The recent budget deal announced by leaders in Congress has left out one very important provision for those struggling to find work, the extension of emergency unemployment insurance benefits. On December 28, 1.3 million long term unemployed workers, including 16,000 West Virginians, will lose their unemployment benefits.
As I previously discussed here, these benefits increased the number of weeks that unemployed workers could collect unemployment insurance benefits. Now, the looming expiration comes at a time when long- term unemployment remains a big problem for the country. In fact, it is the long-term unemployed that are keeping the unemployment rate above pre-recession levels. As this chart shows, the unemployment rate of those who are unemployed for only a short period of time is back down to pre-recession levels. It is for those who go months without finding a job where the unemployment crisis lingers.
And for those who are unemployed, it is still very difficult to find a job. Currently there are still three unemployed workers for every job opening. And not only are the odds against them, the long-term unemployed often face discrimination from potential employers, creating a stigma for the workers and keeping them unemployed even longer.
As the above chart shows, the ratio of job seekers per job opening is worse now than its peak during the previous recession. Ending extended emergency unemployment benefits while the long-term unemployment rate is so high would be unprecedented. The current long-term unemployment rate is much higher than it was when any of the previous emergency extensions were ended.
There are millions of workers struggling to find work in a still-fragile economy. Failure to extend federal unemployment programs would mean less spending by unemployed workers and their families, hurting the economy and threatening the weak recovery. Emergency benefits are an effective tool at helping both workers and the overall economy.