Jobs figures underscore long-term unemployment “crisis,” leaders say

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A month after Congress let emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed expire, the Labor Department’s first jobs report for 2014 confirms that chronic unemployment is a serious problem, both Democrats and Republicans acknowledged Friday.

"America doesn’t work if Americans aren’t working. Today’s jobs report underscores that there remains a real crisis for the chronically unemployed in this country,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said in a statement. “Americans deserve good jobs and should not have to settle for the new normal of extended unemployment and limited jobs prospects."

Jason Furman, chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, similarly called the long-term unemployment figures “a stark reminder that despite the progress that has been made, the after-effects of the recession still linger and are creating hardship for many families.”

The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added a disappointing 113,000 jobs in January, and the unemployment rate ticked down from 6.7 percent to 6.6 percent.

Even though the unemployment rate has fallen 1.3 percent over the last year, the long-term unemployed represent a relatively large share of those still out of work. As of January 2013, persons unemployed 27 weeks or more represent 2.3 percent of the labor force, Furman pointed out -- more than double its average prior to the recession.

Friday’s report represents the latest measure of the labor market since long-term unemployment benefits expired at the end of December. When the program expired, 1.3 million Americans immediately were left without benefits, and that number has since risen to nearly 1.7 million.  About 72,000 more lose benefits each week.

On Thursday, the Senate tried and failed for the third time to renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Dean Heller of Nevada joined Democrats in supporting the measure, but the majority of Republicans managed to block the bill.

While Congress continues to debate that aid program, both parties are pointing to the steps they’ve taken to demonstrate their interest in helping Americans looking for work. Furman pointed out that President Obama has recruited hundreds of businesses to reform their hiring practices to ensure the long-term unemployed aren’t overlooked.

Cantor, meanwhile, pointed to the SKILLS Act, a bill that the GOP-led House passed nearly a year ago to streamline federal job training programs and strengthen the relationship between community colleges and  training programs. Republicans have for months held the SKILLS Act up as an example of a GOP economic solution that Democrats have shown no interest in. Following Mr. Obama’s State of the Union address, House leaders once again highlighted the bill in a letter to the president listing GOP initiatives that have been ignored in the Democratic-led Senate.

In  his reaction to Friday’s jobs report, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, once again decried Democrats for failing to take up the House GOP bills. “We are ready to improve job training, expand markets for American exports, approve the Keystone pipeline, and much more,” he said. “The president and his party’s leaders, however, are standing in the way.”

Boehner also alluded to a recent nonpartisan report projecting that the Affordable Care Act will shrink the workforce by the equivalent of 2 million workers by 2017, lamenting that the “health care law will drive millions out of an already-diminished labor force.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus also tied the jobs figures to Affordable Care Act projections.

“The percentage of Americans in the workforce hasn’t been this low since the 1970s. ObamaCare will now drive that number lower,” he said.

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