While all America wonders what will happen now that the House has voted down the bailout package, one thing is absolutely clear: Unless Congress and the President act to expand emergency unemployment benefits within the next few days, hundreds of thousands of jobless workers will start running out of benefits as of this Sunday. Nearly 800,000 will do so by early October, according to our research at the National Employment Law Project (http://www.nelp.org/docUploads/EUC-Revised.pdf). And by the end of the year, more than one million long-term unemployed workers who want jobs but can't find them will be left without benefits too.
For these workers and their families, economic catastrophe is not a vague threat of what may happen if Congress fails to act. The economic crisis is real, upfront and personal. Unemployed workers rely on extended benefits to pay their mortgages, feed their kids, and continue to look for work. Expanding the extended benefits program with additional weeks of benefits is the right and wise thing to do: It gives jobless workers the income support they need to stay afloat while continuing to look for work and it helps to ease further downward pressure on the economy overall.
There's no question unemployed workers need this extra cushion. At 6.1 percent, the nation's unemployment rate is at its highest point in five years, and in 12 states--including Michigan, Ohio and Nevada--unemployment exceeds 6.5 percent. New unemployment claims jumped to more than 490,000 in the most recent Labor Department weekly report and continuing claims exceeded 3.5 million, both also five-year highs. Employers have shed more than 600,000 jobs this year. And the forecasts are for harder days ahead: Economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal predict continuing job loss and rising unemployment through at least the middle of next year.
Unemployed workers aren't asking for a trillion-dollar handout at taxpayers' expense. All they ask is that when Congress and the President bail out the banks, they toss jobless workers a lifeline too. At a time when America's leaders expect us to write a multi-billion-dollar check for Wall Street, it's not too much to ask that our leaders help out struggling workers who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs and can't find work in the lousy economy. Providing additional weeks of extended benefits for these workers and their families is the very least our leaders can--and should--do.