An Unwanted Holiday Gift from Congress

Carla Hanson

Almost 21,000 Oregonians are among the 1.3 million Americans who are losing their unemployment benefits today, after Congress failed to enact an extension. According to WaPo's Govbeat.com, the pain starts now:

"Recipients still face, at best, a delay in their checks and, at worst, a permanent end to them. When the aid expires Saturday, the unemployed will only be able to collect a maximum 26 weeks of benefits in most parts of the U.S., down from about twice as much in many states."

Lost in this synopsis is the fact that even more Oregonians and Americans will have their benefit terms sharply reduced. In Oregon alone, the benefit term will be slashed from 63 weeks to 26 weeks, forcing another 29,000 recipients out within the first 6 months of 2014, according the the WaPo research. (A White House report puts the total number affected now and in the next 6 months significantly higher - at 76k)

In other words, by July 1, all individuals now receiving Unemployment Insurance will be done. Those Oregonians are among almost 5 million Americans that could be impacted. Their prospects of finding work are not promising, with an average of 3 unemployed persons for every single job opening. This aggregate number doesn't even begin to reflect the realities in specific industries; in the construction trades, the ratio is closer to 10 to 1.

The long term unemployed compose more than a third of those on the unemployment rolls. While those that are unemployed less than 5 weeks have a 1 in 3 chance of finding work, those odds drop to 1 in 10 if a person is unemployed for over a year. The LA Times notes:

"Democrats and a few Republicans noted that even though the overall unemployment rate has dropped, the problems faced by the long-term unemployed remain grim. The share of the nation's workforce that has been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer has dropped, but at 2.6%, it remains as bad as the peak of long-term unemployment in any previous recession since the end of World War II."

The hope on the horizon is that there is bipartisan effort in the US Senate to at least enact a short term extension. Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and GOP Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who both have the honor of serving states with 9% unemployment, the worst in the country, are sponsoring legislation to extend benefits for another 3 months. The Senate will reconvene on January 6. The House, of course, is the House, and Speaker John Boehner is tuning up the mantra of budget offsets.

There aren't any "budget offsets" for those 21,000 Oregonians.

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