Congress Needs to Extend Emergency Unemployment Benefits

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For months politicians and economists have warned us about the fiscal cliff—the combination of tax increases and government spending cuts threatening economic chaos scheduled to occur at the end of the year. But few are talking about the fiscal cliff that faces millions of unemployed Americans who will suddenly lose unemployment benefits on January 3, 2013, if Congress fails to act. Since the start of the Great Recession, lawmakers have recognized that millions of Americans who want a job cannot find one, and they have provided extra weeks of unemployment benefits to help cover workers’ lost income while they job search. Maintaining these benefits is the right thing to do for the U.S. economy and for the families who rely on unemployment insurance to pay the bills.

Congress has provided extended unemployment benefits in every major recession since the 1950s, and to let them expire now would be unprecedented and unwise. Lawmakers have never allowed these benefits to expire when the unemployment rate was more than 7.2 percent. Not only does the national unemployment rate remain relatively high—7.9 percent in October—but workers are also finding themselves unemployed for longer than ever before—longer than states are able to provide them with unemployment benefits.

And unemployment benefits aren’t just important to the unemployed—they’re also good for the economy. By putting money into the pockets of people who will spend it, unemployment benefits boost demand, spur economic growth, and propel job creation. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that unemployment benefits are one of the most effective fiscal policies to increase economic growth and employment.

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