An emergency federal program that acts as a lifeline for 1.3 million jobless workers will end on Saturday, drastically curtailing government support for the long-term unemployed and setting the stage for a major political fight in the new year.
The program, in place since the recession started in 2008, provides up to 47 weeks of supplemental unemployment insurance payments to jobless people looking for work. Its expiration is expected to have far-reaching ramifications for the economy, cutting job growth by about 300,000 positions next year and pushing hundreds of thousands of households below the poverty line.
An extension of the unemployment program did not make it into the two-year budget deal that was passed just before Congress left on its winter recess. When the federal program expires, just one in four unemployed Americans will receive jobless benefits — the smallest proportion in half a century.
“I really depend on unemployment,” said David Davis of Chantilly, Va., adding that the $1,600 a month he receives is helping keep him afloat while he interviews for new positions. “I’ve got a résumé that knocks your socks off. The reason for this long period of unemployment is that the work just isn’t there.”
At one point, Mr. Davis, 68, made more than $100,000 a year as an information technology expert and web designer. He is now living on ramen noodles and $140 he counted out from his change jar. Since being laid off over the summer, he has missed mortgage payments, forcing him to take out a reverse mortgage on his home. He sold his car and got a late-1990s model Ford Taurus, and is looking to cut his utility and cellphone bills. Soon, he might start taking Social Security.
“It’s very stressful,” Mr. Davis said. “At least I’ve had the ability to maneuver my finances so I don’t wind up homeless. That’s one goal, to avoid living on the street or in my car.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing for an extension of the program, though the constrained fiscal environment makes its reinstatement somewhat less likely, aides said. Members of the Republican leadership have indicated that they might be willing to extend the benefits, but only if Democrats offset the new spending with other cuts.
On Friday morning, President Obama called Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, and Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, to extend his support for their proposal to extend emergency unemployment benefits for three months.
“The president said his administration would, as it has for several weeks now, push Congress to act promptly and in bipartisan fashion to address this urgent economic priority,” said Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman.
As the last payments are distributed, Democrats have initiated a campaign aimed at shaming Republicans — particularly those in leadership and in swing districts — for letting the program expire over the holiday season.
“I don’t know if our colleagues who have opposed passing the unemployment-insurance legislation know or care about the impact on families,” said Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader. “The impact is very, very strong. It hurts the dignity of a family, of a worker.”
Americans United for Change, a liberal group, is running an advertisement on cable television stations. “You know who had a Merry Christmas? The richest 1 percent, that’s who. Republicans in Congress made sure of that, protecting billions in taxpayer giveaways,” it says. “For those facing tough times? Republicans stripped 1.3 million Americans of jobless benefits — folks who want to work, but cannot find a job — kicking them to the curb during Christmas.”
Nicholas Kristof, “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy”
22% is a frightening, shameful number.
The closing of Hostess is union-busting, pure and simple. The company is already bankrupt (and never believe a company that tells you that it is bankrupt because it paid its workers too well), and its workers weren’t going to accept more race-to-the-bottom cuts.
I wish I had time to dig into this more thoroughly, but for now, as someone said to me on Twitter, they’re going to sell off their assets, fire all those workers, and destroy another iconic American brand in pursuit of the bottom line.
Imagine the good press if Hostess said “We want to stay open, and we want to pay American workers good wages and benefits, and we are struggling right now but we want to keep this brand alive.”
Instead, they’ll go the way of so many other companies that have used bankruptcy to get out of taking care of the workers that made them run.
And don’t worry, folks, you’ll still get your Twinkies: someone will no doubt buy the rights to the name and the recipe for everlasting phallic snack cakes. It’s just that you won’t know they were made by well-paid union workers anymore.
Not that most of you ever cared.
Last month, when strikers from Southern California arrived in Bentonville, Arkansas to protest Wal-Mart’s labor practices with reggae beats, pots and pans, and a Latin American-inflected protest culture, it became clear to onlookers that America’s superstore was no longer the small family business that Sam Walton had founded and grown in the cradle of the anti-labor culture of Southern evangelicaldom. But it’s also become clear that Wal-Mart’s own ambitions to become a global empire—expanding beyond southern suburbs to new regions, and continuing to erode protections for its workers—have brought the “family values” behemoth into confrontation with another kind of religious and labor rights tradition.
Wal-Mart has long been the Holy Grail for labor organizers. The nation’s largest retailer, it is notorious for its low wages, lack of benefits, abusive labor practices, and for leaving its workers dependent on public assistance while making the Walton family rich beyond imagination. And it has been nearly impossible to organize.
My dear friend and colleague Josh Eidelson has done a spectacular job of covering the nitty-gritty of the Wal-Mart strikes, and I didn’t want to simply rehash his work. So instead, I wrote about the strikes for Religion Dispatches and talked to workers for whom their faith was a motivating factor in organizing, to the brilliant Bethany Moreton about the changes in Wal-Mart’s culture as it moves into cities far from its rural white evangelical base, and to faith leaders and organizers who are fighting Wal-Mart’s low wages and lousy treatment of workers—and starting to win.