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Congress Picked An Historically Bad Time To Kill Unemployment Benefits

01/08/2014 01:53 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

The current U.S. Congress just keeps racking up the superlatives: Not only is it the worst Congress in history, it is also the cruelest Congress to unemployed people in many decades.

Congress decided in its infinite wisdom to let emergency unemployment benefits end late last year for more than 1 million Americans suffering from long-term unemployment. Congress did this at a time when the long-term unemployment rate -- meaning the percentage of the U.S. labor force out of work for six months or more -- was more than 2.5 percent.

Never in any recession since at least 1957 has Congress let such emergency benefits expire when long-term unemployment was so high, the Economic Policy Institute pointed out on Wednesday. (Story continues below chart showing Congress's historic callousness.)

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In fact, as you can see from the chart, long-term unemployment -- which set a new record in the latest recession/miserable recovery -- is still above its prior record high, noted EPI economist Heidi Shierholz.

"This is no time for Congress to turn its back on the long-term unemployed," Shierholz wrote on the EPI's website.

The Senate on Tuesday showed a tiny, unexpected smidgen of compassion, voting simply to consider extending emergency benefits. But many Republicans still don't want to extend benefits without finding some way to pay for it with budget cuts -- even after historic austerity measures that have helped make this the weakest job-market recovery since World War II, keeping people out of work even longer. Rinse, repeat, be the absolute worst Congress ever.

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