Congress on the Long-Term Unemployed — Let Them Eat Cake?

The popular story goes that Marie Antoinette, when posed with the challenges faced by starving peasants, replied, “Let them eat cake.”  Historians dispute that she ever uttered the phrase so famously attributed to her, but the fact remains that the French government failed to address the basic needs of its citizens.  Today, the number of people who are considered long-term unemployed (out of work for 27 weeks or more and still actively seeking employment) is the biggest challenge facing lawmakers in our nation’s capital. The number of long-term unemployed remains stubbornly high—hovering at the mid- to high 30 percent range among all unemployed, and representing 3.6 million people.

Worse, data show that people who are long-term unemployed tend to fall out of the workforce at higher rates than those who remain unemployed for shorter durations. While some of those people are seeking new job skills though school and job training, most are simply throwing in the towel on work.

This leads us to the issue of Congressional action, or the lack thereof, on this issue.  Perhaps nowhere is this inaction more acute than with the failure to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. One side proposes a way to pay for the benefit extension, the other side rejects it.  An offer is met with a counter offer, which is then rejected.  And back and forth it goes.  Meanwhile, the families who stand to benefit from the extension—families struggling to pay for food, heat and other basics—wait for an extension of their benefits, which ran out last December.

On the job training front, things remain equally static. House and Senate negotiators are at odds on several key issues on the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) reauthorization as we head into late winter.  There is still hope that an agreement might be reached before the press of must-do business, such as spending bills and the upcoming mid-term elections swamp the Congressional calendar. The clock is ticking, and while no one fears losing their head as did Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, there might be a few members of Congress who lose their seats if Congress fails to act.

1 comment on “Congress on the Long-Term Unemployed — Let Them Eat Cake?
  1. Thank you for everything you do for the Common Good of people Goodwill!

    I am a 46 year old educator with 28 service years credited. I have held a job where I have paid taxes etc. since I was in the seventh grade working after school, weekends, summers, etc. Babysitting at age 10 was not unusual for those of us in our rural setting. If we were not babysitting, in sports, church activities or studying, you may find the neighborhood kids and me working on my family’s dairy farm. We were raised with a strong work ethic, one that my mother modeled just as well as my father. There are times that peers will tease that this was not a gift…. but rather a curse. I have never bought into that and firmly believe that my role models, and my faith have gotten me through the last two years while I was unable to work due to a psuedomonis infection that resulted in me being “forced” to take a leave of abscense as the new superintendent informed me that the district’s financial obligation to me was over.

    My husband was then laid off and not recalled to several positions. After officially being fired, I applied, was denied, protested, submitted more documentation that proved that I had been discriminated against when forced to leave Shelby Public Schools. This last week, almost two full years later… I finally received my first unemployment check. It is very “Bitter Sweet”.

    I am grateful there is a system that helps those like me in the lowest of times. It is hard to explain to my ten year old twins why a Bridge Card is not cool, it is not free groceries and it is for people who are like us who just need a little help until The Tenure Judge hears my case and hopefully will state loudly and clearly that he does not believe SPS claim that I abandoned my job. As a very passionate Social Studies Teacher, The Core Democratic Values were the foundation to any ages curriculum, no matter the grade.

    During this time when I look for others to come to my aid, just as I had done for 30 some years… I strongly concur with you. Not extending these benefits is almost a crime of the Government. This is the system that I have contributed to (with much monetary value) for many, many years. It is correct today I would much rather be teaching, unfortunately these professional jobs are not easy to come by. The amount of money my husband and I have been allotted to exist on is shameful. We have now relocated, decided to just leave our home, and move into a small apartment with my cousin. We pray we find jobs before the stress causes our marriage to crumble further or before our boys loose any last respect for us.

    Again, at least an Industry like Goodwill knows what our forefathers meant by Common Good.

    Beth Ann Pobojewski

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