Federal unemployment assistance for 1.3 million people who have been unemployed longer than 26 weeks expired last Saturday, after Republicans blocked efforts to extend them. 3.6 million more people will lose these benefits over this year. Restoring these benefits is a moral, economic and political imperative.
On Monday the Senate will hold the first procedural vote on bringing back unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks. The hope is to break a Republican filibuster so the extension can be passed and sent to the House (where Republicans will likely refuse to even allow it to come up for a vote).
A Moral Imperative
When the financial crisis hit the country provided assistance to ("bailed out") the largest banks. We have a moral imperative to also help our fellow citizens. A democracy provides assistance for people who need help. A fair and just society provides assistance for people who need help. A moral society provides assistance for people who need help.
At this point in the "recovery" there is still only one job for every three people who are still bothering to actively look for work. With Saturday's expiration of federal unemployment assistance the share of unemployed people receiving jobless aid is now down to just one in four — the lowest level on record (since 1950). The rest — three of four unemployed — are left on their own. (See the full National Employment Law Project (NELP) report on this here.)
The Washington Post put up some interactive maps showing the states where the impact will be felt the most. Note that Note that North Carolina is left out of this map because Republicans there have already cut off unemployment assistance for the long-term unemployed and dramatically cut it for the short-term unemployed.
Reminder: It is more blessed to give than to receive. Here are just a few quotes from the Christian Bible,
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.
But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.
If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
An Economic Imperative
There is also an economic imperative to help the unemployed because cutting off long-term unemployment benefits hurts the economy-at-large. It drives wages down. It decreases "demand" in the economy which causes even more unemployment. Specifically, the loss of this money in the economy will cause the loss of 238,000 more jobs It will also force even more people onto Food Stamps and other public assistance even as these programs are cut. Laura Clawson at Daily Kos points out, Failing to extend unemployment insurance isn't just mean, it's stupid, (See the chart.)
But the thing is it helps a few people get even richer because high unemployment forces wages down. This fight is also about plutocrats hoping to push people into desperation so they are forced to accept lower wages and poor working conditions. This drives a stake into the heart of the meaning of democracy.
A Political Imperative
There is a political imperative to push for extended unemployment benefits because the American Majority wants this.
Hart Research Associates conducted a med-December poll for NELP. The main findings of this poll were:
- Only one-third of American voters believe Congress should allow federal unemployment benefits to end this week. By a strong 21-point margin, voters say Congress should act to maintain (55%) rather than cut off (34%) these benefits.
- Women overwhelmingly favor an extension (61% to 28%), and men favor it by a 10-point margin (50% to 40%).
- More than twice as many voters strongly favor maintaining benefits (43%) as strongly feel benefits should end (21%).
- Just 33% of voters agree that most of those receiving unemployment benefits “are not trying to find a job, and prefer to collect benefits without working.” Instead, 57% say that the unemployed “would rather work, but cannot find a job in today’s economy.”
- Seniors (age 65 and over) favor an extension (61% to 31%) more than any other age group, including 52% strongly in favor.
- White non-college voters favor an extension by 15 points (52% to 37%).
- White women favor maintaining benefits by 20 points (53% to 33%).
In another poll the firm Public Policy Polling looked at four key Congressional districts and found that 63 to 68% of voters in those districts support extending this assistance and by a 9-point margin say they will be less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes this. This breaks down as 79-85% of Democrats, 58-64% of independents and 48%-60% of Republicans. (Click here for full poll results.)
So there is a political imperative to push for this because hope and change drives votes. Democrats have to offer hope and change or people won't see a reason to bother to vote. And "the base" needs to see their elected officials fighting for those things that they feel are important, or they won't do the things that drive campaigns like giving money, volunteering, going door to door, and otherwise fighting to elect Democrats.
Democrats need to draw clear contrasts for democracy to function and voters to know who to hold accountable.
There is a moral, economic and political imperative to extend this assistance.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
- Galatians 6:9
(Research assistance for this post was provided by Derek Pugh.)