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Mr. CARDIN. Mr. President, the 111th Congress is drawing to a close and families across the Nation are preparing for the holiday season. In the Senate, we still have many items on our agenda, bills we need to complete before we adjourn. Many of these bills represent the priorities of various Senators addressing issues that some have worked on for this entire Congress, some for several Congresses. Other bills are necessary to prevent certain longstanding policies from expiring, such as tax relief for working families, and still others are needed to avert cuts in key programs such as Medicare payments to doctors and protecting rehabilitative services for seniors.
In addition to marking the start of the holiday season, this week also brings a devastating reminder of the economic disaster facing many families. On Monday, action to extend unemployment benefits to millions of people was blocked in the Senate by Republicans. Yesterday, those benefits expired. The Republicans are telling us we cannot consider any legislation until we take up tax breaks for millionaires. On December 1, more than 800,000 Americans were left without benefits and up to 2 million more will soon follow by the end of the year, including 48,000 Marylanders. There are some in this body who may not recognize the peril facing families whose benefits are being cut off. Every day I hear from Marylanders who are asking Congress for help. They want to work but can't find employment. Many have been looking for a long time, over a year, sending hundreds of resumes, pounding the pavements, attending job fairs and numerous interviews, all to no avail. They want us to take the steps necessary to help the economy create jobs, and they need some assistance in the meantime to help them stay afloat.
Maryland's unemployment rate stands at 7.4 percent statewide. Although that is lower than the national average, in some counties the situation is more dire. In Baltimore City, the rate is 11 percent. In Dorchester County, it stands at 9.8 percent. In Somerset County, it is 9.9 percent, and in Washington County, it is almost 10 percent. Earlier this week several building trade workers visited my office. For them this is not a recovery, this is not a recession, this is a depression. That is because in the construction industry, unemployment rates range from 30 to 50 percent, depending on location. Among one local union in Baltimore the unemployment rate is 27 percent; more than one out of every four members has no job.
In fact, Labor Department statistics tell us that for every job opening there are five individuals actively seeking employment. The odds are not very good for someone trying to find employment today. That is why we have had long-term unemployment and why we need to extend benefits to those who are in need today. Nearly 15 million of my fellow Americans cannot find work. Of that total, the number of long-term unemployed, defined as those who have been jobless for 27 weeks or more, is about 6.2 million. As of last month, two-fifths of unemployed persons have been out of work for at least 27 weeks. Behind the aggregate numbers, there is a deeper sense of despair in many communities. Teenage unemployment is over 27 percent, Black unemployment is over 15 percent, and Latino unemployment is over 12 percent.
In addition to the number of people out of work and seeking work, the Department of Labor also calculates data that includes people who want to work but are discouraged from looking and people who are working part-time because they can't find full-time employment. In October 2010, the rate stood at 17 percent in that category.
During the course of this national debate over unemployment compensation, a number of issues are in contention: those who say the jobs are there and people should continue looking; whether this should be paid for or considered emergency spending; whether we should focus on growing the economy rather than on benefits; whether it is time to end benefits because the economy is recovering; that the unemployed do not deserve extended benefits and more.
Let me address some of these issues. For those who say the jobs are there but people just aren't looking, in September 2010, almost 15 million workers were unemployed, but there were only 3 million job openings or five unemployed workers for every available job. In other words, if every available job were filled by unemployed individuals, four out of the five unemployed workers would still be looking for work. Last night we heard in this Chamber that the objection to extending unemployment benefits is because it is not paid for. It is right to extend tax breaks for millionaires and not pay for it because that somehow is an emergency situation, but extending unemployment benefits to those who are in dire need doesn't qualify as emergency spending. Historically, unemployment compensation extensions have been treated as emergency spending by Congresses and administrations going back to the Reagan administration. Families across Maryland and the Nation will tell us that when you have a mortgage that is due, when your heat is about to be cut off, when you cannot buy groceries for the family, that is an emergency situation. Their situations constitute emergencies, and we should treat them as such.
For those of my colleagues insisting extending benefits is not as important as getting the economy back on solid footing, I point out that numerous economists have pointed out the value of unemployment insurance benefits. These are dollars going back into the market, raising consumption, and creating jobs.
Let me compare it to what my Republican colleagues are saying about tax breaks for millionaires. Where is that going to benefit the economy? That money isn't going to go right back. We know unemployment benefits do go right back into the economy. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that for every $1 we spend in unemployment compensation, we generate more than $1.90 back into the economy. In other words, it is a stimulus. The nonpartisan CBO has analyzed 11 different measures for their effectiveness in growing the economy, and it rates extending unemployment benefits as the single most effective tool. This helps job growth. When people receive unemployment benefits, they spend it immediately. That helps retail establishments, grocery stores, including many small businesses, and the overall economy. It is the definition of stimulus spending, and it is immediate.
With no extension, unemployed workers and their families will have less money to spend and will cut back on their purchase of goods and services, resulting in weaker sales, hurting businesses, and costing jobs.
Another sentiment I have heard expressed is, we are giving a handout to unemployed Americans. Unemployment insurance is not a handout. It is not government largesse. Unemployment insurance is just that. It is an insurance program. It is an insurance program employees and employers contribute to so during difficult times, there is money available when a person loses their job. People receiving benefits had jobs, and the time they worked is reflected in the weeks of benefits they receive. This is an insurance program. It is countercyclical. It is supposed to be available during tough economic times. That is why unemployment insurance is paid. These funds should now be available to help people who need them.
Finally, I wish to address a misconception about the amount of unemployment benefits. These are not extravagant payments. The average benefit amounts to $302 per week.
The reason we are told we can't bring this up is because we have to bring up the tax bill first. We can't get the tax bill up because Republicans are insisting we have to deal with the millionaires. The tax breaks for the millionaires are far more money than the $302 per week for someone who is on unemployment compensation. What these families receive is not a lot of money, but it is a lifeline. It keeps food on the table, heat through the winter months, and gas in the car while they are continuing to look for jobs. The extension only gives those who are eligible for unemployment benefits the same number of maximum weeks we provide others during these economic times. It does not lengthen the total number of eligible weeks of benefits.
The highest unemployment rate at which any previous Federal emergency unemployment program ended was 7.2 percent in March of 1985, during the second Reagan administration, much lower than where we are today. So where do we stand? We have passed several short-term extensions, and we need to act again. Here we are today, as 800,000 Americans across the Nation have no benefits whatsoever. Yet our Republican colleagues object. They object to a short-term extension. They object to any extension. They say: First, let's bring up the tax bill that provides breaks for millionaires, and we can't bring up the middle-income tax relief until we take care of the millionaires.
Nearly every Member of the Senate has risen to talk about the need for job creation. I believe all of us are sincere. Each of us is committed to acting on legislation that will create more job opportunities for Americans. We have passed the Recovery Act and a Small Business Jobs Act and will soon consider tax extenders that will further help businesses invest more in jobs. Rather than abruptly cutting off those still in difficult times because of the economy, we should pass at least a 1-year extension of unemployment compensation benefits. On behalf of the millions of American families who will be affected by what we do or fail to do this week, I call upon my colleagues, at the start of the holiday season, to recognize the needs of families struggling to make ends meet and agree to an extension of this essential program.
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