We must extend lifeline to long-term unemployed in 2014

by Andrea Roethke

The Maryland economy has moved forward in fits and starts over the past few years. As of November, the state finally recovered all of the jobs lost during the Great Recession. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been enough to keep up with the growth of labor force, and at the end of 2013, there were still nearly twice as many people unemployed as there were before the recession began in 2007.

Unemployed Marylanders, November 2007:
100,087 (3.3%)

Unemployed Marylanders, November 2013:
199,807 (6.4%)

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Even more startling is the fact that, according to new estimates from the Joint Economic Committee, nearly 36 percent of Maryland’s unemployed have been out of work for more than six months. On Dec. 28, these vulnerable job seekers were abruptly cut off from extended unemployment insurance benefits. Maryland currently provides up to 26 weeks of unemployment insurance, and until last week, the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program supplemented this with an additional 37 weeks.

When Congress failed to renew the program before the New Year, an estimated 22,900 Maryland families immediately lost benefits. Each week, another 1,096 claimants are expected to max out their state benefit eligibility with no EUC safety net to fall back on.

The fact is, until the economy starts picking up more speed, workers will continue to compete for scarce job openings. We’re getting closer to the breaking point, but we’re not there yet, and closing the employment gap must be our mission for 2014. In the meantime, we must extend a basic lifeline to the long-term unemployed. The EUC program has kept tens of thousands of Marylanders out of poverty, and if renewed, it can give tens of thousands more the support they need to continue their job search, which often entails re-training.

As Congress re-convenes this week, the National Employment Law Project is organizing a call-in campaign to send the message of just how important EUC is to workers and our economy. If renewed, the EUC program could put an estimated $295 million into the pockets of struggling Marylanders, which filters directly into the local economy as is spent on basic needs. We’ll be monitoring the status of the federal EUC, and the basic UI program here in Maryland. To keep up with the latest on legislative developments, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our mailing list.

Andrea Roethke is JOTF’s senior policy analyst.

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