Senate Republicans narrowly blocked legislation Thursday to move forward on a three-month renewal of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. The federal program -- which provided up to 47 weeks of benefits after state-paid benefits ran out -- expired at the end of the year, cutting off benefits to more than 1.7 million Americans, according to Democrats.
The January jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the unemployment rate falling to 6.6%, the lowest in five years, but the number of jobs added was a disappointing 113,000 versus expectations for 189,000.
From an economic perspective, should these long-term unemployment benefits be extended?
Yes, says Brookings Institution senior fellow and economist Justin Wolfers.
"The labor market is improving, but it's still in bad shape," he tells us in the accompanying video. The unemployment rate is still historically high and at 6.6% "it is a number that would normally cause us to freak out."
He also says unemployment is different this time, with a large proportion of the jobless composed of workers unemployed for more than six months, and "there's a real concern over whether these people are ever going to be able to work again. We want to keep these people engaged as part of the workforce so we don't end up supporting them on the disability roles."
There were 3.6 million long-term jobless people in January, according to the BLS, or 35.8% of the unemployed.
He also argues there is a fairness issue. Historically the U.S. government has always extended benefits at a "time like this, and only cut them off when the economy returns back to normal -- the economy's a long way from returning back to normal."
Check out the video to see what policymakers can do to help the long-term unemployed, and why, if there isn't more of a policy response, "that's probably going to come back and bite us all in the bum," according to Wolfers.
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