Despite a 6.7 percent unemployment rate, the country’s long-term unemployment benefits are in flux, causing many Americans to scramble without a livable income. Congress has been slow to respond to the problem, and its latest effort, a five-week extension of long-term unemployment benefits, is a woefully inadequate solution.
There are two unemployment categories: short-term, which involves people who have spent at least five weeks looking for jobs, and long-term, which refers to those who have been job-hunting for more than 27 weeks, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The current eligibility requirements for receiving unemployment benefits stipulate that those who are unemployed long-term can only receive benefits if they can prove they are actively searching for work. The extension awaits President Barack Obama’s signature, but it is just a bandage on the nation’s unemployment rate.
Originally proposed on Nov. 2, the Senate kicked the bill around in debate until the legislature passed on April 7. Although extending benefits to those who need assistance is noble, the legislation would only extend benefits until June 1. After 27 weeks, long-term unemployed individuals who aren’t actively seeking jobs will be without a lifeboat.
An extension will assist the long-term unemployed for now, but it would offer no lasting solutions for chronically unemployed Americans. When unemployment benefits drop off, some may turn to welfare and stop looking for work. America’s gross domestic product will also suffer if unemployed people drop out of the workforce. An April 17 data analysis by statistical website FiveThirtyEight found that someone who loses a job when the unemployment rate is high is more likely to remain unemployed than someone who loses a job when the rate is lower. By that logic, the unemployed will be set back further as long as the unemployment rate remains high, which should give Congress an incentive to assist the unemployed through outreach services.
A more permanent extension of long-term unemployment benefits would increase the job-searching requirement, which doesn’t guarantee individuals will find work but could increase the chances of doing so. Searching for a job can be time-consuming and tedious, so the government should provide more guidance, such as resume advice, for potential employees to prepare them to reenter the workforce. People who rely on unemployment benefits should be required to complete such classes to ensure everyone has the skills to find jobs.
Rather than cut benefits for the long-term unemployed, the Senate and House of Representatives need to cooperate to draft a new bill that would prepare the unemployed to reenter the workforce rather than leave them dependent on federal dollars. The unemployed are not unfortunate barnacles on the American economy—they are just down on their luck and want to get back to work as soon as possible, but they can’t do it on their own.