The start of 2014 will be anything but happy for more than 1.3 million Americans — 127,000 of them New Yorkers — who lost their weekly unemployment benefits because congressional Republicans refused to reauthorize the “emergency” benefit program that was in place since the recession started.
Of course the recession technically ended a few years ago, and the unemployment rate has since fallen (ever so slowly) to a near-respectable 7 percent. But such numbers mean little to someone who was laid off more than half a year ago and has had to get by on an average of $1,166 per month since. Sadly, that amount will seem princely when the person is no longer getting it and must rely on low-paying part-time jobs with no benefits or public assistance to keep from starving or being thrown out in the street.
But studies have shown that the challenge of finding a job is toughest on those who’ve been unemployed the longest. In a market where there can be hundreds of applicants for every new posting, employers can be as picky as they want. And they’ve been especially picky about even talking to those who’ve been out of work six months or more.
So this cutback seems especially cruel. And not just to the erstwhile recipients: By getting rid of the $19 billion they likely would have spent over the next year, this will weaken the economy, putting pressure on hiring and (hear this, business advocates) profits. The unemployment numbers may not show this, however, as many people previously looking for jobs (so they could keep collecting unemployment) will get discouraged and stop doing so.
The net impact on the economy is forecast by JPMorgan Chase’s chief economist to be 0.4 percent in the first quarter. And the downdraft will continue, as another 1.9 million people lose their benefits over the rest of the year.
Republicans say they’ll consider restoring the benefits when they return to Congress this month “as long as it’s paid for.” The problem with this approach is that, in the interim, more than 3 million Americans are being held hostage. These legislators obviously have no idea what that feels like.