A new study from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute has shown that this is the first time Congress has allowed coverage for the unemployed to expire with a record number of people out of work.
The study shows that there are still some 8 million Americans out of work, with few job prospects. However, that has not stopped the GOP-led House of Representatives from allowing unemployment coverage for these people to expire last month. This despite the fact that unemployment is twice as high as any other time when Congress allowed benefits for the out of work to lapse. President Obama has implored the GOP to work with House Democrats to restore coverage that helps protect some of the most vulnerable Americans and their families.
The EPI was explicit in saying that the persistent level of unemployment in no way reflects a lack of aspiration or effort on behalf of those looking for jobs:
[box type=”shadow”]”The figure shows the share of the labor force that has been unemployed for more than six months. In the Great Recession, that share rose to more than two-thirds higher than the previous record set during the downturn of the early 1980s. It has since come down significantly, but it is still above the previous record. Today’s long-term unemployment crisis is no mystery; it is exactly what we would expect given how long our labor market has been as weak as it has. It is not the fault of individual unemployed workers failing to exert enough effort or flexibility in their job search.”[/box]
The author goes on to describe the decision to allow benefits to expire at such a precarious time for the out of work as “unprecedented” and appealed for the House and the Senate to work together to pass a Democratic measure to extend benefits to least up to March of this year.
The continuing assault on America’s welfare system by the right is part of a long-term goal first articulated by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s: shrink the state, roll back social protection, punish the poor and out of work for a lack of ambition, and leave them to the tyranny of the market. As an article in Salon.com accurately stated:
[box type=”shadow”]”It turns out the most important detail is conservatives’ overriding concern that whatever form the federal safety net ultimately takes, it should be no more generous than it is right now, and preferably less so.”[/box]
Those Republicans who subscribe to this fundamentalist free-market view of society should take note of the EPI’s study, and its author’s conclusion: “This is no time for Congress to turn its back on the long-term unemployed.”