by Emily J. Martin, Vice President, 
National Women's Law Center

The long-term unemployment rate is at its highest level since such records began to be kept in 1948. Half of unemployed men and nearly half of unemployed women, including many older workers, have been without a job for six months or more. Last week, the New York Times told the story of one of these workers, profiling a 52-year-old woman who had done clerical work her entire career and can no longer find an administrative job, as employers view her skills with increasing skepticism. While she has tried to made ends meet as a cashier, others are unable to find any job at all.

These crisis-level rates of long-term unemployment have made extended unemployment insurance, which provides up to 73 weeks of additional assistance after individuals exhaust the standard 26 weeks of unemployment insurance, a crucial lifeline for hundreds of thousands of workers. Yet, efforts to ensure that extended unemployment benefits are available through the end of the year have stalled again and again in Congress. As a result, in recent months, as expiration deadlines have loomed, the program has been extended only one or two months at a time. Repeatedly these extensions have come only after the program expired for several days, throwing state unemployment systems into chaos and causing workers to temporarily lose the assistance they depend on. These stop and start efforts have gone on long enough. 

Congress must recognize that historic levels of long-term unemployment constitute an emergency and commit to making extended unemployment insurance benefits available through 2010, along with the COBRA subsidies that allow workers who have lost their jobs to afford to maintain their health insurance. Not only do these extended benefits mean the difference between destitution and hope for many workers, they also provide an extremely effective stimulus for the economy, as workers quickly spend this money in their communities.

Contact your Representative and demand swift action to help the unemployed.

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