Unless Congress Acts - A Bleak Holiday Season for
By Carl Bloice - BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board
November 18, 2010
The U.S. Congress that convened for its limited "lame
duck" session this week has a lot on its plate; it will
act - or not act - on some of the pressing issues
facing the nation, wrap up its business and go home for
the holidays. From then until the new Congress convenes
in January there will be a lot of occasions when the
members will have their actual china plates piled high.
But for a lot of people the holiday fare will be
skimpier than it has been for quite a while -
especially the nearly 15 million people out of work.
If Congress does not vote over the next week and a half
to re-authorize federal unemployment benefits through
next year, before they expire November 30, nearly 2
million women and men and their families will face a
dismal holiday season. One estimate is that the number
could reach 4 million by May with the current emergency
benefits program having expired and the additional
workers left unaided. It's hard to imagine anything
more urgent than this.
The workers who will be affected by the extension are
those who recently lost their jobs. It would make it
possible for them to receive the same number of weeks
of benefits as those who previously lost their jobs due
to the recession. The 2 million figure does not include
those people who have exhausted their jobless benefits
and will be on the streets with little or no income at
all. Nor does it include the young people entering the
job market for the first time.
According to Unemployed Workers.org, "These benefits
have helped keep more than 9 million jobless workers
and their families going this year alone, while they
look for work in a tough economy. More than 5 million
Americans who have been struggling to find jobs for six
months or more currently rely on these federal
unemployment benefits. Combined with state benefits,
the expanded federal unemployment programs kept an
estimated 3.3 million Americans out of poverty in
"Never before has Congress allowed extended
unemployment insurance to lapse when the national
unemployment rate is above 7.2 percent," says Jackie
Headapohl of Michigan Job Search at mlive.com. "We'll
find out later this month if the lame duck Congress
will continue that tradition."
"It is hard to imagine that Congress could deny help to
out-of-work Americans, except that is exactly what
happened this summer when federal benefits lapsed for
51 days, cutting off 2.5 million people. Senate
Republicans and a few Democrats insisted that reducing
the deficit was more important," the New York Times
said editorially last week. "That did not stop many of
the same senators from preserving tax loopholes for
certain wealthy money managers."
Congress' failure to pass an extension this summer took
a toll in terms of peoples' lives in ways that are
seldom chronicled in the major mass media. "I'd been
submitting 20 to 30 job applications a week, and
finally I got a job," says Lori Hancock, a 52-year-old
woman in Weldon, Ill. who lost her job last November.
"But, after working for only 2 weeks, my car was
repossessed, and without any transportation to get to
work, I lost that new job," Writing to
wwww.unemployedworkers.org, a website by the National
Employment Law Project, she said, "If Congress hadn't
let those benefits lapse last summer, I'd still have my
car and my new job. Now I have neither. What happened
to me could happen to almost anybody."
"Deficits matter,' the Times editorial continued, "but
not more than a recovery (benefits are a powerful
stimulus) or the economic survival of millions of
Americans. Short-term extensions breed uncertainty and
anxiety, which are also bad for the economy. The best
thing this lame duck Congress can do is extend the
benefits for 12 months, with the expectation that
things will be better by the end of next year."
"Creating jobs remains the biggest challenge to the
American economy," says Michael J. Wilson, national
director of Americans for Democratic Action. "The case
for public investment seems to have fallen by the
wayside in the face of short-term political
considerations." He spoke of "the obvious need for the
Congress to extend unemployment benefits this month as
a "failure to do so will not only devastate tens of
thousands of families, but will have a direct impact on
the holiday season. We can only hope that Congress does
the right thing in the extended session."
While the September jobless figures provided what some
have called a glimmer of bright light, the employment
depression shows no sign of abating. As economist Paul
Krugman put it: the "slump goes on and on."
According to the government, job openings, or listings,
decreased by 163,000 in September and there were
109,000 fewer jobs listed in August than previously
reported. There were 2.9 million job openings in
September, while the total number of unemployed workers
was 14.8 million, half of whom have been jobless for 21
weeks or more.
President Obama's welcome announcement that his trip to
India produced economic agreements that will
theoretically result in 54,000 new jobs should be seen
in context. Last month, the U.S. economy created
151,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate remained at
a stubborn 9.6 percent.
Congressional Republicans and a few Democrats
(fortunately, half of the latter lost their jobs in the
last election) are threatening to stick it to the
unemployed again. Once again they are demanding the
White House cut other vital social programs in return
for not killing the extension. Once again, some of them
are trotting out the demagogic argument that
unemployment insurance discourages people from seeking
Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said one of her
top priorities during the lame duck session will be to
reauthorize unemployment insurance. However, even with
Democratic majority in both houses, passing the measure
is uncertain given Republican opposition in the Senate.
Even more ominously, when the Republicans take over the
House it will probably mark the end of any extensions,
despite the fact that joblessness it expect to remain
high or even grow in 2011.
Jamelle Bouie at American Prospect magazine takes a dim
view of the prospects. "Reauthorization should be a no-
brainer in a recession with near double-digit
unemployment. But this isn't a sane country, and
Republicans have already held up the extension of
joblessness benefits on two separate occasions," he
wrote on the magazine's web page. "And despite the
importance of extending such support to help families
and improve the economy, there is no guarantee that
Democrats will find enough votes from the GOP - or
within their own caucus - to break a likely
"The people who are advocating an end to extending
unemployment benefits must be getting different data
than everyone else," said Dean Baker, co-director of
the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "The
economy is, at best, barely creating jobs at a fast
enough rate to keep the unemployment rate from rising.
All the projections show the unemployment rate will be
much higher over the next year than it was when we
originally extended benefits. It is hard to see what
the rationale would be for ending extended benefits."
"Fiscal watchdogs object to spending billions more on
payouts, adding to the mountainous federal debt," wrote
staff writer Jeff Harrington in the Times November 6.
"They cite studies that indicate extending benefits
actually lengthens the period of time people remain
"Republican leaders, emboldened by their renewed
legislative clout, have told Democrats they'll have to
cut up to $14 billion from government programs to
extend emergency unemployment benefits through
"These are scary times," says activist Kian Frederick.
"It's getting very difficult and there is a lot of
hardship out there. People are losing their homes;
their children are being placed in foster care. And all
the while people are trying to blame the victims rather
than face up to the problem."
Frederick is director of Flasmob4Jobs. Com, a group
dedicated to raising awareness of the plight of the
estimated 4.5 million "99ers," workers who have already
exhausted their 99 weeks of benefits. The group is
calling on Congress to pass Senate bill 3706 which
would add 20 additional weeks (Tier V) of benefits for
those who were laid off early in the recession and
ceased receiving assistance in the spring and for those
who will do so in the future. The proposed
legislation's tile is the Americans Want to Work Act.
"This is a stand-alone measure," Frederick told me.
"And like the proposal to extend assistance to those
whose benefits are about to run out, it is a band-aid.
What we really need is a jobs program. People want to
Last Friday, members of the group demonstrated outside
the Manhattan office of the Department of Labor where
some engaged in civil disobedience. "We're trying to
send a message; people have to stand up and be heard,"
Last Wednesday, about a dozen Ohioans protested outside
the Troy office of incoming Republican House Speaker
John Boehner on Wednesday. They delivered thousands of
petitions urging Congress to concentrate on job
creation. The demonstration was organized by Working
America, the community-organizing affiliate of the AFL-
CIO. One of the picketers, Marvin Bohn said,
"Unemployment benefits paid for the gas I needed to
look for work when I was laid off, and they put money
into our communities that supports businesses and
creates jobs. On the other hand, if that money goes to
Boehner's wealthy donors, it will simply go into buying
even more political attack ads in two years, not
"Boehner, don't do us wrong, stop stringing us along,"
the demonstrators chanted.
A move by House Democrats to enact an extension of
jobless benefits by way of a special "fast track"
procedure failed when it proved impossible to secure
the necessary two-thirds affirmative votes. In
Thursday's vote, 11 Democrats joined with the
Republicans to defeat the measure while 21 Republicans
broke rank with the GOP leadership and voted yes
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) said she will try to
bring the measure back to the chamber after
Thanksgiving in an effort to secure and extension at
last through the rest of the year.However, it is
considered doubtful that the Senate will act soon
enough to make it really happen.
"It's just inconceivable that in the last gasp of this
Congress you would turn all your attention to the top 2
percent of wage earners in the country at the same time
that middle class families are struggling to hold their
families together because of prolonged unemployment,"
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman
George Miller, D-C) told AP.
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