3 million Americans now without unemployment benefits due to congressional gridlock

(Counter from House Ways and Means Committee)

The number of Americans who would qualify for federal long-term unemployment benefits -- a program Congress allowed to expire in December -- has now hit 3 million, according to Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee.

The 3 million mark comes months after the Senate passed a bipartisan deal that would have restored federally-provided long-term unemployment benefits, but that bill was never taken up for a vote in the GOP-controlled House.

Under the federal unemployment system, someone who loses a job typically receives unemployment benefits from the state for 26 weeks. But in 2008,  Congress voted to provide additional aid that made checks available for as long as 99 weeks in the hardest-hit states. Last year, lawmakers cut the maximum benefit to 73 weeks. Then, at the end of December, Congress let federal aid lapse altogether.

That cut aid to 1 million people en masse in December, and the ranks of those no longer receiving benefits has been growing by about 72,000 a week, according to the National Employment Law Project, which lobbies on behalf of the jobless.

Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nevada) have vowed to secure another deal in the Senate and continuing to apply pressure to the House Republicans to vote on a bill to restore the benefits.

Much of the Democratic strategy since the Senate bill passed has been focusing on regional media and attempting to build pressure within  the Republican caucus. Those efforts have seemed to be ineffective so far. But a bipartisan group of lawmakers and non-profit groups will continue the strategy throughout the summer by hosting events on Capitol Hill each Wednesday, where members of Congress, faith leaders, and union leaders will share stories of the long-term unemployed.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the “long-term unemployed” as those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more.

According to the latest statistics from the BLS, there are more than 3.4 million long-term jobless as of May, accounting for 34.6 million of the totally number of unemployed Americans.

Economists argue that the longer someone is out of work the harder it is for him or her to find a job. Many long-term unemployed Americans who spoke with the Washington Post this week said that, without federal benefits, they have been unable to pay bills, eat, or spend the money needed to secure a new job.

A study by three Princeton economists earlier this year concluded:

A few patterns are clear. First, the job-finding rate is lower for those with a longer duration of unemployment, with the long-term unemployed finding jobs at less than half the rate of those very short-term unemployed. Second, the cyclicality of job finding is clear in these data, with all rates declining during the recession of the early 2000s, and declining more dramatically during the Great Recession. Third, job finding rates for all groups remain well below their pre-Great Recession averages. Fourth, the job finding rate has risen for each group in the last four years, although it has barely increased for those unemployed longer than a year.

Here's how they charted it:


Meanwhile, a new Gallup poll released this week found higher rates of depression and other forms of emotional distress among those who were long-term unemployed.

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According to the survey, the longer that Americans are unemployed, the more likely they are to report signs of poor psychological well-being. Gallup found that one in five Americans who have been unemployed for a year or more say they currently have or are being treated for depression -- nearly double the rate among those who have been unemployed for five weeks or less.

A previous version of this article stated that the Wednesday events on Capitol Hill throughout the summer will be hosted solely by Democrats. They will feature both Democrats and Republican lawmakers.

Wesley Lowery covers Capitol Hill for The Fix and Post Politics.
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Washington Post Staff | June 9