San José, CA - On July 15, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that another 250,000 unemployed were cut from federal unemployment insurance rolls. In the last three weeks alone, almost one million unemployed people were cut from the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) and Extended Benefits (EB) programs. These programs provide benefits for people out of work for more than six month who can no longer collect state unemployment insurance benefits.
The Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid from Nevada, said that the Democrats will have enough votes to overcome the Republican filibuster once a replacement was named for Senator Robert Byrd, who recently died. Reid said that a vote to extend federal unemployment insurance programs should come next week. But even if the Democrats do follow through with their promise to extend federal unemployment insurance programs, there is nothing being offered to people out of work for more than 99 weeks.
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, almost 1.5 million people had been unemployed for more than 99 weeks as of June of 2010. These so-called 99ers are not eligible for any unemployment insurance benefits, since the maximum length of time for combined state, Federal EUC and Federal EB programs is 99 weeks. African Americans are hardest hit by this time limit, with almost one-quarter of those out of work for 99 or more weeks, about twice their fraction of the total population.
These 99ers could benefit from a fifth tier to the Federal EUC program (right now there are four tiers) that would extend unemployment insurance benefits beyond the current total of 99 weeks. Also helpful would be a federal jobs program that could provide income to the long-term unemployed, help them maintain or even upgrade their skills and provide a break from the grind of looking for work week after week, month after month, without any results.
Today, almost half of the unemployed have been out of work for more than six-months. This is almost twice as much as the previous post-World War II high of 25% following the 1981-1982 recession. Only during the Great Depression of the 1930s have there been more people out of work for so long.
In 1935 the federal government started the Works Progress Administration or WPA. At its height in 1938, the WPA employed more than 3 million people, who worked on construction of roads and public buildings. The WPA also expanded government services from publicly owned utilities to library services. With public services being cut by state and local governments, a federal jobs program like the WPA could both serve the long-term unemployed and their communities.