Last night, the US House of Representatives voted mostly along party lines to reduce the maximum length of unemployment benefits from its current level of 99 weeks to only 59 weeks by next summer in high-unemployment states, including North Carolina.
The US Department of Labor estimates that 180,505 North Carolinians would lose unemployment benefits compared to a full extension. That’s more than in all but four other states.
At a time when there are 4.25 officially unemployed persons per job opening across the country, cutting the length of unemployment benefits takes away a vital economic lifeline for families at a time when there simply are not enough jobs for everyone who wants one.
Dramatically reducing the length of unemployment benefits not only hurts the families of unemployed workers, it hurts the entire economy: the National Employment Law Project estimates that the House’s cut to unemployment benefits would cost at least 140,000 jobs next year, with job losses coming disproportionately from states already suffering from high unemployment.
The House bill goes even further than simply cutting the length of federal unemployment benefits; it would also enact significant, permanent changes likely to undermine the unemployment insurance system and place unnecessary burdens on states. These changes range from instituting minimum education requirements (at a time when states have long waiting lists for adult education programs) to adding additional federal job-search requirements on top of state requirements to allowing some states to divert unemployment benefits to other uses.
The punitive House measure tries to apply the wrong solution to the wrong problem: the reason unemployment is high is because there are too few jobs, not because workers laid off through no fault of their own aren’t looking hard enough. Cutting the length of unemployment benefits is misguided policy. It would worsen the real cause of high unemployment by slowing job creation while at the same time aggravating the hardships faced by the families hardest hit by the worst economy in over 70 years.