Bad news for the long-term unemployed

Unemployment is up and emergency unemployment insurance benefits are down.

By Roberta Downing, PhD

More than 1.3 million people faced a harsh cutoff of unemployment benefits on Dec. 28, 2013. Each week since then, tens of thousands more have been cut off. Congress usually extends this program when the labor market is weak, as it is now. Not this time, however.

For many unemployed workers, unemployment benefits are a sole source of income. Large numbers of the unemployed are likely to fall into poverty without these benefits. In 2012 alone, unemployment benefits kept 1.7 million people from falling into poverty. The way forward for an extension of unemployment benefits in Congress is not clear, however. We have to keep up the pressure on policymakers to not leave behind those hardest hit by the Great Recession and its sluggish aftermath.

Background on the issue

Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) is a temporary federal program that gives unemployed workers additional weeks of unemployment insurance depending on their state’s unemployment rate. For many of these workers, these benefits keep their families afloat while they search for a new job. Families need unemployment benefits to cover the basics in life: rent, food, medical bills, heat. Without these benefits, many are likely to face foreclosure, eviction, possible homelessness and other dire financial difficulties.

While the news keeps reporting that the economy is strengthening, it’s critical to remember that the unemployment rate remains high at 6.7 percent with 10.4 million people that were unemployed as of December 2013. But not every community is affected by high unemployment equally. Roughly 6 percent of whites were unemployed in December compared to 12 percent of African-Americans and 9 percent of Latinos that were unemployed. Four million workers (over one-third of the 11 million unemployed) have been without work for 27 weeks or longer — which is longer than the 26 weeks that most states provide in state-funded unemployment insurance. Meanwhile, there are still three unemployed workers for every job opening. If Congress fails to extend EUC, five million people will lose benefits by the end of 2014.

The American Psychological Association has weighed in with members of Congress on this issue. Norman Anderson, PhD, CEO of APA, sent a letter to every senator and member of Congress, explaining the psychological effects of unemployment and urging Congress to extend emergency unemployment insurance.

The rest of us should weigh in, too. We need to keep the pressure on until Congress acts. Go to the APA Federal Action Network website to send an email to your senators and member of Congress. Write an op-ed to your local newspaper, urging your elected officials to help the long-term unemployed. Visit your member of Congress and senators in their in-state and district offices. We all need to do whatever we can to draw attention to this issue and send a strong message about the importance of extending this very critical safety net program.