While it’s certainly good news that Congress has put the program providing extra weeks of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits back on life support through the end of May, lawmakers must resolve the uncertainty facing jobless workers and the overall economy by extending the program through the rest of this year.
In congressional testimony this week, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke added his authority to the widespread concern that it will take a long time to erase the huge jobs deficit the recession has created. He was right to be particularly concerned that, in March, 44 percent of the 15 million unemployed — 4.3 percent of the labor force — had been looking for work for six months or more. As the graph shows, that is a staggering and unprecedented percentage.
The program can make a big difference — not only to these workers and their families, but also to the economy. As the Congressional Budget Office recently stated, “Households receiving unemployment benefits tend to spend the additional benefits quickly, making this option [i.e., extending UI benefits] both timely and cost-effective in spurring economic activity and employment.”
For those who want to delve into the details of who gets UI benefits, how much and for how long, and who pays for them, we just updated our primer on the subject.