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February 2014

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The Debate We Need to Have

As I write this, the U.S. Senate — with just 6 Republican "ayes" — voted for a three-month extension of long-term unemployment benefits. They expired at the end of last year for 1.3 million workers who have been unemployed for 26 weeks or longer. Unemployment continues to hover at around 7 percent — a historical high for a purported recovery.

Whether the House of Representatives will kill the extension is unclear, but the majority of Republican legislators and right-wing special interest groups like Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action — along with conservative talking heads — are lobbying hard against it, saying unemployment insurance encourages the jobless to avoid work.

Until recently, extending unemployment insurance enjoyed full bipartisan support. President Ronald Reagan and both Bushes supported extensions in times of high unemployment knowing that is vital to keeping millions of jobless Americans from falling deeper into the hole. That was then.

Long-term unemployment is still at its highest level since World War II. And if you have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer, you have only a 12 percent chance of finding a job. And we're talking workers from all walks of life: blue- and white-collar; those with high school diplomas and graduate degrees, baby boomers and millennials alike.

To eliminate the only program keeping these Americans afloat, when it seems clear that the private sector isn't hiring the long-term unemployed, is beyond cruel.

Even more infuriating is what the opposition isn't talking about: how to create an economy that provides every American ready and able to work with a job.

And while we appreciate House Speaker John Boehner's support of the Keystone pipeline — the only infrastructure project he supports — that isn't a jobs plan.

Economists both right and left have offered good ideas, from investing in renovating our industrial infrastructure, to offering tax incentives to companies that hire the long-term unemployed to a new Works Progress Administration that could put millions on the job right away.

But with a few honorable exceptions, Congress has been missing in action.

2014 is here and the one question we must ask every congressional candidate is this: what's your comprehensive plan to get us to full employment?


Also: Chilia: Diverse Pathways to Community Engagement Read Chilia's Column

Edwin D. Hill

Edwin D. Hill
International President