Over the past four and a half years, people have been receiving unemployment checks for extended periods of time. However, on Dec. 28, Congress failed to add the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) Act to the new budget, which did not allow the plan to be extended into 2014.
Since the 2010 unemployment peak, the number of people out of work and actively job hunting has decreased. President Barack Obama said in his first national address of 2014, “Businesses have created more than eight million new jobs since we hit the bottom.”
Despite the improvements, over one million members of the U.S. population are still without employment. Unemployment affects 6.7 percent of the United States’ population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“(The United States) unemployment rate should be four and a half to five percent,” said economics professor Bert Wheeler. “That represents people who are voluntarily looking for work or temporarily displaced.”
Historically, the government has provided aid to people who are without paying jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, individual states provide unemployment benefits to people for up to 26 weeks to help them support themselves while seeking new employment. Should they still be unemployed at the end of 26 weeks, the federal government will take over in paying their unemployment support.
With so many people out of work, Obama created a program called the EUC Act. The act, meant to supplement the current unemployment benefit plan, went into effect June 30, 2008. The new plan extended unemployment benefits to 99 weeks. This allowed for approximately two years of government-funded unemployment.
When the EUC ended in December, Congress failed to add it to the new budget, preventing the plan from continuing into 2014.
“Congress went home for the holidays and let this lifeline expire for 1.3 million Americans,” Obama said in a Jan. 7 address to the Senate.
However, not everyone sees the expiration as a failure on Congress’ part. Wheeler said he believes the temporary plan has reached its timely end.
“It’s absolutely way too long for a temporary program to run as long as it was running,” he said.
Obama spoke to the Senate about the necessity of providing unemployment benefits as well as Congress’ need to create a more beneficial and permanent solution to unemployment in the United States, according to the Washington Post.
“Despite their political differences, they (a group of Democratic and Republican senators)worked together on a plan to extend unemployment insurance at least for three months temporarily while we figure out a longer-term solution,” Obama said.
Proposing further unemployment extension has created controversy in politics at the start of the new year. The issue is not as simple as financially supporting people who cannot find work.
“If you pay them (the unemployed) for years and years, they won’t look for a job,” said Republican senator Richard Shelby of Alabama to the Huffington Post.
On the other hand, Obama said these aren’t folks who are just sitting back, waiting for things to happen. He said they’re out there actively looking for work.
Charline Engle is a former employee for the Employment Training Connection (ETC) Wayne County office. According to ETC’s website, ETC offers information and referral on tax credits available, labor market information, up to date employment trends and employer workshops.
As an employment advisor, Engle helped clients get the resources they needed to find work. Engle said the ETC office is an essential part of the unemployment compensation process because benefit recipients are required to visit the office as one of the criteria to receive unemployment checks.
“Although there are people who honestly utilize the system to find employment, there are a fair amount of people who cheat the government,” Engle said. “Many people were only interested in going to the office because it’s required, checking it off the list and getting money without trying to find a job.”
As an employee trying to help the unemployed, Engle said she found it discouraging when people were uneducated about how the job market works and often not even willing to learn.
Rather than leaving the system as it is and allowing room for financial exploitation from the unemployed, Engle suggested that the government come up with a more suitable and fool-proof method.
“Teaching people employability skills would be more beneficial than handing them a stack of papers and sending them off to interviews blind,” Engle said.
While the fate of a benefits extension is tied up in the federal government, unemployment can be addressed at a local level.
“(Alleviation of unemployment) can be accomplished through the local church or through other local organizations that daily seek to help the needy,” said political science professor Jewerl Maxwell. “In my opinion, this is one area where American Christians often fail. We hear conservative evangelicals upset that the government is taking on this responsibility, but we often fail to be on the front line of helping those who need the help.”
Kari Morris is a sophomore English major and a reporter for Cedars. When she isn’t shooting for the CU pistol team, Kari loves playing Guitar Hero with friends and pulling pranks on her unit-mates.