Long-Term Jobless Rates Make the Case for Biden's Unemployment Boost

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on Feb. 9, 2021

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Many people have been out of work for more than half a year -- and it's clear that they need aid.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs in the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Thankfully, the jobless rate is much lower than it was back in April of 2020, when it reached a record high of 14.7%. In fact, the U.S. economy added 49,000 new jobs in January, and as a result, the unemployment rate fell to 6.3%, the lowest it's been since April. But that doesn't tell the whole story.

Long-term unemployment is still an issue

While fewer Americans may be out of work right now compared to the midpoint of 2020, a lot of people without a job have been in that boat for a long time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the number of long-term unemployed Americans -- those who have been without a job for 27 weeks or more -- has reached 4 million. Not only that, but the long-term unemployed account for 39.5% of all jobless individuals.

Being out of work for that long is problematic on multiple levels. On a basic one, it's difficult to grapple with income loss for that many weeks. Many Americans were living paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic began and didn't have savings accounts to tap during it. So to be out of work for 27 weeks and counting is a brutal financial blow for a lot of families.

Another issue is that health insurance and employment are often linked, and so those who are out of work on a long-term basis may also be uninsured. And that status may extend to their spouses and dependents. That's a dangerous situation to be in at any time, but during a pandemic, especially so.

Biden is looking to provide relief

When he first took office in January, President Joe Biden made it clear that he was looking to not only expedite relief to the public, but also be generous with it. To this end, he's introduced a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that's in the process of being fast-tracked. Included in his proposal is a third stimulus check worth up to $1,400, plus boosted and extended benefits for the jobless.

Specifically, Biden is seeking to boost weekly unemployment benefits to $400. He's also looking to extend jobless benefits through September. Currently, they're being boosted by $300 a week and are set to expire in mid-March.

Critics of Biden's proposal have warned that extending and boosting unemployment benefits too generously could result in some jobless workers opting out of the labor force willingly. After all, if they're receiving enough income to get by, why should they rush to go back to work?

But given the number of people who are out of work on a long-term basis, it's clear that the jobless need continued aid. Some industries, like hotels and restaurants, have continued to shed jobs even as others have recovered. And so denying aid to those who are out of work could mean sentencing them to months on end without any income whatsoever or months with an income that doesn't even cover their basic essentials.

As coronavirus vaccines become increasingly available to the public and the economy begins its recovery, we'll ideally start to see an uptick in available jobs. But we're not there yet, and so Biden is insistent on giving those who are jobless right now the aid they need to survive.

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