call two senators — Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Jack Reed, D-R.I. — to support their proposal to extend emergency unemployment benefits for three months. Add that to the list of subjects Congress must address early in this new year.