Our opinion: Left out in the cold


Two bills that would have extended unemployment benefits for more than one million Americans failed in the Senate on Tuesday.

According to the Washington Post, neither bill got the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

Currently, there are about four million people who have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer. Extended benefits would have gone to them, but now their lifeline is gone.

Despite the addition of more than three million jobs over the past six years, more than 10 million remain out of work, with 3.9 million of them being out of work for 27 weeks or longer.

"The average time that an unemployed person in December had been looking for work was 37 weeks, nearly double the average at the time Obama entered the White House," notes FactCheck.org.

The problem touches nearly every demographic group, wrote the Washington Post's Brian Plumer, including married workers with kids, older workers, college-educated workers, and high-school dropouts. One recent study found that most employers won't even look at the resumes of the long-term unemployed, even though they might be perfectly suited for a particular job, notes Plumer. That means the long-term unemployed have only a 12 percent chance of finding a new job in any given month.

Plumer also shoots down the notion that by cutting off benefits, the long-term unemployed will go out and get a job.

"There are currently about 2.9 unemployed workers for every job opening," he notes.

Michael Strain, of the American Enterprise Institute, told the Washington Post it was disingenuous to assume all the long-term unemployed are lazy and just need a kick in the butt.

"If you look at the long-term unemployed, a good chunk of them have children. A good chunk are married. A good chunk are college-educated or have had some college and (are) in their prime earning years," said Strain. "It strikes me as implausible that this person is engaged in a half-hearted job search."

Don't tell that to U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. Earlier this month he said benefits should expire because they make people, well, lazy.

"I do think, though, that the longer you have it, that it does provide some disincentive to work and that there are many studies that indicate this," he said on ABC's This Week.

Paul, predictably, declined to cite any of those studies, but late last year, he cited a report by Rand Ghayad, an economist studying at Northeastern University, as evidence to support his specious claim.

In response, Ghayad, writing for The Atlantic, said "Paul misreads my work ..."

"Because companies discriminate against the long-term unemployed doesn't mean long-term benefits are to blame. Paul might know that if he read beyond the first line of my paper's abstract."

While there is some evidence that cutting off benefits decreases the unemployment rate, noted Ghayad, that's because many of those who lose their benefits simply stop looking for work and are no longer counted.

"Eliminating benefits ... might hide some of the problems with our labor market. But it would do nothing to cure them. It would only cut off a vital lifeline for the long-term unemployed and their families."

Bruce Covert, writing for Think Progress, talked to a number of the unemployed, and they told him they are offended at the way they have been characterized by the right-wing message machine.

"I am incensed with this Rand Paul," said Peter LeClair, who has sent out more than 2,000 resumes since losing his job. "He says I am lazy ... I am not lazy, how dare he. He doesn't even know me."

Dan Strollo told Thing Progress he has applied for more than 200 jobs, including many that pay substantially less than he was paid before being laid off, but to no avail.

"In the end I will do whatever I have to do to provide food and shelter for my children" who are both under the age of five, he said.

And long-term unemployment doesn't only affect those out of work and their families; it affects all of us, notes Plumer.

"These workers have seen their skills atrophy, their networks fade, and many of them have dropped out of the workfocre entirely ... That, in turn, has weakened the total potential of the U.S. economy."

Their predicament has left long-term scars on our country, contends Plumer.

"The U.S. economy will never be as productive as it could have been had we figured out how to get people back to work more quickly."

Congress could do a number of things other than, or in addition to, extending unemployment benefits, wrote Plumer.

"That could include work-sharing programs. Or tax incentives for companies that hire the long-term jobless ... Or relocation assistance. Or even ... the government could hire people directly. But Congress isn't doing any of these things. They're not even talking about any of these things."

That's because they're too busy searching for non-existent conspiracies related to Benghazi, holding votes to overturn Obamacare or naming post offices. While we trust our Vermont delegation is working its hardest to provide relief for those affected by the recession, they are only three voices in that mad house on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, people who need help -- and not just the unemployed, but also the working poor -- are being left out in the cold, both figuratively, and in some cases, literally.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions