Three days after Christmas, unemployment benefits end for 1.3 million people who have exhausted their state unemployment benefits, but still can't find a job.
To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you have to be actively looking for a job. Virtually all of these people would rather work, but can't find a job in today's economy where there are three applicants for every job available.
But when the budget deal was negotiated in Congress over the last several weeks, Republican negotiators refused to agree to continue those unemployment benefits. And at the same time, they demanded the continuation of tax breaks for big oil companies and loopholes for Wall Street billionaires who get their income from hedge funds.
Merry Christmas from the GOP.
Of course this kind of Christmas cheer comes from the same gang that routinely drags out the well-worn charge that progressives and Democrats are engaging in a “war on Christmas.” Maybe someone should force Republican Members of Congress to sit through a showing of “A Christmas Carol” and then explain why they think Ebenezer Scrooge is the hero.
Over the last decade the far right, that now dominates the GOP, has conducted a real war on the values that we celebrate at Christmas.
In case they missed it, Christmas is about giving, and sharing and loving your neighbor. It’s about family. Christmas has nothing to do with greed or selfishness or paying people poverty level wages so you can maximize your bottom line.
The Christmas spirit is not about cutting off an economic lifeline for over a million people so the wealthiest in the land can continue to prosper beyond imagining. And remember many of those same wealthy people who are doing so well are personally responsible for the recklessness that caused the Great Recession and cost the jobs of those whose unemployment benefits they now believe we can “no longer afford.”
You hear a lot from the right wing about having to make “tough choices” because some things “we just can’t afford.” Ironically those “things we cannot afford” never include the things that benefit the very wealthy.
In fact, as surprising as it may seem to many Americans, there is more bounty in the land this Christmas, than at any time in our nation’s history. Our income per capita – and our productivity per person – has increased by 80% over the last 30 years. But over those same 30 years, average incomes for most Americans were stagnant – and virtually all of that increased income and wealth went to the top 1%.
That is bad enough. But then to insist that our country “can’t afford” to continue paying unemployment benefits to people who can’t find a job – and by the way – cut off their benefits three days after Christmas – that is an outrage.
Many on the right are so out of touch with ordinary Americans that they argue that providing unemployment benefits makes people “dependent.” This of course completely ignores the fact that to qualify you have to have been working and lost your job for no fault of your own; you have to be actively looking for work; and the maximum benefits in many states are very low.
Ask the Koch brothers to support a family on the $258 per week maximum benefit in Louisiana, or the $275 per week maximum benefit in Florida – or even the $524 per week maximum benefit in Ohio.
People don’t want to stay on unemployment benefits. They want to find a job that provides them with income and benefits that allow them to give a better life to their families and their kids. They want to make a contribution and feel that they do worthwhile work. Most Americans want to be proud of what they do for a living – they don’t want to be “dependent” on anyone.
You have to be from another planet to believe that most people will become “dependent” on a total income of $275 per week.
Unemployment benefits provide workers and their families with an economic shot in the arm to get them through being laid off in an economy when jobs are still hard to come by.
And let’s be real clear why jobs are so hard to come by. Jobs are still hard to come by because of the policies of those very same right wing politicians who refused to reign in the orgy of reckless speculation on Wall Street that resulted in a ruinous financial collapse from which the economy is still recovering.
Jobs would be a lot easier to come by if the GOP did not do everything it could to block President Obama’s American’s Jobs Act that would create millions of jobs in both the public and private sectors by investing in teachers, and infrastructure.
Jobs would be a lot easier to come by if the GOP were not fixated on cutting government investment at a time when virtually all economists – including the Federal Reserve Chairman – believe we need more fiscal stimulus and that the policy’s of the Republicans in Congress continue to be a major drag on economic growth.
In fact the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that failing to continue federal unemployment benefits will cost the economy 240,000 jobs and slow the growth of the overall economy by .2%.
Those who receive unemployment benefits spend virtually every dime on the goods and services they need to live. That spending provides jobs to thousands of other Americans. So cutting federal unemployment benefits will actually create a quarter million more people who are unemployed. Great work GOP.
So here is the bottom line. It turns out that a society that reflects the spirit of Christmas – one where we have each other’s back – where we care about each other and not just ourselves – a society like that is better for everyone.
In fact, it turns out that the “moral” thing to do – the “right” thing to do – is also the “smart” thing to do.
It turns out that progressive values like loving your neighbor as your self – are the most precious possessions of humanity because they are the values that will allow us and our children to prosper and survive.
And that’s why the spirit of Christmas doesn’t just belong to Christians – or Catholics or Baptists or Episcopalians – or anyone. The Christmas spirit belongs to everyone on our small fragile planet. And that spirit embodies exactly the set of values that we must use to chart our course not just on Christmas Day but 365 days each year – including December 28th when over a million families will lose the economic lifeline that provides them a bridge to a better life.
Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com. He is a partner in Democracy Partners and a Senior Strategist for Americans United for Change. Follow him on Twitter @rbcreamer.