The Jobless Need Help Now!

It's time for Congress to help the many jobless Americans ­an estimated 450,000 in the next three months alone who are about to be denied federally-funded Unemployment Insurance benefits.

What Congress must do and must do quickly is once again expand the emergency program that was established during the Great Recession in 2008 to provide benefits averaging $300 a week to the steadily growing number of jobless. Congress has until only January 1 to block the first cutbacks of extra benefit weeks that could continue until at least 2015 unless Congress Acts.

President Obama and congressional Democrats are pushing measures that would lengthen the benefit payout period through 2014 at a cost of about $25 billion on top of the $225 billion spent so far on the program. But given the congressional haggling over economic measures, the chance of agreement before Congress adjourns December 31 is slight.

Meanwhile, the number of Americans unable to find jobs they need for survival remains in the millions. Already, there are four million who have been seeking jobs for more than six months and many others who have stopped looking.

Particularly hard hit are aging as well as younger workers, and women and minorities. Their number and need for unemployment benefits is certain to grow, most likely at a rapid pace.

All this is happening, of course, at the same time that banks, corporate interests and other wealthy Republican friends continue raking in huge profits. Money gained from relaxing the tax breaks given such political friends, for instance, could very well go into funding further Unemployment Insurance payments and other steps to help U.S. workers.

Ironically, cutting the federal benefit program could actually lead to more unemployment. That's because workers denied benefits naturally have less to spend and that could in turn cause those who rely on the laid-off workers' business to cut back operations.

The need for extending the federal benefit program should be obvious to anyone outside the powerful circle of GOP & friends. Listen to what Gene Sperling, Obama's chief economic adviser, told the New York Times' Annie Lowrey:

"There has not been a time where the unemployment rate has been this high where you have not extended it. Why would you not expand now, when you're dealing with the nearly unprecedented levels of long-tern unemployment coming off such a historic recession?"

Why not, indeed?

Dick Meister is a San Francisco-based columnist who has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century as a reoirter, editor, author and commentator. Contact him through his website, http://www.dickmeister.com, which includes several hundred of his columns.

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