Members of Congress are spending a lot of time talking sympathetically about unemployed people as they stump around their home states gathering up votes. When lawmakers return to Washington in November, we’ll see how they treat all those jobless folks they’re talking up now. Unemployment benefits are up for another extension on Nov. 30. If Republicans stand in the way of extending the program, as they have tried to do all year, 6 million people who’ve been out of work for longer than 27 weeks will no longer be eligible.
Advocates for jobless people aren’t waiting around until Congress returns to make demands. The National Employment Law Project, which has led the national push to secure extended benefits for the past year of the economic downturn, has launched a new campaign and petition at unemployedworkers.org. Along with a number of other groups, including the American 99ers Union, named for people who’ve been jobless longer than 99 weeks, they’re calling for another benefits extension.
According to NELP, the expanded federal unemployment insurance programs, combined with state benefits, kept an estimated 3.3 million Americans out of poverty last year alone.
Lawmakers will have just two weeks to pass another benefits extension when they return. That’s not much time, especially considering that last time it took them almost two months to accomplish. Unemployment benefits have become a cause of partisan rancor, with Republican deficit hawks saying that the benefits are breaking the federal bank. They’ve also peppered their anti-benefit line with a familiar argument about government assistance: that it keeps people unemployed by taking away incentives to work. With the economy losing jobs every month—almost 100,000 in September—that’s a hard argument to sustain.
Unemployment has remained consistently between 9 and 10 percent, much higher for blacks and Latinos—currently, 16.1 and 12.4 percent respectively. Single mothers are also significantly more likely to be out of a job. And people of color are more likely to be unemployed for long periods of time, which means that if Congress fails to extend benefits, it’ll be communities of color hit the hardest.
There are almost 15 million people officially without jobs right now, and last month 41.7 percent of these had been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Fifteen million voices, and voters, is a lot. Let’s see if it matters.