Area families among those in danger of losing unemployment benefits
To hear some in Congress tell it, the long-term unemployment program that they are about to allow to expire is an expensive luxury that breeds government dependency.
It's a comforting but wayward notion.
Unless Congress reauthorizes the program that began in response to the Great Recession, benefits will be cut off to 1.3 million unemployed Americans before the new year.
According to a report by the minority staff of the House Ways and Means Committee, 73,300 of those people live in Pennsylvania, including 260 in Bradford County, 40 in Sullivan County, and 280 in nearby Tioga County.
Senate and House Democrats have proposed a one-year, $25 billion extension of the program, which is warranted by the continuing slow recovery. The need is demonstrated not only by unemployment statistics themselves - one job is available for every three people seeking one - but by other data compiled by the government itself and private-sector economists.
A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found in November, for example, that the benefits not only keep unemployed people afloat but help to create jobs. The Congressional Budget Office agreed, saying that the one-year extension would create 300,000 jobs because every $1 in benefits creates $1.52 in spending. That translates into consumer demand that creates jobs.
There also is nothing new about extending unemployment benefits. After the recession of 1981-1982, the Reagan administration and Congress agreed to extend benefits until June 1985. That recession was far less severe than the Great Recession that gave rise to the current program.
And according to a report this month by the President's Council of Economic Advisers and the Department of Labor, "In no prior case has Congress allowed special extended benefits to expire when the unemployment rate was as high as it is today."
That rate nationally is 7 percent; about 9 percent for much of Northeast Pennsylvania.
Allowing the program to expire now is bad policy that not only will imperil thousands of families, but worsen the economy itself.