Is America Ready to End Long-Term Unemployment Benefits?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 28 2013 12:02 PM

Millions of Americans Brace for Loss of Unemployment Benefits

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A job seeker waits to have her resume reviewed during a job fair in San Francisco, California.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

1.3 million Americans are set to lose their unemployment benefits today, as a special federal program to support the long-term jobless expires. Anyone who has been collecting benefits for more than 26 weeks, which amounts to 1.3 million Americans immediately, will no longer be eligible for continued benefits. The Obama administration estimates that by end of 2014, 4.9 million people will see their benefits run out.

During the recession, Congress launched the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program to extend jobless benefits -- at its peak, the EUC offered up to 99 weeks of coverage, but gradually scaled back since. President Obama along with Democrats had pushed for the program to continue, but the latest extension did not make it into the much-talked-about two-year budget deal passed just before Congress parted for its winter recess.

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While Democrats argue the expiry will hurt the economy and the long-term unemployed, Republicans who oppose the extension say the labor market has improved enough to end the emergency measure, which would cost the federal government $25 billion in 2014.

The fight retraces some long-standing ideological divides between liberals and conservatives. Via the New York Times:

“I don’t know if our colleagues who have opposed passing the unemployment-insurance legislation know or care about the impact on families,” said Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader. “The impact is very, very strong. It hurts the dignity of a family, of a worker.”
“I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for,” said Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky on Fox News. “If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers. When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”

While the overall unemployment rate has fallen to a nearly healthy (emphasis on the nearly) 7 percent – long-term unemployment has been more stubborn. The long-term unemployment rate, at 2.6 percent, remains as high as any previous recession since the end of World War II, reports the LA Times.

Curious about who makes up the long-term unemployed? Meet five such Americans, as profiled by Buzzfeed.

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