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Melissa Harris-Perry: If Only Congress Considered Unemployment As Urgent As Flight Delays

After only four members of Congress even bothered to show up for a hearing this week on what should be the most important issue of our time -- getting Americans back to work -- MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry let them know what she thought about it on this Saturday's show.
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After only four members of Congress even bothered to show up for a hearing this week on what should be the most important issue of our time -- getting Americans back to work -- MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry let them know what she thought about it on this Saturday's show.

If only Congress considered unemployment as urgent as flight delays:

Dear Members of the Joint Economic Committee:

It’s me, Melissa. Mind if I call ya J.E.C.?

I get it. A legislator’s work is never done. Days filled with dozens of hearings, back and forth to the Capitol for debates and votes, the obligatory press conferences. You can’t be everywhere at once. Inevitably some balls are going to get dropped. You’ve gotta prioritize, right?

After all, immigration reform is imminent, there’s a terrorist attack to be responded to–and can’t forget those flight delays!

Yes, you are there when it matters. Which can only leave me with one conclusion when I look at this photo, and see testimony about how to get the long term unemployed back to work, given before a room of empty chairs.

To you, this crisis confronting our country simply doesn’t matter. And make no mistake this is a crisis–not just for those who’ve fallen into chronic joblessness, but also for the U.S. economy. It’s what the National Employment Law Project has called “the real cliff that threatens our economy.”

There are 4.8 million people who have been unemployed beyond the six months covered by state benefits. People who have been out of work so long that they have just stopped looking. People whose joblessness marks them for discrimination by employers averse to hiring the unemployed. Who need you to be in that room, sitting in those chairs, figuring out the policy solutions that will get them back to work. People who–in the meantime–have only their dwindling savings and are relying on you to strengthen the social safety net programs they rely on for their survival. Since flight delays have got you all hot and bothered about the sequester, how about doing something about the sequester cuts that slashed federal unemployment insurance by 10%?

Remember last year when talking about what you would do to restore the economy and create jobs got you elected? Well, now it’s time to actually do it.

The absence of long-term unemployed people from the workforce means a smaller tax base, fewer people contributing to the economy, and the loss of valuable human capital from the labor market. Not to mention stresses on the lives of those individuals–increased risk of mental illness and suicide, divorce, higher mortality rates, domestic violence and academic underperformance by their children.

Kudos to Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, and the three other Democratic members of Congress who recognized the urgency of this issue, and came to that hearing to address it.

To the other 16 of you who had better things to do, it’s time to reorganize your priority list. Because if not, voters will be more than happy to put someone else in those empty seats.

Sincerely,

Melissa

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