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Dropping unemployment might prevent unemployment extension Congressional passage

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The United States Labor Department indicated on Thursday, July 17, 2014 that the weekly unemployment rates fell to their lowest levels since June 2007. The Labor Department received only 3,000 applications for unemployment in that week. The numbers show that that the economy has recovered to pre-Great Recession levels when it comes to short term unemployment rates, however, the numbers greatly differed for the 3.1 million Americans that are unemployed for longer than 26 weeks. The long-term jobless face discrimination because of the demographics and predicaments making it harder for this group to take advantage of the economy recovery and increase in jobs. The falling short term unemployment rates is preventing Congressional Republicans from even considering supporting or extending long-term unemployment benefits.

In general, the short term unemployment rate fell by 0.2 percent, from 6.3 in May to 6.1 percent in June. Additionally 288,000 jobs were added; private businesses accounted for 262,000 jobs, while the government contributed 26,000. These numbers represent a recovery and job creation reminiscent of the late 1990s economic boom. The weekly numbers shows the trends have been continuing in July. In contrast long-term unemployment also fell by 293,000 and in total has dropped 700,000 in the past three months since March, there are however, still 3.1 million unemployed for six months or more, and compromise 32.8 percent of all unemployed Americans.

The problem for the long-term unemployed, which is overly represented by older workers, women and low income minimum wage unskilled workers, is that after a while instead of actually gaining employment they "drop out of the workforce." Princeton Professor Alan Krueger recently conducted a study indicating that during the five years of the great recession only 22 percent were able to find jobs. A larger number 35 percent "stopped looking for work" completely, discouraged by the fruitless job hunts.

The Republican controlled House of Representatives and the speaker John Boehner, R-OH refused to put the bipartisan Senate passed unemployment benefits extension bill to a vote after it was passed in April, choosing instead to let the bill expire on June 1, 2014. The bill was authored by the ever dedicated bipartisan duo of Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV, whose states have the highest and second highest long-term unemployment rates in the country. Senators Reed and Heller managed to reach an agreement for a bipartisan bill back in March after working tirelessly since the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program expired on Dec. 28, 2013.

They had one bill in February that failed to pass the Senate's legislative hurdles, until finally reaching this deal, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014 passed on April 7 with the support of five Republicans. The bill consisted of a five month retroactive element, and was paid for through revenue, however, it did not include a job creation element. Boehner objected to the bill's retroactive element finding it "unimplementable," but even more he objected to it not including job creation elements.

After the bill's failure Reed and Heller tried again and introduced a new bill on June 24, 2014. This bill attempted to rectify some of the issues the speaker and Republicans had with the first bill; the bill will have a five-month extension, lasting approximately until the end of 2014. The new bill will cost a total of $10 billion and was supposed to be paid for by revenue, including "pension smoothing" and "extending Customs user fees through 2024" as was the last bill. Most importantly it does not have a deadline; meaning it can be passed by Congress at any time. The bill however, does not have Republican sponsors besides, Heller.

The House also introduced its own bipartisan unemployment extension bill Representatives Frank LoBiondo, R-NJ-02 and Dan Kildee, D-MI-05 introduced on Wednesday afternoon, June 25, 2014. The bill similar to the Senate bill was paid for through the same revenue sources, pension smoothing and custom fees. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-MI one of the bill's co-author's was not even told the Highway Trust Funding bill would use the unemployment extension's funding source. Kildee commented "I wish we hadn't shown them the pay-for. It is frustrating." Kildee also believes that if either unemployment benefits extension bill was put to a vote, it would pass in the House. Kildee explained; "The speaker himself needs to realize that he is the speaker of the House of Representatives, not the speaker of the Republican conference, and the House of Representatives would vote for an unpaid-for UI extension."

The two senators are not faring much better the second time with their new bill either; they cannot gain the support of their four other Republican co-sponsors and on July 15 they officially lost their funding for the bill. The Republican House authored highway and transportation bill, the MAP-21 Reauthorization; H.R. 5021: Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014 takes away the funds from pension smoothing and increasing customs fees that Reed and Heller had been planning to use. Since the bill "100,000 transportation projects" and "700,000 construction jobs" on the line if it did not pass by Aug. 1, it was a priority to President Barack Obama, the House and the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans taking precedence over the unemployment benefits extension bill. Both sets of unemployment benefits extension bill author's in the House and Senate are now looking for new funding sources.

The former Senate Republican co-sponsors have voiced their dismal predictions for the bill. On Thursday, July 17 Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-AK one of the Senate passed unemployment extension bill's five co-sponsors, who continuously voted for the bill does not think it will pass at this point in time. Murkowski explained; "Given where we are in the calendar, I think it is highly unlikely." Another former co-sponsor Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME also does not have much confidence in the bill passing, especially in the GOP House; "I think it's going to be extremely difficult to come up with a bill that could pass the House. I was hoping that our earlier effort, which was bipartisan, would have done it. But it didn't."

After the midterm elections it will even more difficult for Congress to pass the unemployment benefits extension, especially if the Republicans gain control of the Senate as some polls are predicting. Lowering unemployment rates also plays an important part in renewing the extension. Murkowski commented; "It's difficult to say. I mean, how do we forecast the strength of the economy, the unemployment numbers? I think you never say never. But I think probably for the time being we're not going in that direction."

Sen. Reed still believes the unemployment benefits extension can pass despite the negative outlook; "Frankly, no one thought it was possible-or very few thought it was possible-to get a bill through the Senate with bipartisan support. We did. In fact, we hoped that would encourage the House to act responsibly, and it didn't. So we're not going to give up." Reed is promising both he and Sen. Heller are continuing to work towards the extension's passage; "We won't give up. We'll just keep trying. I think we've made that clear now for months where we've tried, we've succeeded, we've been rebuffed, we've tried again."

Sen. Heller thinks it is good news that the unemployment rate is going down, however it remains high for the long-term jobless especially in their home states of Rhode Island and Nevada. Heller expressed; "The good news is that the unemployment numbers are moving in the right direction. I want those unemployment numbers to go down." Heller second's Reed promising not to give-up on the long term jobless; "But the problem is those numbers aren't moving as fast in Nevada and Rhode Island. So that's why Jack and I keep pushing."

All in all the prospects for a renewal of long-term benefits is not looking promising. Especially with only days left before the August recess and only about 30 Congressional working days before the mid-term elections in November. Still Democrats in both the House and Senate support the second Reed-Heller bills and both the bill's authors' have promised not to give-up on the over 3 million Americans that looking to them to help them in their dire dilemma living without benefits they need to survive and as many hope still hope get a job and benefit from the economic recovery happening around them.

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Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.

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