Jump in the Long-term Unemployed Underscores Need to Restore Federal UI Benefits
Unemployment of Six Months or More Climbs by 203,000 in February
The new employment numbers released Friday provide further evidence of the need to restore the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program for the long-term unemployed. Although there was a little bit of positive news relating to total employment levels, the new data illustrate that the modest job growth has not eased the crisis facing the long-term unemployed. For example:
- the total number of jobless workers who have been unemployed for at least six months grew significantly in February, climbing by 203,000 to 3.8 million people;
- the unemployment rate ticked up to 6.7%; and
- the labor force participation rate is one-half a percentage point below where it was one year ago.
Federal unemployment benefits for people who have been unemployed more than six months were cut off at the end of December. One argument made by the supporters of that decision is that eliminating the EUC program would reduce the jobless rate by giving the unemployed increased incentive to find work. That argument ignores the fact that UI benefits are a poor substitute for the income from employment, and the latest increase in long-term unemployment underscores the point that federal UI benefits weren’t holding back jobless workers.
In Wisconsin there are now almost 40,000 workers who have lost their federal EUC benefits since the end of December. If GOP members of Congress continue to block renewal of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, each week an additional 72,000 unemployed workers across the U.S. who run out of unemployment benefits will be left without jobless aid, including about 1,600 more each week in Wisconsin.
The National Employment Law Project (NELP) has been collecting stories from affected individuals and families. Among the recent stories of hardship is this one from Wisconsin:
Melvin Hildreth III, 54, from Franklin, Wisconsin, lost his job last year and his benefits when federal jobless aid expired in December. He has been applying for 100 jobs a week. “This is a sad, hard time,” he wrote to the National Employment Law Project this week. “I have always worked and was very successful. I have sold everything I own. I had to move to Arizona to live with my 73-year-old father.”
A bill filed by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) on Tuesday to reauthorize the EUC program for six months might be voted on as early as this week. His proposal is fully paid for with funds saved from the Farm Bill. The last effort to bring a reauthorization bill to a vote in Senate fell one vote short of the 60 needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.