Imagine that one day you walk into your workplace-the place you have gone for 40 hours per week or more for a number of years. You are a worker in good standing, but on this day, you learn that as a result of the economic downturn you have lost your job. You pound the pavement in search of a new one, but despite this effort, six months have gone by and you are struggling to make ends meet.
This is the struggle of one young father from Davenport who recently wrote my office. He has an MBA, but is just not seeing job openings in his field. He has had to widen the net, applying to jobs outside of his area of expertise, and still has met with no success. Once his benefits expire, the challenges he will face may become insurmountable. He asked me: how will he find a job without an address, transportation, or a telephone?
For too many workers, that is the reality in our country today. The economy is improving, yet long-term unemployment continues to threaten that recovery. For every available job, there are currently three job seekers. Some four million workers have been looking for a new job for at least six months.
Unemployment insurance helps struggling families and provides a major, immediate boost to the economy. Unemployed households spend these dollars on immediate needs such as paying the rent, buying groceries and school supplies, or repairing the family car - all economic activities that quickly inject dollars into our communities, helping businesses to keep up sales as the economy continues to recover.
When workers are laid off through no fault of their own, they may receive temporary financial assistance of up to six months from Iowa's unemployment insurance system (UI) while they look for a new job. For the past several years, when long-term unemployment has been extremely high-right now there are three unemployed workers for every available job-workers who are unemployed for more than six months could qualify for a federal UI program that provided additional temporary assistance. Despite recent efforts to continue the federal program, the program expired on December 28, 2013. A recent effort to extend these vital benefits was blocked in the Senate, abruptly ending insurance benefits for 1.3 million workers - including 4,300 Iowans - who have earned and deserve this insurance, and which helps them put food on the table and pay their bills. Another 3.9 million workers, including more than 30,000 Iowans, will lose this last lifeline this year if Congress does not act.
Bear in mind that you can only collect unemployment insurance if you have worked and paid into the system and are actively looking for work. And no one is living large on these payments, which average only $291 a week in Iowa. I have talked to many unemployed Iowans who are desperate for work and rely on these unemployment insurance benefits to put food on the table, gas in the car, and provide for their families while they look for jobs.
This program is not a cure-all, but it does provide temporary assistance for the families who have been hit the hardest by this recession. In 2012 alone, unemployment benefits kept 2.5 million people out of poverty, including 600,000 children.
Extending unemployment insurance is good for the economy, and it is the least we can do to help those families who have been hit hardest by the struggling economy. It's time to end the delays, and pass this extension as soon as possible.
For more information on unemployment benefits, visit www.iowaworkforce.org. You can also visit Senator Harkin's website at harkin.senate.gov/, or follow him on Facebook www.facebook.com/tomharkin and Twitter twitter.com/SenatorHarkin.