On Saturday, 1.3 million Americans lost their last lifeline from the federal government: an emergency unemployment insurance program. Although long-term unemployment is still at its highest level since World War II, Congress failed to renew the program in the budget deal it passed just before adjourning for winter recess. The program provided up to 47 weeks of supplemental unemployment insurance payments to jobless people looking for work. Now, just a quarter of unemployed Americans will receive jobless benefits — the smallest proportion in half a century. Allowing the program to sunset is expected to have wide-scale ramifications for the economy at large, axing job growth by around 300,000 positions next year and pushing hundreds of thousands of households to the brink of poverty. We are joined by Imara Jones, economic justice contributor for Colorlines.com.
AMY GOODMAN: On Saturday, 1.3 million Americans lost their last lifeline from the federal government: an emergency unemployment insurance program. Although long-term unemployment is still at its highest level since World War II, Congress failed to renew the program in the budget deal it passed just before adjourning for winter recess. The program provided up to 47 weeks of supplemental unemployment insurance payments to jobless people looking for work. Now, just a quarter of unemployed Americans will receive jobless benefits—the smallest proportion in half a century. Allowing the program to sunset is expected to have wide-scale ramifications for the economy at large, axing job growth by around 300,000 positions next year and pushing hundreds of thousands of households to the brink of poverty.
For more, we’re joined by Imara Jones. He’s the economic justice contributor for Colorlines.com, served in the Clinton White House, where he worked on international trade policy, recently wrote an article called “The Grinches Who Stole Jobless Benefits.”
Imara Jones, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about this, in this holiday season, what’s taken place.
IMARA JONES: Well, in any season it’s a dreadful thing to happen, but it’s even more so now. And the problem is that not only is it the holiday season, but this is the wrong thing to happen at the wrong time for our economy, for all of the reasons that you just laid out. And the problem is that long-term unemployment is still a problem. And in a year in which there’s a lot of talk about the need to focus on equity and inequities in our economy, the loss of over a million benefits for the people just days ago and then up to five million in the year ahead is going to make that infinitely harder.
AMY GOODMAN: How did this happen? And how did—I mean, while the Democrats criticize this, but they signed on to the deal.
IMARA JONES: I think two things happened. The first is that this is not a surprise, given where the GOP has been since it swept to power in 2010. They’ve made a lot of statements, and they believe, right and truly, that it’s not the role of the government to be involved in helping people who are the most vulnerable. And that’s just a declaration that they’ve made and that has been a part of their actions. I think what happened with the Democratic Party is that there probably was a sense that this wasn’t going to happen, that there had always been some brinksmanship around unemployment benefits, but there had always a way that was found. But it probably was just a bridge too far for John Boehner, given the fact that he just cut a deal with the Democrats on the budget at large, and so something else had to be given up.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking on Fox News, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said long-term jobless benefits can create a group of perpetually unemployed people.
SEN. RAND PAUL: I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers. There was a study that came out a few months ago, and it said if you have a worker that’s been unemployed for four weeks and on unemployment insurance, and one that’s on 99 weeks, which would you hire? Every employer, nearly 100 percent, said they will always hire the person who’s been out of work four weeks. When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy. And it really—while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you’re trying to help.
AMY GOODMAN: Imara Jones, respond to Senator Paul.
IMARA JONES: Two things. First of all, that’s just not true. I mean, the Fed—Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco came out with a study and said that unemployment benefits actually have very little impact on whether or not people remain jobless. It only extends joblessness by up to seven days. What it does do is that it allows people to be able to sustain themselves while looking for work. So there’s no impact on jobless benefits on joblessness.
And the second thing is that jobless benefits are actually stimulative to the economy. They are actually—add, for every one dollar we provide to someone of unemployment benefits, it yields $1.60 in economic activity. And that’s why the loss of these benefits is going to rob our economy of $41 billion, at a time when the economy is still very schizophrenic. It can’t figure out whether it’s going to recover and how it’s going to recover. And the problem with selective studies like Senator Paul sort of pulled out is that it’s not about an individual fact, it’s about an assessment. And the bottom line is that we’re not in a good shape on unemployment.
AMY GOODMAN: In the past, the unemployment benefits have been extended. Is it going to happen this time?
IMARA JONES: It’s hard to see how that’s going to happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Who are the unemployed in this country? And we just have 30 seconds.
IMARA JONES: They are disproportionately—long-term unemployed are disproportionately people of color. They are across all educational areas and backgrounds. Age-wise, a pretty wide standard age distribution, but the longest of the long-term unemployed are actually older. And so, what’s going to happen is that a lot of these people are either going to be pushed into poverty, they’re going to drop out of the job force and extend that problem, or they’re going to actually file and go on Social Security early, so they’re going to actually push up the cost that the GOP says that it wants to hold down. So, it doesn’t make sense in a lot of ways.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Imara Jones, economic justice contributor to Colorlines.com, served in the Clinton White House.