According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 13.3 million Americans are unemployed. Nearly half have been jobless for more than six months - a record. If you add workers who are so discouraged that they've given up looking for work, and people who are underemployed (working part time but who want full-time jobs), the number of jobless Americans skyrockets to more than 25 million.
After remaining at or over 9 percent since March 2009, the nation's jobless rate dipped to 8.6 percent in November. But in California, the rate is 11.7 percent. For more than 2 1/2 years, the number of jobless Americans has outstripped the number of available job openings by more than 4 to 1.
In such dire circumstances, the least Congress can do is extend unemployment benefits. The Obama administration and House and Senate Democrats are pushing for another yearlong extension of federal benefits before they expire Dec. 31. Without action, nearly 2 million Americans would be cut off from unemployment insurance in January alone; 6 million would be cut off over the course of the next year.
Historically, whenever the jobless numbers are this severe, Congress has extended jobless benefits to help keep families and local economies afloat. In fact, Congress has never allowed unemployment insurance to expire with the jobless rate above 7.2 percent.
Last year, congressional Republicans opposed extending jobless benefits but were outvoted by the Democrats. Now the Republicans aren't saying they outright oppose an extension, because that would be unpopular in hard-hit states like Ohio, Speaker John A. Boehner's home state. Instead, they've added a poison pill, insisting that any extension of unemployment benefits be paid for by making other cuts, which will shed even more jobs. The Democrats have proposed paying for the extension of jobless benefits and the payroll tax cut with a tax increase on those making more than $1 million a year, a plan that Republicans oppose.
In other words, the Republicans are more willing to provide tax breaks for the rich than unemployment benefits for the jobless.