The fight to restore unemployment benefits to the roughly 1.4 Americans whose claims expired Saturday, is getting under way in the Senate, with Democratic leaders introducing a bill seeking a three-month extension for jobless benefits amid continued economic uncertainty and job market shifts.
The move comes while the parties look forward to the coming midterm elections, where income inequality and labor policy are expected to be central issues, and also as an estimated 4.1 million Americans remain long-term unemployed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed optimism at the bill’s chances in the Senate, but refused to make predictions about how it would be received in the Republican controlled house. Even as members of the GOP leadership move to distance itself from the ‘all-or-nothing’ Tea Party factions, none have expressed support for the extension of the benefits.
This, despite abundant evidence that shows that as the slow and painful recovery from the financial crisis and great recession continues on, even a three-month continuation of benefits would serve as a highly effective economic stimulus.
In a study performed by the Economic Policy Institute, extending unemployment benefits to the tune of $25.2 billion for 2014, the US would observe as a direct result, a $37.8 billion increase in GDP and the creation, or at least preservation of upwards of 310,000 jobs.
With no jobs bill or effectively any substantive kind before the House presently, Senate leaders are hoping the unemployment extensions would serve as a stop-gap, temporary fix, to give them time to work one out.
Despite record gains on Wall Street and booming corporate profits, even working Americans with full-time employment are feeling the pinch as the wealth divide widens and austerity driven public sector cuts continue hampering economic growth.
For those without full-time employment as well as those who are underemployed, the supplemental unemployment income is often all they have to survive upon while they continue looking for work. These stark divisions between rich and poor are sure to be highlighted as representatives in Congress and challengers alike gear up for November’s elections.
With income inequality and the inaction by Congress of any form of job creation shaping up to be key issues during the campaigns, the Obama administration has already lent its voice in support of the bill, with White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling saying:
[box type=”shadow”]”Failing to extend emergency unemployment insurance through 2014 will negatively impact 14 million Americans – the 4.9 million workers who will see unemployment insurance cut off and the approximately 9 million additional family members they are supporting…”[/box]
These efforts to restore some level of economic balance come after several decades of policies favoring the wealthy and corporate establishment. With supply-side economic theories and the older perceptions of orthodox, Darwinian capitalism being inherently virtuous rapidly falling out of favor among younger generations of voters, concerns over basic social safety nets such as unemployment benefits and medicare are strongly mirrored in the ongoing fight to establish a living wage.
But so long as the political landscape in Congress remains as it is, making progress on the front of economic equality will likely continue to be a hard-fought battle.
(h/t: The Guardian)