We elect members of Congress to represent our interests and our views. Does that mean that Congress’ view of Americans is, in fact, how we see ourselves? We hope not, because that view is unflattering, to say the least.
Case in point: In December, more than a million people ran out of unemployment benefits, Congress having failed to pass an extension of federal jobless benefits that kick in after the typical 26-week state programs expire. Last week, the Senate advanced a bill that Republicans in the House say has little chance of passing. One reason is that they want the extensions paid for and don’t like what the Democrats have proposed.
Too many Republicans, however, also believe that unemployment compensation coddles the jobless, lulling them into lying around collecting benefits instead of looking for a job.
Just last week, in fact, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul claimed that long-term jobless benefits are a disincentive to find work.
Who are these Republicans hanging around with? To assume that the jobless are lazy and/or so lacking in self-respect that they’d rather try to live on a fraction of what they used to make in order to not work is a curdled view of this country. It covers few Americans that we know.
Perhaps December’s disappointing labor report will change some minds. It reports that the economy added only 74,000 jobs in December. About 38 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for at least 27 weeks; it is these that are most helped by the extensions of unemployment compensation.
The number of people dropping out of the labor force is rising not because they’re lazy. Consider: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 10.4 million unemployed in late 2013, and 3.9 million job openings.
So, even if every available job were filled, 6.5 million people would be out of work — and out of luck if their benefits have run out.
That’s a frightening prospect, not just for individuals but for the health of the country. This will contribute to rising poverty rates and increased burdens on whatever safety-net programs are left, and to deepening income inequality. (Did we mention that more than 50 percent of Congress earns more than $1 million per year?)
Still, we suppose it could be worse. In fact, it has been: Back in 2009, soon after the start of the Great Recession, when circumstances were more dire and unemployment was higher than now, Congress still balked at granting jobless-benefit extensions, even those that covered a month or two.
Structural changes in the economy and the job market have been happening over time; the 2008 recession just hastened the pain. But, since then, our elected officials have done little but argue over the size and cost of a Band-Aid instead of deciding on the wisest course of surgery and rehabilitation — such as meaningful investment in job creation. And so, we become an increasingly divided country, with more and more people falling into poverty and despair, and the people in Washington believing that those people are just getting what they deserve.
We all deserve way better than that.
Editorial by the Philadelphia Daily News