by Chad Newcomb, Senior Policy Analyst
National Women’s Law Center
So the pundits said you wouldn’t be able to get anything done this year, what with the campaigning, the political gridlock, and President Bush’s sudden discovery of his veto pen. Well, you’ve proven them wrong so far, enacting an economic stimulus package, overriding a presidential veto of vital funding for nutrition programs, and passing a budget in an election year for the first time since 2000. Last month, as part of a war funding package, those of you in the House passed an extension of unemployment insurance benefits of 13 weeks (26 weeks in the states hardest hit by the downturn) and additional spending for veterans’ education by a wide margin: 256 to 166. But now there are rumors that the extension of unemployment insurance may be dropped from the final bill.
If true, this would be very bad timing. The unemployment rate in May jumped to 5.5 percent, the largest one-month increase in 22 years. Although some of the increase in unemployment resulted from teenagers entering the labor market, unemployment increased by 11.6 percent among adult women and 6.5 percent among adult men. For African-Americans, the situation looks especially bad: the unemployment rate among African-Americans spiked to 9.7 percent in May, up from 8.6 percent in April. To put these numbers in perspective, today’s unemployment rate is well above the 4.3 percent rate at the beginning of the last recession.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that President Bush has called on you to drop the extension of unemployment benefits. But given the fact that 71 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the economy, abandoning support for those losing their jobs in order to make him happy hardly seems like a prudent course of action. But I’m no politician, so if I’m missing something here, please let me know.