Now that the Congress has gone another week without renewing emergency jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, the moment merits returning to the harsh landscape for those seeking work. For every three people looking for a job, there is one opening available. That makes finding a position most difficult.
The sluggishness of the labor market was evident again in the monthly job numbers released by the federal government last week. The economy created just 113,000 jobs in January. If the unemployment rate declined to 6.6 percent, the status of the long-term unemployed remained grim, especially with the Senate failing to advance an extension of benefits that expired in late December.
Recall the punishing blow the Great Recession delivered, the work force contracting 6 percent. That is far more severe than other recent downturns, a drop of 3 percent in 1981-1982; 2 percent in 2001; and less than 2 percent in 1990-1991. More, those earlier periods saw the economy recover more quickly. Two years after the recession of the early 1980s, the job losses had been made up.
Today, almost five years since the recovery began, the massive job losses have not been erased. For its part, Ohio remains below its employment peak dating to before the 2001 recession. The Congressional Budget Office projected last week that the country’s job market would not return to normal until late 2017, or even longer.
This economic period has been distinguished by the many who have been out of work for six months or more, currently 36 percent of the 10.2 million unemployed. The previous high was 26 percent in the early 1980s.
So it is imperative that Congress renews benefits for the long-term unemployed, providing a boost to the economy in doing so. Unfortunately, lawmakers currently are stuck on how to pay for the extension. That argument should matter less than moving quickly to provide the assistance. The spending is temporary, and not a driver of the country’s budget deficits. There’s nothing to stop Congress and the White House from approving the jobless benefits and setting in motion the necessary spending reductions for the long term to achieve fiscal discipline.