New bill to aid long-term unemployed to be introduced
The economy might be in recovery, but there are still millions of people without work, and millions who have exhausted all the unemployment benefits available to them. That's why two Democratic congresspeople are introducing a bill Wednesday to extend benefits to "99ers" -- people who have exhausted their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits.
"We think that Congress should be focusing on helping working-class people and the folks who have really been hurt by the economy," said Joel Payne, a spokesman for California Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland, who is introducing the bill with Rep. Robert C. Scott of Virginia.
The legislation would add an additional 14 weeks of benefits to the first tier of unemployment benefits, extending benefits for unemployed in all states. It would extend the length of benefits available in hard-hit states such as California to 113 weeks.
But wait, you say. The country has added jobs for 11 straight months. Shouldn't these 99ers stop whining and get jobs?
It's not that easy, says Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute. According to new numbers released by the Labor Department on Tuesday, there are still 4.7 unemployed workers for every job opening. There were 3.1 million job openings in December, slightly down from the 3.2 million openings the month before.
"We definitely have seen improvement, but we are still in a huge, huge crisis in the labor market," she said. "That crisis has been going on for so long that there's a significant number of people exhausting their 99 weeks of benefits."
In October 2010, there were 1.4 million people who had been unemployed for 99 weeks or longer, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service. In January, there were 6.2 million people who had been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer, according to the Labor Department.
Spending money on unemployment benefits also has a stimulative effect on the economy, Shierholz said. That can't hurt in a sluggish recovery in which government stimulus dollars are starting to run out.
"Unemployment insurance spending is some of the most efficient stimulus spending," she said. "You’re getting money into the hands of people who are most likely to spend it most effectively."
-- Alana Semuels