Jobless benefit extension vote likely today
Long-term unemployment rate hits 62-year high amid senate impasse
WASHINGTON — The Senate is poised today to vote on extending benefits to 2.5 million unemployed Americans, as the proportion of long-term unemployed rises to a 62-year high.
Benefits for those who have been out of work for more than six months expired 48 days ago as a result of the impasse, cutting off aid to 2.5 million Americans with the total growing by 200,000 a week. There are almost five jobless Americans for every job opening, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meanwhile, the Senate hit an impasse over extending the benefits, with Republican opposition over the added cost to the federal deficit and assertions that the benefits are a disincentive to find work.
Senate Democrats are expected to bring the unemployment insurance bill back up today after they swear in another Democrat, Carte Goodwin of West Virginia, to be the interim successor to Robert Byrd, who died last month. Goodwin will provide Democrats with the 60th vote they need to close debate and pass the measure.
Assuming Senate passage, the House is expected to vote Wednesday on the measure, which would extend benefits by six months and cost an estimated $33 billion.
About 2.5 million people have seen their weekly checks interrupted since an earlier extension of the jobless aid program expired June 2.
Even as the overall unemployment rate has begun to drop — falling to 9.5 percent in June from a peak of 10.1 percent in October — the proportion of the work force that has been out of work for more than six months has risen to 4.4 percent.
The long-term unemployment rate has not approached such a level since the government began keeping the statistic in 1948, although the rate was almost certainly much higher during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
There are now 14.6 million unemployed people in the U.S., and more than 9.2 million of them are collecting some form of jobless insurance, including 4.9 million receiving the federal extensions.
The impasse hasn’t affected the 4.3 million or so who have been collecting their first six months of
state-paid benefits; but someone whose state benefits have run since June 2 hasn’t been eligible for the next 20 weeks’ worth of benefits while others in the program can’t qualify for three additional “tiers” of benefits after that.
Assuming passage of the latest bill, people who lost their benefits because of Congress’ inaction will be able to receive them retroactively. But that could prove cumbersome as people flood state offices to reapply for benefits and as states grapple with questions such as requirements that jobless people detail the steps they’re taking to find work.
Republicans have blocked several earlier efforts to bring the benefit-extension measure to the Senate floor for a vote. They challenged Democrats to cut spending elsewhere so that the extended benefits would not increase the deficit.
On Monday, President Barack Obama sharply criticized Republicans for holding up the bill.
He noted that Republicans voted to extend jobless benefits under his GOP predecessor, George W. Bush, but they had been unwilling to do so now.
“For a long time, there has been a tradition under both Democratic and Republican presidents to offer relief to the unemployed,” he said. “That was certainly the case under my predecessor, when Republicans several times voted to extend emergency unemployment benefits.”
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio fired back.
In a prepared statement, Boehner said: “The president knows that Republicans support extending unemployment insurance, and doing it in a fiscally responsible way by cutting spending elsewhere in the $3 trillion federal budget.”
President Barack Obama Criticizes Republicans for holding up measure that would extend jobless benefits.
John Boehner House GOP leader says party supports extending benefits if spending is cut elsewhere from budget.