It won’t be a pleasant weekend for 86,434 Pennsylvanians and 84,048 New Jerseyans. Long out of work, those folks will be out of luck — because their federal jobless benefits are being cut off. Happy holidays from the U.S. Congress.
How perversely ironic it is that the Republicans — who, naturally, are most responsible for the cutoff — declared in their official holiday message this week that we Americans should “remember those who do not have significant means.” Yes, Republicans seem willing to “remember” the 1.3 million long-term jobless of insignificant means who will lose their benefits tomorrow…as long as they don’t actually have to do anything to help out. So rather than renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and simply sustain the benefits – at a modest $300 a week per person – they’re opting to just let the program die, and Scrooge the recipents.
Congress created this program when the Bush recession hit in 2008, specifically to help idled workers once their state benefits ran out. Bush signed it, and it has since been renewed 11 times. But not this time, apparently. Republicans said no to renewal, for a variety of fake rationales: (1) cutting off the benefits will force the long-term jobless to get off their butts and actually look for work; (2) the economy is doing better, so the jobs are out there; (3) the benefits are way too costly for Uncle Sam.
I won’t dwell long on the first fake rationale. I wrote here 16 days ago, “this recession and the new, digitally-impacted economy are particularly inhospitable to the long-term jobless. As (a) new study has explained, the long-term jobless are typically caught in a Catch-22. Employers are reluctant to hire them because they’ve been jobless for so long; these idled workers are perceived as too far behind the learning curve, or too old to adjust.”
The GOP perception of shiftless slackers living high on the hog with their weekly $300 is insulting to those on the receiving end. Yesterday, on a conference call with Democratic Sen. Jack Reed (who’s trying to negotiate a three-month benefits extension), a 57-year-old accounting professional named Deborah Barrett, out of work since February, told the press: “My job search is my full-time job. I’m sick and tired of people insinuating that folks in my situation are not looking for jobs.”
Meanwhile, the GOP’s second fake rationale is quite the thigh-slapper: there’s no need to extend the benefits because the economy is gaining steam, the Dow is up sharply, and the GDP grew 4.1 percent in the third quarter of 2013. Wow. The mind reels. Republicans for years have routinely hammered President Obama for presiding over a bad economy, but now there’s no need to help the long-term unemployed…because apparently we have a good economy.
But mostly, you’ve got to love fake rationale #3. Republicans don’t want to renew the jobless benefits program because it isn’t “paid for.” (The multi-trillion-dollar Iraq war disaster was never “paid for,” it was heavily financed with loans from China, yet Republicans never uttered a peep. But never mind that.) House Speaker Boehner did say this month that he might be persuaded to extend the jobless benefits “as long as it’s paid for,” but naturally he didn’t say how.
Here’s a simple way how: Close some of the huge tax loopholes that benefit the wealthiest fat cats and corporate interests.
According to the GOP, the economy is good again. All the more reason to close some tax loopholes in the corporate sector – which, by all accounts, has roared back in the last couple years, currently posting after-tax profits that are 60 percent higher than in pre-recession ’07. Pry some bucks from those haves, from those with “significant means,” and we’d easily pay for the renewal of a jobless benefits program that helps the have-nots.
But, of course, that scenario is a Republican no-no. Their mission is to serve their corporate clients, not the average Joe in dire need. And since their corporate clients are doing just swell, it’s Mission Accomplished. As Scrooge himself said, “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s.”
There’s a ray of sunlight, however. When Congress returns in January, presumably to spend another desultory year doing very little, the aforementioned Senator Reed will push for a three-month benefits extension (and later for a one-year renewal). He has reportedly won support of a Republican colleague, Dean Heller of Nevada – where 16,746 long-idled workers will lose their benefits when the federal program dies tomorrow. Those folks comprise 1.23 percent of the Nevada labor force, one of the highest rates in the nation. By the way, New Jersey’s 1.84 percent is the highest rate in the nation. Pennsylvania ranks seventh. And in terms of the actual number of people getting Scrooged tomorrow, New Jersey and Pennsyvania are right behind California and New York at the top of the list.
Will the long-in-limbo workers get a retroactive reprieve? Only if Republicans suddenly grow a conscience, and only if the right-wing infauxtainment complex permits it. But for now, the dominant message is still “Bah, humbug.”
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