The Republic of T.

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Unemployment and the GOP’s “War on Christmas”

If there’s a “war on Christmas” going on, it’s being waged by congressional Republicans who are willing to let emergency unemployment benefits expire; just like they let emergency food stamp spending expire.

Last month, just in time for Thanksgiving, congressional Republicans let 47 million Americans go over the “hunger cliff,” when $5 billion in automatic cuts to food stamps took effect. Now, Republicans are about to let 1.3 million jobless Americans plunge over the “unemployment cliff” when emergency unemployment benefits expire in 24 days. Another 3.5 million jobless Americans will take the plunge by the end of 2014

In 2008, Congress passed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation provision, which extended unemployment benefits up to 99 weeks. As with the increased spending on food stamps passed at about the same time, the goal was to provide support for millions of workers who lost their jobs as a result of the Great Recession. As with food stamps, the emergency unemployment benefits extension may have been intended to expire once the crisis passed.

However, for millions of Americans the crisis hasn’t passed. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the number of unemployed Americans at 11.3 million, and the number of long-term unemployed — who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more — at 4.1 million. Behind these numbers are hidden layers of unemployment.

  •  Baby boomers, Generation X’ers and Millennials are all victims of the unemployment crisis. Those who can find work are often forced to seek part-time employment, or accept a decrease in salary. Some have chosen to continue their education, because there are no jobs available. 
  • It takes a baby boomer an average of 45 weeks to regain employment, Most find that companies are reluctant to hire them, if they’ve been unemployed for more than six months, because they fear baby boomers have lost skills sets and value during long-term unemployment. 
  • For Generation X’ers and Millennials, the time it takes to find new jobs is roughly 37 weeks. Recent graduates are disqualified from jobs that require years of experience, causing many to delay entry into the workforce. That delay will impact their ability to become self-sufficient and attain upwards mobility. 
  • Thus the percentage of Americans actively seeking employment has declined, from 66 percent in 2007 to 63.2 percent today — the lowest point since 1978.

Republicans, like Sen. Jon Kyl (R, AZ)  are fond of saying that unemployment benefits just give people a reason not to look for work. But a recent study shows that unemployment benefits don’t discourage people from seeking employment. Sociologist Jan Eichorn, of the University of Edinburgh, studied the 15 countries of the core European Union and Norway, and found that even in countries with unemployment benefits far more generous than the U.S., and concluded that “claims about unemployment benefits resulting in complacent unemployed people who chose the situation and would be satisfied with it cannot be retained uncritically.”

The sad irony is that conservatives have consistently blocked the path to full-employment. From sequestration to the government shutdown, and any number of budget cuts in between, conservatives have championed policies that ultimately shrink the economy and kill jobs. Republicans in Congress have obstructed direct employment efforts like the American Jobs Act

Closer to home, a 2011 study by Congress’ Joint Economic Committee found that since Congress extended unemployment benefits, the amount of time spent looking for a job has tripled among the long-term unemployed. (For what it’s worth, research shows that food stamps don’t create a”culture of dependency,” either. In fact, access to food stamps leads to increased in economic self-sufficiency, especially for women.) Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office says that a Democratic proposal to save expiring unemployment benefits would boost the economy by 200,000 jobs.

But Congress doesn’t have to rely on research alone. Members can listen to Americans who are in the economic trenches every day, like 67-year-old Stan Osnowitz, a Baltimore journeyman and electrician who testified before the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee today. 

The unemployment benefits have helped me just scrape by week to week, but even with them I am not able to pay my full portion of the expenses for the apartment I share. And trying to find a job now is a very difficult thing. Construction work is hard to find in the winter, and outside of my industry, from what I’ve seen, potential employers see my age and look right past me. They see my age, they don’t see me. But I still get up between 4 and 4:30 every morning. I am actively pursuing work through my union and elsewhere. Things should pick up for me in the spring, but I’m looking every day in the hopes of getting something sooner because I hate not working.

Stan is one of millions of long-term unemployed Americans who will have nowhere to turn if ether unemployment benefits are cut, and they cannot find jobs right away. And just in time for the holidays, too. It will be like an economic “lump of coal,” with regards from the GOP.

Of course, it doesn’t need to happen.  It doesn’t have to happen. If it does, it will be because Republicans in Congress want it to happen. 

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