Long-term unemployment is the albatross that's been hung around the neck of economic policymakers throughout the recovery period. While many leading economic indicators, such as the Dow Jones Average, have been rising throughout the present administration, these gains have largely failed to translate down to the level of the American worker. The labor market remains tight, and this creates a political imperative for leaders to do something to help displaced workers and extend long-term unemployment benefits. The controversy over this policy has occupied much of the present session of Congress, and it's at the heart of a policy debate over what the nation's economic priorities should be during the recovery.
During his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama highlighted the difficulties faced by over a million Americans whose long-term unemployment benefits were allowed to expire after the previous year's Christmas. Urging compromise and encouraging bipartisan talks, the President used the occasion to introduce a comprehensive approach to labor-focused economic recovery. At the heart of the initiative is the Obama unemployment plan for extending benefits by an additional three months, along with modifications to the sequestration to free up the $6.4 billion the plan calls for.
For the next week, Senate Republicans engaged in negotiations with the majority leaders to hammer out a compromise bill. Those talks collapsed, however, as the Obama unemployment plan was brought to a vote on February 6. Four Republicans voted with the Democratic majority, bringing the total "yea" votes to 58. Under the Byzantine rules of Senate procedure, this means the measure failed to pass, though it's hoped that talks will resume by the end of the month.
The recovery package not only extends long-term unemployment but will restore benefits to those who have already seen their eligibility expire. Of particular importance to HR specialists are the inducements to increased hiring, especially the payroll tax modifications, incentives for hiring veterans, and simplified reporting requirements.
Republican objections to the package run the gamut. Some claim the requested $6.4 billion will add to the deficit despite the extension of the sequester that was specifically intended to make the long-term unemployment extension deficit-neutral. Others have opposed the extension of long-term unemployment benefits on the grounds that it's election-year posturing, albeit without outright claiming the Democrats are negotiating in bad faith.
The President's long-term unemployment initiative continues to languish in the Senate, and it isn't at all certain that the bill will do any better in the Republican-majority House of Representatives. The bill is far from dead, however, and Senate watchers are hopeful the issue can be brought up for another vote soon. With perhaps a million Americans waiting on a restoration of their long-term unemployment benefits, it can't be too soon.
(Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)