Friday, July 02, 2010

Dysfunction Junction and Unemployment Insurance

Dysfunctional Washington and Unemployment Insurance
July 2, 2010, 4:03PM

by Cody Lyon

During a conversation with ABC News this past Thursday,'s Chris Frates told Ron Claiborne that the inability of Congress to pass an extension of unemployment benefits was in part a "battle of approach."

He's referring to the differing approaches by which Democrats and Republicans would fund a $33 billion dollar extension of the expanded safety net for long term unemployed Americans. Democrats are looking to fund the program with emergency funds that would add to the stimulus while Republicans say part or all of the program must be paid for by taking money from the stimulus program. b Long term unemployed include those people unemployed for six months or longer. While many on both sides claim to want to extend the program, the reality is, millions of the long term unemployed are getting cut off from an economic life line over the next few weeks, thanks to the inability of a partisan congress to reach a solution.

To some Americans, this latest `real life' impact roadblock, is yet another reason to view the legislative branch as an increasingly pungent cauldron of dysfunction beholden to the next election and not the good of the people the elected officials were called to serve.

Washington reads like the ugly and mean spirited setting of a novel about corruption. It is a government where hypocrisy laden Republicans are bent on stopping any legislation that's touched by Democrats. Meanwhile, whiny Democrats eager to point the finger at Republicans, have apparently come to relish this role that would be better on the playground. That's where one usually finds the annoying tattle tale child who constantly points out the flaws of the other kids. It seems that the truly sincere defenders of the down trodden are absent. In a nutshell, neither party seems to want to rise above the fray and exhibit the qualities of true leadership on this topic.

By not moving forward with a simple extension of unemployment benefits for millions of unemployed Americans, Republican and Democrat Senators can march up and down main street's across the nation on "Independence Day" and self righteously proclaim they may support an extension, while Republicans claim the 'opposing' party is fiscally irresponsible, or in Democrats case,claim Republicans are increasingly a party that's home to a philosophy based in cold blood. Meanwhile, among many of the parade viewer's will be friend's and neighbors that are impacted by this latest lack of movement. It is a stalemate that will send them even further into the abyss of what's fast turning into a ruthless recession, an economy that the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman worries may be the beginnings of the `Third Depression."

Pure and simple, during the economic challenges of the past, unemployment insurance extensions were pretty much routine. The National Employment Law Project reported that since the 1950s Congress has not allowed extended jobless aid to expire when the national unemployment rate is above 7.2 percent. In 1973, extended benefits remained in place until unemployment sank to 5 percent.

On Friday, July 2, the Labor Department released a report saying that there was a June drop in unemployment from 9.5% to 9.7%. That number sends the statistic to its lowest point since July, one year earlier.

But as a chilling analysis piece by the Wall Street Journal notes, that decline wasn't due to improvement in the labor market. Instead, jobless Americans simply dropped out of the labor force in droves.

Friday's labor report shows that sectors like manufacturing grew payrolls by just 9,000. That was a much smaller jump than the average of 25,400 jobs over the past five months.

Note, Democrats have resisted calls to take cash from the `stimulus' to fund unemployment checks because they say the stimulus is creating so many jobs. But, contained in the report, numbers showing that the United States construction industry shed yet another, 22,000 jobs this past June. The hope was that when the stimulus package first emerged, America might see tangible WPA like investment in its failing infrastructure that would increase construction hiring by the thousands. There was also hope the investment might produce significant spikes in green technology, innovation and manufacturing, whereby workers might be re-trained for jobs of the future, and more importantly, we'd be weaned away from our dependence on fossil fuels. Some thought, these hard times presented the country with an opportunity to pause, soul search and plant the necessary seeds that would lead us to a new landscape where evidence of new rapid rail systems, windmill energy and bio technological hubs were soon to be the norm of the future. Perhaps the jobs picture would be even bleaker were it not for this attempt at treading water, but that's another story

Meanwhile, Republicans have jumped on the rampant fear of a politically motivated austerity band-wagon. And, as many have pointed out, this latest policy shift by the GOP reeks of corrupt hypocrisy. Remember, it was the Bill Clinton administration that produced a deficit surplus of almost $300 billion according to But, these are some of the same people who endorsed huge tax cuts for wealthy Americans, relaxed rules on Wall Street and wars we never could have never afforded in the first place. Any semblance of surplus all got quickly erased by President George W. Bush. So, some might see this latest Republican roadblock as just a bit disingenuous In fact, when President Barack Obama came to office, just as the economic meltdown was getting into full swing, he inherited a federal deficit of $1.2 trillion the day he was sworn in.

And all this political showmanship has culminated during what's become the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression. It is a confusing patchwork of American pain that impacts some areas worse than others. But, rest assured, this latest move by Congress is wrecking lives and sending thousands if not millions into despair. How the Senate could simply up and leave the capital for a week long vacation without passing an life line extension to Americans that are facing one of the toughest job markets ever, is outrageous. If either side had truly believed putting food on the table of the unemployed was a moral issue they would have seen to it that is passed. Considering there is one job out there for every five Americans looking, if they truly cared,they would have given and taken, it's called a compromise, and the long term unemployed might have joined those parades on main street this July 4, and cheered the Senators as fine examples of a working Democracy surviving during a time of economic crisis.

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