WASHINGTON -- It seems unlikely that Congress will reauthorize unemployment insurance for people out of work six months or longer, but Americans haven't all given up on the long-term jobless.
In a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, a 49 percent to 26 percent plurality of Americans said people who have been unemployed more than six months should receive assistance from the government. In December, shortly before Congress let those benefits expire, Americans said they thought the long-term jobless should receive benefits by a nearly identical margin, 47 percent to 27 percent.
Not surprisingly, the poll showed Americans are also more likely to say that Congress should extend those benefits than they are to say that it should let the benefits expire (46 percent to 32 percent).
Yet the poll also found a partisan divide on the issue. Democrats (64 percent to 14 percent) and independents (44 percent to 33 percent) tended to say that Congress should give benefits back to the long-term unemployed, but Republicans were more likely to say that it was the right time to let them expire (53 percent to 25 percent).
Right now, Republicans are getting their way. Benefits lapsed for 1.3 million on Dec. 28, and another 70,000 would have been eligible each week since. The Democratic-majority Senate passed a bill reauthorizing the aid through May, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) doesn't want to reauthorize the benefits.
The partisan divide may in part reflect different attitudes toward the unemployed themselves. Overall, 49 percent of Americans said the long-term jobless are mostly trying hard to find jobs but can't, more than the 35 percent who said that they could find jobs if they wanted. Democrats (66 percent to 25 percent) and independents (50 percent to 31 percent) generally agreed with that assessment, but a majority of Republicans disagreed, saying most of the long-term jobless could find jobs if they wanted (54 percent to 25 percent).
Forty-five percent of Americans said that they themselves or a family member have been unemployed for more than six months at some point in the last five years, and that, too, made a big difference in Americans' opinions on the jobless. People close to someone who has been among the long-term jobless said that they think most are trying hard to find jobs but can't, by a 65 percent to 25 percent margin. Those who haven't had a family member in that situation were more likely to say the jobless could find jobs if they wanted to, by a 44 percent to 39 percent margin.
Feelings on extending unemployment benefits also reflected that divide between people close to the issue and people who haven't experienced it in a direct way. Those who have had a long-term unemployed family member said by a 57 percent to 23 percent margin that unemployment benefits should be extended. Those who haven't said by a narrow 41 percent to 38 percent margin that it was time to let the benefits expire. (Congress typically gives extra weeks of benefits when the jobless rate climbs, then takes them away when it falls, though there is no official threshold for when to add or remove the extra weeks.)
Even though the poll shows Americans are generally on the side of the long-term jobless, relatively few are paying attention to their plight. Only 23 percent said they'd heard a lot about Congress letting benefits expire at the end of last year, while 45 percent said they'd heard a little and 32 percent said they'd heard nothing at all.
Most major media outlets haven't tracked the benefits debate very closely, despite a surge of interest online in what Congress might do.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted April 18-21 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.