Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act—Motion to Proceedby Senator Christopher Murphy
Posted on 2014-01-08
MURPHY. Mr. President, when the history books are written about
those who fought hardest against poverty, who stood up for those with
no voice, with very little power and an increasingly unfair economy,
LBJ and his war on poverty will be a few chapters in that book. Senator
Tom Harkin will occupy a pretty big place in that story as well. I
salute him for spending the time to talk about this long fight on
poverty this country has waged, and still needs to wage, and salute the
role he has played. It is an inspiration to many of us who have sought
to try to stand in his shoes and in his place.
I wish to talk about the same subject, because over the holidays I had the chance to spend a day in New Haven, CT, with a 40-year-old homeless man who up until last spring had been employed for the better part of the last 20 years. But as has happened to millions of Americans over the last several years, this man--who I will call for today's purposes Nick--lost his job.
Nick has had it tough his whole life. His father was a drug addict who got Nick addicted to crack when he was 13 years old. He was born into a cycle of drug use and violence and poverty that is far too prevalent in places like New Haven and Bridgeport and cities across this country. But despite the odds stacked against him, Nick graduated from high school, he built a career for himself around sales. Now, after 20 years of working and 40 years of fighting the odds, Nick for the first time in his life is homeless.
So I spent the day with Nick, seeking shelter from the cold, using the public library to apply for jobs, attending meetings that have helped keep him clean and sober. Aside from receiving the support he needs for his health issues, Nick spent most of that day just looking for work. He wants to work. He desperately wants to get back on the job, and he is hopeful that one day he will find work soon. But he is caught right now in this vicious downward spiral of homelessness. He can't find a job without a home. He fills out dozens of job applications, but with his address being a homeless shelter, he doesn't compete very well with other applicants. But of course, as Nick tells it, how can he get a home without a job? He is caught, he is stuck, like millions of other Americans.
One of the things that keeps Nick from starving, other than the food and the shelter he gets from Columbus House and the local soup kitchen, is the $100 he used to get--until last week--in unemployment insurance. Without that measly $100 a week, things get pretty dire, right now as we speak, for Nick.
The fact is while unemployment benefits make homelessness a little more manageable for a guy like Nick, these emergency funds are often the only thing standing between a family where their primary breadwinner is out of work and a life on the streets. It is during a long stretch of unemployment where these meager benefits become the only way a family can continue to pay the mortgage or the only way a young guy can continue to keep up with the rent.
If we don't restore unemployment benefits now, tens of thousands more people will be living on the street. That is not hyperbole. That is reality. Then they will be captured in that same catch-22 of homelessness: No job without a home. No home without a job.
Like Nick, there are 28 million Americans who have needed emergency unemployment compensation since 2008. These Americans aren't some distant, unfamiliar group of people. They are our friends. They are our neighbors. They are people who have worked their entire lives and want to get back to work again.
I recently sat down with about a half dozen long-term unemployed individuals in Bridgeport, CT, and we see the pain and agony on their faces as they recount their daily hours-long quest to find work, applying to hundreds of jobs, making dozens of phone calls, and coming up empty. There is something almost dehumanizing about that effort to seek work, to prove your worth, and to come up empty time after time again.
One guy I met, Ronny, sat behind a desk his entire career. He worked his entire life in a white-collar job, and he said he would take any job. He would sweep floors. He would do anything just to get back to work. He is not lazy. He is not gaming the system. He is just one of millions who would rather do any job at all than be unemployed.
Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle say they are opposed to extending unemployment benefits because they want to get back to normal with regard to unemployment insurance. But that reasoning totally ignores the reality of this recession. Unlike the recessions in 1982 and 1991 and 2001, the unemployment rate has not fallen after the end of the recession with respect to people who are long-term unemployed. The rate of those unemployed for more than 26 weeks is at the highest today than it has been in 60 years. There are now three unemployed workers for every one job opening, compared to two or fewer workers per job opening in the wake of previous recessions. This just isn't a normal recession. There are more people out of work for longer periods of time than at any time in most of our lives.
If you were in the top 10 percent of earners prior to this recession, things are pretty much back to normal. In 2012, the top 10 percent of earners took home about half of all income in the United States. Those people have recovered. During that time corporate profits were also at an all-time high. For those people and for those entities, things are back to normal. Maybe that is why some Republicans think it is right to bring unemployment insurance back to prerecession norms. But it is not.
One of the hallmarks of this abnormal recession is the number of people who become unemployed and stay unemployed. Forty-three percent of the unemployed people in Connecticut are long-term unemployed, don't have a job, and have been out of a job for months and years.
Rebecca, who lives in Connecticut, emailed my office and she said: I am 34 years old. For the first time since I was 16, I am unemployed. I am an attorney, and I apply to 20-40 jobs per week.
Another woman wrote to my office: My husband has been out of work for 52 weeks. He spent 30+ years in the banking industry. His last position was as a regional director of retirement services.
Frank from Meriden, CT, writes: I have worked all my life--43 years. I was laid off in 2009 and again in 2013. In both instances, I dedicated my unemployed time searching to secure a job. I'd prefer to work as long as I am capable and with your assistance in extending the EUC program, I may at least have a fighting chance of securing employment. Please afford me the opportunity to continue the employment search without the added burden of discontinued benefits.
But we shouldn't only extend benefits because it is the right thing to do. It is also the economically smart thing to do. The Congressional Budget Office tells us that 200,000 jobs are going to be lost this year if we don't restore emergency unemployment benefits. In the week since unemployment benefits lapsed, $400 million has been drained from States' economies.
You see, when we give people support during their time of need when they are out of work, they spend that money--and they spend it quickly. Extending unemployment benefits offers the best bang for the buck we can offer our economy. Every dollar we put into UI returns as much as $1.90 to the economy. CBO says that extending unemployment benefits through 2014 will boost the GDP of this Nation by 0.2 percent. One action of this Congress can boost GDP by 0.2 percent.
No matter what we do, it is still going to be a long road back for those who have been unemployed for 1 year or more, who are going to face discrimination based on their age or based simply on the fact that they have been unemployed for a long period of time.
Just giving them benefits does not magically put them back to work. But the most remarkable thing that you find when you talk to these individuals is that while they are frustrated, their spirit is not broken. Every time somebody sheds a tear to me, recounting their ordeal of unemployment, their story always ends with a hopefulness that employment is just around the corner.
[[Page S123]] Nick is that kind of guy too. He knows that things are going to get better for him. But as we walked around New Haven in the cold for 10 hours last week, and we talked virtually the entire time, he wondered whether anybody down here truly cared about the dehumanizing existence of being without a job and being without a home. He wondered why Congress would turn its back on him and the millions of others who have been clobbered by the worst recession in our lifetime.
I have kept in touch with Nick in the days since I spent the day with him. Just yesterday he sent me an email. He said: I am sitting right now in the Department of Labor office, updating my resume. Chris, I have not had any luck yet with employment but I will keep trudging, just as I am doing in pretty much every aspect of my life. I know it will get better as I continue to strengthen my faith and stay on a straight and narrow path. As long as I continue to do those two things the sky is the limit for me, Chris.
Nick believes that things are going to get better for him. Millions of other Americans who have been out of work for 50, 100 weeks, still believe that salvation is around the corner. All they ask is that we extend some modicum of support to them so they can make that winnowing dream a reality.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Vermont is recognized.