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Ross Eisenbrey Headshot

The White House's Lame Excuses For Rejecting a Badly-Needed Extension of Unemployment Benefits

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This week the Bush administration trotted out a lame and calloused argument for opposing critically-needed legislation to extend unemployment insurance benefits for the millions of long-term unemployed Americans, arguing that what's needed are jobs, not more benefits. The White House claimed that its trade deals and an extension of its tax cuts for the rich will create those jobs.

This is hogwash. Of course Americans need jobs, but in the meantime, those who can't find them need unemployment insurance. Today there are 8.5 million officially unemployed and only 3.7 million job vacancies - a shortage of 4.8 million jobs. It took more than six years for the Bush economy to produce 4.8 million jobs, despite getting the trillions of dollars of tax cuts it wanted. The record so far this year is a loss of several hundred thousand jobs. Who do administration officials think they're fooling? Over the next year, unemployment is expected to climb, and the Congressional Budget Office predicts that 3.8 million more workers will exhaust their entitlement to unemployment insurance.

The administration's other solution is "reforming and reauthorizing" the two principal job training programs. This is a sad joke, since the "reform" involves cutting the job training budget by hundreds of millions of dollars. As it is, the two programs provide training to only a tiny fraction of the unemployed. In any event, training people to do jobs that don't exist is no solution. It's dressing them up with nowhere to go.

EPI economist Heidi Shierholz has elsewhere rebutted the rest of the administration's argument against the bill: that the job market isn't bad enough to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed. In summary, the economy is in worse shape now than when benefits were last extended, in March 2002. The rate of long-term unemployment is historically high, job creation has been negative for five months, and the 5.5% unemployment is deceptively low because it's a lagging indicator of recession.

There is no good reason not to help those who have been looking for work without success for 27 weeks or more, by giving them another 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits. The $13 billion needed to fund the extension is in the Federal Unemployment Insurance Trust fund, which now has $35 billion for just this purpose. The unemployed need the money to survive, keep their houses and avoid bankruptcy. The economy needs them to have the money, because it will provide badly needed stimulus in communities that are suffering from the economy's slowdown. All that's standing in the way are right-wing ideology and George Bush.