December 06, 2013, 11:31 am
GOP argues jobs report shows need to end stimulus
By Vicki Needham
The White House and House Republicans battled Friday over whether a strong jobs report should mean the end of federal unemployment benefits.
The economy added 204,000 jobs in November, and the unemployment rate fell to 7 percent, the lowest it has been since November 2008.
Republicans argue that’s reason to end federal benefits that were introduced, and have been repeatedly renewed, following the economic downturn in 2008.
“Today’s report includes positive signs that should discourage calls for more emergency government ‘stimulus,’” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement shortly after the release of the figures. “Instead, what our economy needs is more pro-growth solutions that get government out of the way.”
The White House also said Friday’s jobs report was good news but argued it should not be a reason to discontinue the federal unemployment benefits, which kick in after state unemployment benefits are exhausted and are meant to help the long-term unemployed.
Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said the jobs numbers show that too many Americans who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or longer are still struggling to find jobs.
“That is why the president is calling on Congress to pass the extension of emergency unemployment insurance before it expires at the end of the year, just like they have always done when long-term unemployment remains elevated,” Furman said.
At issue are federal benefits that kick in after state benefits are exhausted.
Without an extension, about 1.3 million people who have been out of work for at least six months would see their benefits evaporate on Dec. 28.
Furman argued the reduction in unemployment in November didn’t mean these people are suffering less or facing a much improved labor market.
The percentage of the unemployed who have been jobless for at least six months ticked up in November from 36.1 percent in October to 37.3 percent.
The average length of time someone has been unemployed also rose, Furman said, to 37.2 weeks. It is down from 39.7 weeks a year ago.
The average length of time someone has been unemployed also rose, Furman said, to 37.2 weeks.
The issue of extending the unemployment benefits heated up on Thursday, when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warned Democrats would press for an extension as part of a budget deal.
Republicans said that request could make it tougher to reach a deal, and at a later press conference, Pelosi clarified that the extension could come outside the budget deal.
“What Americans need now is for Republicans to come together with Democrats to extend the unemployment insurance set to expire for more than a million Americans over the holidays; without this vital assistance, our economy will lose 240,000 jobs over the next year,” Pelosi said Thursday.
Democrats have repeatedly won extensions of the benefits, but the improving economy could make their calls more difficult.
The unemployment rate was much higher when the benefits were extended in 2011 and 2012.
There also appear to be few options for a vehicle to attach the benefits to, if they are not included in a budget deal. (And it is not certain there will be a budget deal.)
The House is scheduled to end its work for the year on Dec. 13, giving lawmakers little time to work out an agreement.
Democrats have said the budget deal is the best avenue to push through the $25.7 billion program.
House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (Md.) has said that the issue has been raised with House-Senate budget conferees, and is part of the haggling going on in the effort to wrap an agreement.
Without the federal benefits, those who are struggling to find work would have only state benefits, which also have been trimmed over the past couple of years.
Benefits are curtailed as jobless rates drop in states.
Because of that, in September, 1.4 million workers, or only 34 percent of all the long-term unemployed, received federal unemployment benefits, down from about 2.2 million workers a year ago.
Congressional Republicans have highlighted the five-year length and the more than $252 billion cost of providing benefits.
The federal program was first authorized in June 2008, when the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent and has been reauthorized or expanded 11 times, most recently on Jan. 2, when it was extended until the end of the year as part of the “fiscal-cliff” deal.
State benefits have a maximum duration of 26 weeks.
North Carolina doesn't participate in the federal benefits program and six other states offer fewer than 26 weeks of state unemployment benefits.