Last week, I had the opportunity to see the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. As you know, this is a morality tale that highlights the plight of the poor, the less fortunate, and the unemployed.
Sitting with my wife in Ford's Theater, I was struck by the following line from the spirit of Jacob Marley, quote: "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, was all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business."
With that line, Dickens was advocating for those less fortunate and voicing his support for economic equality. Those words are most appropriate for this discussion today, at this time of year.
I come to the floor today with my friend Senator Jack Reed to share our concerns about the weak labor market and its impact on the nation's 11 million unemployed. Senator Reed and I are especially concerned about those that have been without work for an extended period of time.
It's been four years since end of the Great Recession. And while the nation's economy has been slowly recovering, steadily adding jobs, a large sector of society is still out of work. Of the nation's 11 million unemployed, a little over 4 million of our friends and neighbors are considered long-term unemployed. That means they have been without work for six months or more.
Most people who find themselves out of work are eligible to receive assistance from their state for 26 weeks, as they look for a new job. But for far too many, finding a new job in the sluggish economy has been extremely difficult.
When state aid is exhausted, federal emergency unemployment insurance kicks in and helps families make ends meet. However, that safety net is now about to expire. In less than two weeks, federal emergency unemployment insurance will run out. On December 28, 1.3 million people will lose their unemployment benefits. These are people who are hurting. They are understandably discouraged, unsuccessful at finding work.
We can't cast them aside. We need to provide out-of-work Americans the security they need while they continue to look for jobs. We need to help them look for work and still put food on the table at night for their families.
Extending the jobless aid to the longtime out-of-work must be a priority for this Congress. With the House already in recess, we will not be able to extend emergency unemployment benefits before the end of the year. It is my hope that when Congress returns we can retroactively extend benefits.
At the same time, when we return next month we need to explore long-term unemployment solutions. We need to jumpstart policies that will grow our economy more rapidly and create new jobs. It has to be a dual track.
Jack Reed cares deeply about this issue. He cares deeply about those who are out of work and down on their luck. That is why we are working together on this issue which is under jurisdiction of the Finance Committee. Jack has worked hard to ensure that Americans are not cast aside.
Together, we will work tirelessly to find a solution. Together, we will as Dickens said, make the "common welfare" our business.