The most distressing element of last week's jobs report was not the small number of jobs added in December, but the decrease in the participation rate of workers from 63.6 percent at the beginning of 2013 to 62.8 percent at the end of it (a 35 year low).
That number is a sign of pure despair and what America should really be concerned about. When potential workers give up their search for employment completely, that is a direct hit to our economy -- in lost productivity, in lost taxes and in lost morale.
Making it exponentially worse is the lapse in unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans that occurred last month and which could balloon to 4.9 million Americans by the end of this year (as the 26 week window expires for more people). Lowering budget deficits is certainly important but providing relief to the long-term unemployed so that they don't lose all hope and leave the workforce altogether is even more important -- not to mention urgent.
Congressional Republicans have been consistently deaf to the plight of average citizens but the unnecessary and destructive sabotage of unemployment benefits is beyond justification. In retrospect, the deal that the two parties struck back in December was not the great step towards bipartisanship it was being touted as but a heartless snow job that is ultimately chillier in its bite than the Polar Vortex storm that just walloped us.
With the new jobs report showing that our economy may not be nearly as strong as we were assuming a month ago, the landscape becomes even more barren and the prospects for many Americans even more bleak. In this scenario, the least that our government can do is reinstate unemployment benefits and take care of its most vulnerable and unfortunate; at least temporarily. That is, after all, the real hallmark of a great society.
The Senate is already debating this. Let's hope they get there, and more importantly, let's hope that the Republicans in the House don't derail yet another simple measure to help people. After the government shutdown, America's international credibility as a 'going concern' is pretty low and having its citizens perish without unemployment benefits is not going to make us fiscally stronger.
Finally, the price tag for lowering the national misery is a relatively modest $25.2 billion, which I am sure the GOP would be more than able to find somewhere in the budget if it was a subsidy for big oil or drug companies.
SANJAY SANGHOEE is a political and business commentator. He has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner, as well as at multi-billion dollar hedge fund Ramius. His opinion pieces appear in Christian Science Monitor, TIME, Bloomberg Businessweek, FORTUNE, and Huffington Post, and he has appeared on CNBC's 'Closing Bell', MSNBC's 'The Cycle', TheStreet.com, and HuffPost Live on business topics. He is also the author of two thriller novels.
For more information, please visit www.sanghoee.com