On Dec. 10, U.S. Rep. David Joyce and six other House Republicans sent a letter to their leadership. They did so just as Patty Murray and Paul Ryan were unveiling their bipartisan budget agreement.
Joyce and his colleagues urged Speaker John Boehner and Eric Cantor, the majority leader, to take up an extension of emergency unemployment benefits. They described the assistance as “an essential safeguard that has aided Americans who have endured through a weak economy.” They added that they looked forward to the House advancing “policies that will create jobs and grow our economy.”
Count unemployment benefits among those policies. Unfortunately, Democratic and Republican support did not translate into the extension having a place in the bipartisan deal.
As practically everyone knows, the emergency benefits expired a week ago, a cruel blow to 1.3 million unemployed workers, roughly 40,000 in Ohio. Democratic leaders in the Senate, with some Republican allies, have been mobilizing to approve an extension this week. This shouldn’t be so hard.
The economy has improved since those dark days when jobs disappeared at 800,000 per month. The private sector has added jobs for 45 straight months, job growth averaging 200,000 per month of late. The economy expanded 4 percent in the third quarter last year.
Still, the country has 1.3 million fewer jobs than when the recession began in December 2007. Ohio stands 230,000 short. Travel back to just before the recession of a decade ago, and the state is 440,000 jobs below the peak.
Look closer at the employment landscape of today. Nearly 40 percent of the unemployed have been searching for work six months or longer. The previous high, in recessions going back six decades, was 26 percent in June 1983.
These are the workers helped by federal emergency benefits. State programs generally cover the first six months of unemployment assistance. The feds then take charge, adding weeks depending on need.
Chad Stone of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that the long-term unemployment rate is 2.6 percent. Where was the rate when Congress ended emergency benefits following past recessions? Try 1.3 percent in December 2003 and February 1994.
Or 1.2 percent in March 1985, 0.9 percent in November 1977, 0.4 percent in March 1973, 0.9 percent in April 1962 and April 1959.
Stone cites the labor force participation rate, or the share of people age 16 and over in the labor force. It was 63 percent in November, lower than at the start of the year and one of the lowest rates in the past 35 years. Another measure, the share of the population with a job, stood at 62.7 percent on the eve of the recession. It has been below 60 percent since early 2009, and at 58.6 percent in November.
Know that when federal benefits began in June 2008, the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent, significantly below the current 7 percent.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates that there are now three unemployed workers for every job opening. At no point during the 2001 recession was the ratio so tough for job seekers.
One argument against an extension of emergency unemployment benefits holds that recipients will fall into a cycle of dependence. Yet the payments hardly are excessive, amounting to half or less of what a worker earned on the job. In Ohio, the average is $300 per week.
The money helps to cover basic expenses. In 2012, it kept an estimated 2.5 million out of poverty. It also serves to keep a worker connected to the job market. The compensation is tied to searching for a position, and it makes it easier to do so.
More, jobless benefits cover just a fraction of the unemployed. The National Employment Law Project recently calculated that with the expiration of federal assistance, the share of the unemployed receiving aid dropped to one in four. The report added that this is the lowest share since the federal government started keeping this data in 1950.
Policy Matters Ohio amplified on the finding, noting that one in five jobless Ohioans is receiving benefits, the share as low as it has been during the past 30 years.
Thus, a case easily can be made that the state and the country are not doing enough for those facing the misfortune of losing their jobs. The argument isn’t that the assistance should be open-ended. A scaling back already started, the maximum assistance trimmed from 99 weeks to 73 weeks.
Rather, the assistance should be linked to the realities of the job market. Which explains why the extension deserved ready approval.
The argument becomes stronger in view of how the aid helps more than the recipients. Moody Analytics estimates that every dollar in unemployment compensation generates $1.55 in new economic activity. The Congressional Budget Office projects that failing to extend emergency benefits will cost 300,000 jobs by the end of the year, or not exactly what we need.
Douglas is the Beacon Journal editorial page editor. He can be reached at 330-996-3514, or emailed at email@example.com.