Amid the jockeying over the top income tax rates and the talk about “sequestration,” it easily can be overlooked that the looming fiscal cliff poses immediate hardship for 2 million of the unemployed. Their emergency unemployment compensation expires at the end of the year.
If anything, Congress should act quickly to ease their anxiety by approving an extension through the end of 2013, or until job creation accelerates and the unemployment rate significantly declines. Come April, another 1 million unemployed face the expiration of jobless assistance.
Federal unemployment compensation takes hold after state benefits expire. Thus, the federal program plays a crucial role for the 5 million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more. They currently make up 40 percent of the unemployed.
Know that jobless benefits hardly amount to a windfall. They help workers and their families cover basic necessities such as groceries and the rent. The benefits may assist in a transition, a lifeline that allows a worker to pursue training and the skills required to build a more secure future.
The Congressional Research Service recently reported that jobless benefits translated into 2.3 million people staying out of poverty last year. More, unemployment compensation has proved a most effective stimulus for the economy, each dollar spent generating $2 in economic activity. In that way, all of us receive a boost.
If the many components of the fiscal cliff allow room for the necessary give and take, one item shouldn’t be compromised: extended jobless benefits. Congress should act soon. Those out of work shouldn’t be left to wonder during the holidays.