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Congress Giving Up On Helping Unemployed?

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF.

Suddenly the word is all over the place that the Congress is not going to extend unemployment benefits further! It seems that the economy is booming (for Wall Street, top corporate executives, and Washington legislators) so it doesn't feel like there is a need to keep carrying these people.

Is the economy booming? Michael Moore's movie "Capitalism, A Love Story" brought attention to a concept known as "plutonomy," referring to economic growth that is powered and consumed entirely by the wealthy. The idea is that the world's economy no longer needs regular people or a middle class to keep it going. The thinking is that the rich at this point are just carrying them along for the ride - for now. And for sure, an attitude seems to have set in among the elites that they are carrying the rest of us, and we are a burden. Stock markets are up, bonuses are up, we're out of the woods. Next month the jobs report is expected to be 300,000 new jobs created. Problem solved. So why are we still acting like there's a problem?

A Bloomberg report yesterday that Congress won't be extending unemployment benefits reflects exactly this worldview, quoting Sen. Max Baucus,

Democrats who have pushed through the past extensions agree there's insufficient backing to go beyond 99 weeks, largely because of mounting concern over the federal deficit, projected to reach $1.5 trillion this year.

"You can't go on forever," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, of Montana, whose panel oversees the benefits program. "I think 99 weeks is sufficient," he said.

"There's just been no discussion to go beyond that," said Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat.

Some Republicans say cutting off aid will spur people to find work.

Goldman "designed to fail" Sachs is quoted seeing no "political climate" for helping the unemployed,

"The political climate is not as conducive to additional expansions as it had been last year," a Goldman analysis said. "The result is likely to be a greater share of unemployed workers not receiving unemployment compensation."

"Why don't they just give themselves million-dollar bonuses like everyone else does?" one expects to hear next.

The radio show Marketplace interviews Stuart Rothenberg, confirming that Congress actually might not extend benefits to the millions and millions of unemployed,

We just don't have the resources to do this. The money's not there, and we're already in debt. Everybody's fighting for every nickel, and so it would be difficult to extend benefits.

The Marketplace correspondent adds,

But there is an argument that paying benefits for longer actually keeps the unemployment rate high. That's because people who get a check don't search as hard for work. And they're picky.

"The money's not there." Maybe because we got tricked into giving it all to Wall Street?

So is it just a problem if people not wanting to get jobs? The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes unemployment rates for metropolitan areas. Scroll down to number 209, Prescott, AZ, where the numbers first reach 10%, then scroll to the bottom where number 372, El Centro, CA is 27%. If any of those people in those 163 metropolitan areas do find a job all they are doing is taking a job from someone else, at a lower wage. (Which may be the objective of denying unemployment benefits, to drive wages down further.)

What are people going to do? Job seekers still outnumber jobs by 6 to 1. Deborah Weinstein of the Coalition on Human Needs says,

We have 6.5 million people who are long-term unemployed. The numbers jump each month. Even from Feb to March the number grew by 414,000 in just that one month. There are record-breaking numbers of people who have been unemployed for 6 months or more. If we cut off benefits we are hurting the people who are hurting the most and we will threaten the very fragile beginnings of the recovery that we are only just starting to see.

Meteor Blades, writing at Daily Kos, adds,

Among those politicians who are too sensitive to invoke the specter of hobos, there's still a widespread view that most jobless people so much enjoy living on benefits that they won't look for a job until the benefits go away. So, take the benefits away and, magically, everybody is employed again.

Then there is the real world.

Are they just engaging in magical thinking

The Congressional leadership has to come out right now and tell us what they are doing about jobs. Are they or are they not extending unemployment, COBRA subsidies and COBRA itself? Are they supporting the Miller Jobs Bill? What about additional proposals? What about aid to the states? Like Nevada, New York, Virginia, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, and that is just from 5 minutes of The Google.

You can help the Congress figure out if they should be helping the unemployed. You can call your own member of Congress and let them know your own thoughts on this.

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