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Amy Traub

Unemployment Soars in American Cities: Why Did Congress Hit the Road?

One in seven people living in the Las Vegas metro area is officially unemployed. They’re joined by 883,200 New Yorkers, also out of work… 521,900 jobless residents of Chicagoland… 243,600 people looking for work in the Houston area…

The new metro area unemployment numbers, released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, make for grim reading. Unemployment is up in 78% of the nation’s major metropolitan areas compared with last year. In American cities and suburbs, out-of-work residents and their families are scraping by while jobs remain scarce. Nearly half of them have been out of work for more than six months. As the Wall Street Journal points out, that’s more chronic unemployment than at any time since the Labor Department began keeping track in 1948.

So what did Congress do? The Senate went on recess without extending unemployment benefits for tens of thousands of the long-term unemployed about to lose an economic lifeline. The House cut off the subsidies that helped jobless people and their families keep their health coverage. Despite projections that it will be years before there are enough jobs for everyone who wants to work, they failed to even extend benefits through 2010. And they refused to save the jobs of 300,000 school teachers facing layoffs across the country, downgrading young peoples’ education in the process. No wonder anti-incumbent sentiment is rising.

The stated reason for the delays and job-killing cuts is the need to reduce spending to keep deficits under control. But Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein refutes Blue Dog Democrats’ claim that they’re simply making the best of the hard fiscal choices. He contrasts the $30 billion in spending on health coverage for the poor and unemployed that the Blue Dogs insisted on seeing eliminated with $22 billion to maintain payments to doctors, a measure that remained in the bill. “Given the choice between protecting high-income docs and economically struggling patients, those courageous Blue Dogs sided with the docs.” So much for hard choices.

As the Economic Policy Institute’s Larry Mishel cogently argued on Huffington Post this week, the reasons for ending or delaying unemployment benefits are all bad ones. Unemployment benefits are one of the most cost-effective means to promote economic recovery (although they’re clearly not enough on their own). Meanwhile a robust recovery would do far more to reduce the nation’s long-term deficits than cuts to the relatively small benefits out-of-work Americans and their families depend on.

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Posted at 1:05 PM, Jun 03, 2010 in Employment
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