Slapping the Long-Term Unemployed
Until last week, Congress was on the verge of allowing unemployment benefits to expire at the end of the month. Fortunately, lawmakers came to their senses and extended benefits for up to 73 weeks for the newly unemployed in the most economically depressed states.
But Congress doesn’t deserve praise. This extension only runs through the end of 2012 and represents the second time that lawmakers failed to agree on the future of the emergency unemployment compensation — the federal backstop for state-level unemployment benefits.
Republicans even tried to slash the maximum duration for unemployment benefits in the most depressed states to just 59 weeks. The GOP ignored the needs of the two million Americans who have already exhausted these benefits.
Republicans pushed for rules limiting unemployment benefits to folks with a high school diploma. That makes no sense, as those who haven’t finished high school are much more likely to be unemployed than people with high-school diplomas or college degrees. Those with the least education need unemployment assistance the most.
Rather than arguing about who should receive unemployment benefits, Congress should find ways to put the 27.5 million jobless back to work.
Without a concerted effort to create more jobs in the coming months, more and more unemployed Americans will exhaust their benefits. Further, research has shown that the longer someone is unemployed, the harder it is to find employment.
President Obama’s stimulus packages kept the unemployment rate from spiraling out of control. But it wasn’t nearly enough.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration provides a model for President Obama. If our leaders can get unemployed Americans back on the job — back earning a paycheck — then petty fights over unemployment benefits will be rendered moot.
The WPA built thousands of bridges and miles of road during the Great Depression, but the New Deal program’s cultural influence is often understated. Members of the WPA performed 225,000 concerts for a total of 150 million people over the program’s eight-year span. The program also produced 475,000 works of art and 276 full-length books.
So a modern-day WPA-style program need not simply improve America’s infrastructure. It can also make a contribution to our nation’s culture.
Why not utilize America’s unemployed in the same way in 2012? For those nervous about the expiration of unemployment benefits, such a program would represent an all-too-rare opportunity for hope.
Click here to tell Congress to enact a 21st century Works Progress Administration.