Poor jobs stats underscore prolonged unemployment benefits fight

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The Labor Department’s surprisingly weak December jobs report prompted the White House, labor unions and others to scold Congress on Friday for failing to renew emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Jason Furman, chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement that the new figures are “a reminder of the work that remains, especially on one of our nation’s most immediate and pressing challenges: long-term unemployment.”

The latest jobs report shows that employers added only 74,000 jobs in December, well below what was expected. The unemployment rate declined to 6.7 percent, from 7 percent, because many people stopped looking for work. Nearly 38 percent of unemployed workers have been without a job for six months or more, proving that long-term unemployment is “far from solved,” Furman said in his statement.

Congress allowed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program to expire at the end of 2013, and since then, nearly 1.5 million unemployed workers have lost benefits. About 72,000 more are losing benefits each week.

Lawmakers, Furman said, cut off a “critical lifeline to those who lost a job through no fault of their own and are still searching for work.”

Thea Lee, chief of staff of the labor union federation the AFL-CIO, said in a statement that it’s a “disgrace” that so many Americans have lost benefits, charging that Republicans “remain fixated on irrelevant and counter-productive austerity measures.”

“It is more critical than ever for Congress to quit dawdling and pass an extension of Unemployment Insurance immediately,” she said.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said that Congress ended 2013 by “turning its back” on unemployed workers.

“Any other man-made or natural disaster that inflicted this much damage—walloping an average of 10,000 people every day—would be a state of emergency, and we’d marshal all our resources in response,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., noted Friday that there’s a proposal on the table to extend the program for one year while meeting the Republicans’ demand to pay for the benefits, as well as a bipartisan three-month extension of the program (not paid for) that would give Congress more time to negotiate the longer-term deal.

“Republicans should join Democrats to pass one of these two measures to help those struggling to make ends meet,” Reid said. “This is just simple common-sense, and I hope my Republican colleagues will agree.”

Republicans, meanwhile, responded to Friday’s jobs report by arguing that the government should be facilitating more job creation -- not more government assistance.

“Every American has a right to ask the question ‘Where are the jobs?’” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement. “Instead of making it easier to find a good-paying job, Washington has been more focused on making it less difficult to live without one.  The top priority of middle-class families who are struggling in this economy, and the top priority of the people’s House, is creating new jobs.”

Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus similarly acknowledged that Democrats have been focused lately on reducing poverty.

“A job is the best anti-poverty program. So it’s sad that job creation hasn’t been the focus of this White House,” he said. “Today’s jobs report reminds us that Obama’s policies simply aren’t creating nearly enough jobs and people are leaving the workforce because of it.”

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