While the monthly jobs numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate official unemployment is gradually falling, there were still 9.8 million Americans out of work in April, of which 3.5 million were unemployed for 27 weeks or more. Americans are still hurting, and Congress needs to take action immediately.

A recent Politico article described both the hope and disappointment provided by these latest numbers: “That’s nearly a million fewer [unemployed] people than 12 months ago but [it is] still a national problem of epic proportions, according to advocates.”

Taking the Temperature of the Labor Market in the States

The tepid improvement at the national level is mirrored in states across the country:

    • California: California’s unemployment rate is down, but there are still 25,200 fewer jobs than before the recession started.

 

    • North Carolina: North Carolina reports one of the most rapidly falling unemployment rates in the country, but these improvements are partially superficial. When workers give up and stop looking for work, they no longer count as unemployed – which means they are no longer included in the unemployment count. In North Carolina, 49,400 workers exited the labor market without having found a job over the course of the last year.

 

    • South Carolina: Similarly, in South Carolina, 23,900 workers disappeared from the official numbers without having found a position, contributing to the drop in the state’s unemployment rate.

 

  • New Jersey: In New Jersey, official unemployment numbers also fail to tell the whole story. Almost 80,000 fewer New Jerseyans are counted in April’s jobs data compared with last year. Preliminary numbers for April suggest that there have been few, if any, net new jobs created in the last year in the state.

 

Americans understand that unemployment remains a huge problem even if there statistical indications of some improvement. When polled, 20 percent of Americans say unemployment and jobs is the “most important problem facing the country.” Indeed, more Americans are worried about unemployment now than they were a month ago.

Extending Emergency Unemployment Would Provide Timely, Needed Assistance

A retroactive extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program would provide quick, needed relief to some of the hardest hit victims of the tough jobs market, namely the long-term unemployed who have been out of work for more than 27 weeks. As the below graph shows, long-term unemployment as a percentage of total unemployment is still higher than any time in the last 60 years.

Even as the job market continues to recover, studies have shown that people who have been out of work for more than six months face higher hurdles to finding new jobs. The recovery has been uneven, and many individuals, including those who have been unemployed for longer periods of time, have been left behind.

The Illinois Department of Labor recently conducted a study that confirms that the long-term unemployed disproportionately struggle to find work. According to the study, of the 74,000 residents of Illinois who lost their benefits at the end of 2013, more than 86 percent were still unemployed in February. Illinois Department of Employment Security Director Jay Rowell commented on the findings:

“You should look at this analysis as confirmation that re-authorizing emergency unemployment is a cost-effective way to help families stay in their homes and put food on their tables. But you cannot look at this and say that people don’t want to work.”

Searching for a Way Forward

Recently, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) sought to attach a year-long extension of emergency unemployment benefits to an $85 billion package of tax breaks for corporations and individuals. This extension would have provided relief to struggling Americans and stimulated the economy. Senate Republicans filibustered the tax extenders package, to which the EUC extension was attached, due to frustrations with Senate procedure.

The clock is ticking to extend emergency unemployment. Every week that unemployment insurance is not extended, approximately 72,000 Americans join the ranks of those cut off from help, and additional jobs are lost because money is not flowing into communities and small businesses.

More than 2.9 million American families have lost their emergency unemployment benefits. In a couple weeks, this number will cross the 3 million mark. It’s well past time for Congress to act; if it continues to do nothing, millions of workers will be left out in the cold, and 240,000 more jobs could be lost.

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