The bill to extend jobless benefits has passed the House but has been blocked in the Senate for nearly two months. The Administration has two Republicans who will support the legislation, and Senator Robert Byrd’s replacement will also vote in favor of the package.
The fate of 2. 5 million Americans is at stake. Under the proposal, job insurance payments will be retroactive to June and will be extended for six months. Probably another million or more people will become part of the growing list of long-term unemployed this year. Hiring is still slow, and there are over 4 job seekers for each open job, according to federal government numbers.
The costs of the bill will be $33 billion. The White House says the money will come from a pool of unspent dollars from the $787 billion stimulus package. The Republicans say the money should be saved to cut the deficit. Either way, the legislation is expensive.
It is not facile to make the point that extending benefits to people out of work is the compassionate thing to do, which is probably considered a liberal view. It is also possible to make a strong argument that there are tremendous economic benefits to paying two million, and eventually three or four million people, $309 a week.Consumer spending and consumer sentiment are still extremely poor. One reason may be that one of three Americans have a family member who is out of work. The fear of job loss is still present among most Americans. A recent Bloomberg poll showed that seven of ten people in the US believes that the country has not come out of recession.
Extended benefits keep people from the level of desperation that accompanies the inability to pay rents and mortgages or buy food and clothing. It also gives people some very modest amount of money to spend. That may not seem like at lot at $309 a week, but multiplied by millions of people, it is a small engine to help drive the economy.
Douglas A. McIntyre