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The Hill: Fair economy necessary to pursue national goals by Rep. Barbara Lee

The Hill

Tonight, during the State of the Union Address, I will be looking for President Barack Obama to address the ongoing impact of the crisis in unemployment and long-term unemployment. It is critical that we, as a country, consider the impact of a struggling economy on the millions of individuals and families who are living life on the edge.

?While we see some slow improvements in the jobs numbers, unemployment rates continue to be unacceptably high. Recent unemployment numbers show that the outlook for long-term job seekers is not improving. The average length of unemployment continues to rise. Nearly one-third of America's 14 million unemployed have been without a job for a year or more.

With nearly 50 million Americans living in poverty and half of all Americans in low income households, we must take bold action now. We know that an extension of unemployment insurance is one the most effective ways to help get our economy going again. Maintaining extended unemployment insurance benefits is the most effective way to allow families to reduce their debt burden and thus return spending, investment, and economic growth to better health. 

We must immediately extend the expiring emergency unemployment benefits to the maximum authorized levels and we should also immediately add an additional 14 weeks of Tier I unemployment benefits for the millions of Americans who have completely exhausted their benefits while struggling to find work. 

It is time to pass H.R. 589, a bill I introduced with Congressman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), to provide appropriate benefits for the long-term unemployed. ??Far too many Americans have exhausted all of their unemployment benefits and are still unable to find work. Early in the recession, 75 percent of the unemployed were receiving checks. The figure is now 48 percent — a shift that points to a growing crisis of long-term unemployment. 

Abandoning these job seekers will only further depress the economy and will fail to reduce our deficit as more Americans fall into poverty and become eligible for other needs-based federal benefits. It is only by providing these millions of struggling American families with adequate and immediate relief and a genuine long-term pathway out of poverty that we can put America back on track to prosperity and economic growth for all.  ??

The jobs crisis is a national emergency. We need to pass the American Jobs Act. We need to pass The Restore the American Dream for the 99% Act, a package of job-creation measures and budgetary policy reforms introduced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. We need to invest in targeted job creation for our youth, for communities of color, for the long-term unemployed, and for America’s brave veterans. All of us deserve a fair economy to pursue our dreams and goals. 

I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to strive for the rewards and security of the American Dream.

Tonight, it is my hope that President Obama will address the needs of America’s long-term unemployed. Tomorrow, it is my hope that Republican leaders in the House will do the same.