But, in late 2010, with millions of Americans continuing to be counted among the long-term unemployed—out of work 27 weeks or more—Republicans in Congress started arguing against renewing the federal extensions. A number of these so-called leaders, implicitly or explicitly, said the program made the jobless lazy and uninterested in finding jobs. This sneer was issued despite the fact that there were far too few jobs available.
As the official unemployment rate fell—in part because so many people left the workforce—Republican opposition grew and cutbacks were made in the federal extensions until, in December 2013, they were ended altogether. At the same time nine states cut the amount of each week's compensation or cut the number of eligibility weeks from 26 to something lower. Or both. The states are Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, and South Carolina. At the end of 2014, South Carolina was on the bottom rung of unemployed people receiving compensation: just 14.8 percent.
As of the week ending Feb. 21, the Department of Labor reported that 2.9 million Americans were claiming unemployment compensation. If 65 percent of unemployed Americans were still receiving compensation, as was the case five years ago, that figure would be more than 5 million. (That doesn't include those no longer counted in the workforce because they have given up looking for a job.)
While valuable tweaks have been recommended for changing the unemployment insurance program, the most important element of a modernization first proposed in 2009 would mandate that every state provide 26 weeks of compensation, the standard for half a century until right-wing dismantlers decided to make life even tougher for those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
Even though the average weekly unemployment insurance check of $315 in 2014 didn't provide enough money to keep a family of three above the federal poverty line, the program nevertheless is a lifeline. Cutting it off prematurely doesn't just hurt the individuals and families affected, it hurts the overall economy, too.
More and better jobs are the ultimate cure for this situation. But the same leaders who axed the federal unemployment compensation extensions have shown an obstinate unwillingness to pass a serious jobs program. The suffering engendered by this makes no never mind to them. The solution to that is putting those alleged representatives of the people out of their cushy jobs and into the unemployment line.
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