At the beginning of November, the poor went over the "hunger cliff" as Food Stamps were cut. Now long-term unemployment assistance will run out at the end of December. Regular people think the government has given up on them. They have been hit by one blow after another, with little or no help in sight. They see shutdowns and budget cuts at the very time the government needs to spend more to help Americans.
This is part of the Republican effort to turn Americans against government, because the public will blame Democrats. Democrats have to stop letting Republicans get away with it, and return to being seen as trying to help the unemployed and poor.
Long-term Unemployment Assistance Running Out
In a few days, long-term unemployment benefits run out in spite of a "budget deal." This cutoff of long-term aid means that in most states aid will end after a person is unemployed for 26 weeks, and in other states even less -- some dramatically less. It occurs at a time when the average length of unemployment is 37 weeks, and there is still only one job for every three people still bothering to look for work.
1.3 million people will lose this assistance immediately, just after Christmas. By mid-2014 another 2 million will lose this aid as well.
"If my wife loses her benefit before she finds a job, we lose our house." -- Philadelphia resident
A Record Low Share of Unemployed Americans Will Get Help
A new report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) says that the share of unemployed people receiving jobless aid will the lowest level on record (since 1950) -- just one in four! -- if Congress doesn't renew long-term unemployment aid. The rest -- three of four unemployed -- are left on their own. (See the full report here.)
Again: After this assistance runs out, only one in four unemployed people will be getting unemployment benefits. And this doesn't even count the people who have given up looking.
"They've had to expand pantry hours, add additional days to the schedule, and take on new volunteers because they're unable to meet the greater need," he said. "These decisions have created a whole new community of folks we're going to have to serve."
For those who don't care about the human costs of long-term unemployment assistance running out, there are economic costs. The end of benefits for the long-term unemployed will also hurt the economies of struggling states as these states lose billions of dollars of assistance that would be spent in stores, paying rent, etc. The loss of this money will cause the loss of 238,000 more jobs as local grocers, clothing stores, etc., deal with this reduced demand. It will cause foreclosures and bankruptcies. It will force even more people onto Food Stamps and other public assistance even as these programs are cut. It is one more drag on the economy.
As Congress refuses to act to solve the unemployment crisis our economy erodes. We lose capabilities and capacity that our economy will never regain.
The Cost to Democracy as No One Sees Anyone Fighting for Them
Leaving Americans behind like this has a terrible, long-term cost to our society. It erodes people's faith in democracy.
Congress is seen by many as throwing the long-term unemployed and poor under the bus. There are "deals" to avoid military spending cuts and "deals" to avoid increasing taxes on corporations but there are no "deals" to create jobs and help the unemployed and feed people. Republicans are blocking this assistance but Democrats are not seen as having the will to go all out for their constituents the way that Republicans continually go to the mat for the billionaires and their corporations.
Yes, maybe a lot of Democrats are fighting, and fighting hard, but the public is not seeing that. The "budget deal" was negotiated behind closed doors, and the results of that deal do not include increases in Food Stamps or extended unemployment assistance or government hiring of the unemployed. (And cutting military and Federal employee pensions, etc.) The public didn't see a fight to help them. Then there were few Democrats holding out in the House and none talking all night on the Senate floor so the public does not know if Democrats fought for them or not.
What the unemployed and many of the public get from this is that Congress and "The Government" just do not care about people like them, their plight does not matter-- that this country is not for regular people. So many will just tune out and certainly don't bother to vote - what's the point of that? The government is not helping them, not setting up jobs programs like they did in the past, not putting out the fire -- Not. Helping. People. Get. Jobs. and Not. Helping. People. Get. By. In fact, for many if not most Americans things are just getting worse.
Republicans like Karl Rove understand this and rejoice. Thursday Rove tweeted this out: "Dissatisfaction with the government beats economy and jobs as top problem facing the country. RT if you agree. http://bit.ly/1bQKuvP". "RT if you agree" means Rove wants this spread around. The link leads to a document at Rove's site that lays it out:
Government Dissatisfaction Passes Economy, Jobs As Most Important Issue: Most Americans ranked the economy as the most important problem facing the country for the better part of 2013. Consider the last six months: 25% of Americans told Gallup the economy was the number one issue in June; 23% said it was the top issue in July; 25% in August; and 21% in September.
This changed in October, when the government shutdown and disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act led 33% of Americans to label "dissatisfaction with government" as the top concern facing the country. This continued in November when 26% said it was the top issue, and in December when 21% said so. Before October, only an average of 17% of adults said dissatisfaction with the government was the biggest problem this year.
Rove "gets" what this means, and Democrats had best take note. He concludes (pretending it's Obama who shut down the government and cut Food Stamps and unemployment assistance and obstructed and filibustered and the rest of those things that caused Americans to be dissatisfied with government),
President Barack Obama can try pivoting to the economy, immigration, education, or guns, but until he deals with the problems his policies have already created, Americans are unlikely trust him to handle other ones.
Karl Rove sees people turning against government, and understands that President Obama and Democrats will be blamed. He rejoices. (Perhaps he rubs his hands together and chortles.)
The Public Has to See Who Is Hurting Them
We the People have to apply enough pressure to force Republican leaders in the House to allow a vote on an unemployment extension bill, and force enough Republicans in the Senate to join Democrats to end a Republican filibuster. All of Congress needs to be swamped with demands to act on this and act fast. But for that to happen the people have to know who to blame.
This doesn't have to land on Democrats. The Republican game is about keeping the public from seeing what is really happening and blaming them. Democrats have to stop helping them with this, and start "pointing fingers" and "laying blame" and letting the public know who is on their side and who is not. These bad economic things are not things that are "just happening" to people, there are people making these bad things happen. (Elected Democrats, click that link.) You have to tell and show people who to hold accountable.
And unfortunately we need to make more Democrats understand that helping the unemployed and poor is worth going to the mat over. It is job 1 -- it has to be. It is the right thing to do for the American people and for our economy. It is the thing that is needed.
If the American public sees Democrats going to the mat for them, and see Republicans continuing to obstruct efforts to help the poor and unemployed, Democracy will take care of the rest.