Feature

The fight over jobless benefits

A bill to restore federal benefits for the long-term unemployed advanced when six Republican senators voted with Democrats.

A bill to restore federal benefits for the long-term unemployed advanced this week when six Republican senators voted with Democrats to prevent a GOP filibuster. Unemployment insurance expired Dec. 28, leaving nearly 1.3 million Americans who have been out of work for 27 or more weeks without a weekly support check of about $300. President Obama and congressional Democrats argue that the payments are needed to keep as many as 5 million people from becoming destitute in the coming year. But Republicans are resisting, saying that long-term unemployment benefits discourage people from hunting for work.

Now the full Senate will debate and vote on the proposed legislation, which if passed will be sent to the GOP-dominated House. Speaker John Boehner said he would not accept an extension unless the $6.5 billion price tag is offset by other budget cuts.

It’s time to dispel the lingering conservative myth that aid to the unemployed is a disincentive for working, said Ryan Cooper in WashingtonMonthly.com. The fundamental reality is that with three job seekers for every opening in the U.S., “there just aren’t enough jobs.” People with good qualifications “are trying their level best to find work and can’t do it.” Without modest financial support to keep them going, many will suffer serious hardship. Putting money into the pockets of the jobless also boosts the economy, because they spend it.

Giving the unemployed an endless series of checks merely postpones the inevitable, said David Freddoso in WashingtonExaminer.com. Most of the long-term unemployed need to accept positions that offer much lower pay than their prior ones. North Carolina slashed extended jobless benefits and saw unemployment drop by 1.4 percent in five months. “When the issue is forced, some job is better than no job at all.”

Either way, the jobless shouldn’t expect unemployment checks anytime soon, said Joshua Green in Businessweek.com. The reason? The usual: partisan gridlock. “The Senate bill, if it passes, is dead on arrival, like most bills sent to the House.”

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