Is this really how we want to start the new year, by denying
unemployment benefits to more than a million Americans who have lost
their jobs? The bipartisan budget agreement passed by Congress and
signed by President Barack Obama protects military spending, but
promises to throw the most desperate in our economy into increased
financial hardship, thrusting hundreds of thousands of families beneath
the poverty line. The long-term unemployment rate is at the highest it
has been since World War II, while the percentage of those receiving the
benefits is at its historic low.
Meanwhile, Wall Street bankers are
popping the corks, celebrating a banner year for the stock market. As
brokers await their bonuses, many more of the unemployed will head for
“This is the wrong thing to happen at the wrong time for our
economy,” Imara Jones told me. He is the economic justice contributor
for Colorlines.com, and served in the Clinton White House, where he
worked on international trade policy. “Jobless benefits are actually
stimulative to the economy,” he said. “Every $1 we provide to someone of
unemployment benefits yields $1.60 in economic activity. And that’s why
the loss of these benefits is going to rob our economy of $41 billion.”
People living on the edge financially spend what they have to get by.
Those in the top echelons of our economy, the top 1 percent, can take
their income and hold on to it, or stash it away into an offshore
The unemployment-insurance program traditionally granted 26 weeks of
replacement pay for workers who lost their jobs through no fault of
their own. The extended benefits, signed into law by President George W.
Bush, lengthened the time period to up to 99 weeks. Benefits average
just $300 a week. According to The Washington Post, the average job
search lasts 35 weeks, so the current 26-week benefit will create added
stress on families already struggling.