The unemployment situation is dire, especially among those who have been jobless for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, the situation is not likely to get better any time soon—national unemployment in October was above nine percent for the 18th consecutive month and is projected to remain above nine percent throughout 2011. Despite these historically high rates, some members of Congress are considering allowing federal unemployment benefits to expire on November 30th—a decision that would leave more than two million jobless workers at risk of benefit cutoffs in December.
Unemployment benefits provided critical support for women and their families in 2009, lifting 3.3 million people, including nearly one million children, out of poverty. The need for this vital support is hardly diminishing. The ranks of the long-term unemployed have swelled to record high levels, as close to 42 percent of the nearly 15 million jobless workers have been unemployed for six months or longer. As of last month, more than 2.4 million unemployed women had been searching for a job for six months or more, representing nearly half of all women who are unemployed (44 percent).
The cost of extending federal benefits for the long-term unemployed through 2011 is $65 billion—compared to the $40 billion cost of extending tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent of Americans for 2011—but the return to the economy will be much greater. Extending unemployment benefits for 2011 will grow the GDP by more than $104 billion, while extending the Bush tax cuts for the top two percent would result in less than tenth of that amount ($10 billion) added to the GDP. Choosing not to extend the program while unemployment is high would be a serious setback for our economic recovery.
Over the past 40 years, Congress has never allowed emergency unemployment benefits to expire when the unemployment rate was above 7.2 percent—2.4 percentage points lower than the current rate. Unemployment benefits are an essential lifeline for jobless workers and their families; Congress must make extending emergency unemployment benefits to support women and their families a top priority.