Monday, February 3, 2014

Unemployed Workers Need Your Help

The Senate is expected to vote today on a bill to extend Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits to the long-term unemployed.  They need 60 votes!

Write to your Members of Congress today.  Now is not the time to leave unemployed workers without help.

What is UI?

Unemployment insurance is a federal-state program that provides a financial safety net to those who have lost their jobs. Unemployment insurance is the first economic line of defense against the reality of unemployment and is intended to keep people clothed, fed, and housed while they seek new employment. 

The Issue:

On January 1, 2014, the special extension of UI for the long-term unemployed expired. This left more than 1.6 million unemployed workers and their families without benefits.  The long-term unemployed are people who have been without a job for more than six months.  They qualified for their state programs, exhausted those benefits, and now the federal extension is all they have left.

Though the unemployment rate is coming down, the measures of long-term unemployment are not improving: [i]
·      38% of the unemployed are long-term unemployed
·      the average duration of unemployment for all unemployed workers is 37.1 weeks, over 11 weeks longer than the maximum state benefit
·      3.9 million workers are long-term unemployed

The unfortunate truth is that the job market is not improving much. Most of the gains in the employment rate over the last year are due to discouraged workers leaving the work force (no longer looking for a job, and therefore, no longer counted as unemployed). People giving up on ever finding a job is NOT the way we want to see the unemployment rate come down.  We should be making sure that those who want to work are able to find good jobs that allow them to support themselves and their families.

What does the Church say about work and unemployment?

In 2012, the 220th General Assembly spoke on the fundamental nature of our economic system and the way it reflects our values.  The Assembly wrote:

“We reject, as incompatible with Christian vocation, any economic system that tolerates the marginalization or exploitation of any of its members through unemployment and underemployment, insufficient wages, or extreme inequality in access to social goods.” 

The statement goes on to urge several policy proposals that would address the wide and varied root causes of economic injustice in the U.S.  On the subject of the safety net, it called for

“a stronger social safety net for poor and low-income families, through measures such as adjustment of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and related income support programs to extend time limits or reactivate expired eligibility in times of high unemployment, and protection of Food Stamps, WIC, SSI, Medicaid, and other programs for the most vulnerable, from across-the-board budget cuts.”[ii]
As Reformed Christians, we believe in the value and dignity of work.  We believe God calls us into vocation, which is a “lifelong response to God in all aspects of one’s life.  Work, paid and unpaid, is an integral part of the believer’s response to God’s call.”[iii] But when God’s children have no opportunity to work we have an even greater responsibility to one another. 

As the Assembly wrote in 1995, “All conditions of paid employment, including compensation and working conditions, should sustain and nurture the dignity of individuals, the well-being of households and families, the social cohesiveness of communities, and the integrity of the global environment.”

Learn more about Unemployment Insurance from the United States Department of Labor

[i] Tackling the Long-term Unemployment Crisis: What the President, Congress, and Business Leaders Should Do; National Unemployment Law Project (NELP); January 2014.
[ii] World of Hurt, Word of Life: Renewing God’s Commuion in the Work of Economic Reconstruction; 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2012,
[iii] Principles of Vocation and Work; Minutes, 207th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1995, pp.426-427.