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By Roberta Downing, PhD (Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer, APA Public Interest Directorate – Government Relations Office)
This holiday season won’t be a cheerful one for over a million unemployed Americans. On December 28th, 1.3 million jobless people will face a harsh cutoff of unemployment insurance. Another 3.5 million workers will be cut off in 2014 if Congress does not act. Unemployment insurance provides a lifeline for many unemployed workers when jobs are scarce. Without it, jobless workers and their families are at risk of falling into poverty.
What is federal long-term unemployment insurance?
Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) is a temporary federal program that gives unemployed workers additional weeks of unemployment insurance (UI) depending on their state’s unemployment rate. Unemployment insurance helps families meet basic needs like food and shelter, to hold families over when jobs are hard to find. These benefits also stimulate the economy because, when finances are tight for families, unemployment benefits are spent immediately.
Millions of families are struggling with long-term unemployment, which has been much worse in the recent economic downturn than it was in previous recessions.
Four million workers (over one-third of the 11 million unemployed) have been without work for 27 weeks or longer – a historic high not seen since World War II – and longer than the 26 weeks that most states provide in state-funded unemployment insurance.
In 2012 alone, unemployment insurance kept 1.7 million unemployed workers and their families from falling into poverty.[i] Without these benefits, families with unemployed workers are likely to face dire financial straits.
Why is this happening?
We keep hearing in the news about how the economy is getting better. It is this kind of news that convinces lawmakers that the long-term unemployed no longer need help. However, the unemployment rate remains high.
At 7%, it is still two points higher than it was at the beginning of the Great Recession in December 2007.
There are still three unemployed workers for every job opening.
We still need 7.9 million jobs to get back to the unemployment rate we had prior to the Great Recession.[ii]
Harm to families
Psychologists have long studied the mental health consequences of unemployment. Understandably, unemployed workers have worse mental health, less marital or family satisfaction, and poorer physical health than those with stable employment. Unemployment is associated with psychological problems like depression and anxiety and can also contribute to reduced life expectancy.
Unfortunately, the stress of unemployment can lead to changes in family relationships that result in negative outcomes for children, including more punitive and arbitrary parenting. Without the basic safety net that EUC provides for the long-term unemployed, the negative effects of unemployment on families are likely to worsen, especially for children who are particularly vulnerable to the health and mental health consequences of deprivation.
What can you do?
Contact your Member of Congress!
Call, visit, email, or write a letter to your Senators and Representative and tell them that it is too soon to discontinue jobless benefits for millions of unemployed workers. Without those benefits, millions are at risk of falling into poverty.
Tell them to not leave behind millions of unemployed workers this holiday season.
Organize with other groups in your community and visit your Members of Congress and Senators in their DC or in-state/district offices. Make your voice heard!
What else can you do?
Spread the word in your community!
Draft an op-ed for your local newspaper about the continuing need for unemployment benefits and dispel myths about why millions of Americans are experiencing long-term unemployment.
Urge your lawmakers to not leave unemployed workers stranded this holiday season.
[i] Sherman, A. (2013). Why Isn’t Poverty Falling? Weakening of Unemployment Insurance Is a Pivotal Factor. Retrieved from Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=4030
[ii] Gould, E. (2013) Despite Today’s Relatively Positive Jobs Report, the Labor Market Remains Weak. Retrieved from Economic Policy Institute website: http://www.epi.org/publication/todays-positive-jobs-report-labor-market/
Roberta Downing, PhD is a Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer with the APA Public Interest Directorate Government Relations Office. Dr. Downing is a former APA Congressional Fellow (2004-2005), working for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. She was also a healthcare staffer for Senator Brown of Ohio. Most recently, Dr. Downing was a Senior Legislative Associate at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.