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Commentary: Extend unemployment benefits, our 'safety net'

January 10, 2014|By Julio Perez

Imagine getting laid off from your job and struggling to support your family.

Your first thoughts: How will you make rent or keep up with your mortgage payment? How will you buy groceries and pay the utility bills?

Thankfully, unemployment benefits are a safety net while you look for work in a tough economy. The benefits ease the financial burden and stress when you fall on hard times.

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In the aftermath of the Great Recession, this frightening scenario has hit close to home for many California families. It was just a few years ago that our economy was brought to its knees and millions of workers found themselves out of a job and out of luck.

The economic crisis was not only deep, it lasted far longer than anybody expected and many people who yearned to work could not find jobs for years. Even now, the recovery is tentative and sluggish.

Although it may be hard to imagine, things could have been much worse. Since 2008, more than 24 million Americans have been able to rely on long-term unemployment insurance to stay on their feet until they found their next job and received their next paycheck.

Unfortunately, funding for this vital lifeline for jobless workers expired Dec. 28 and benefits that kept millions out of poverty vanished in the midst of a weak economy. The failure to renew this benefit is now costing a staggering 214,000 Californians $65 million in total benefits per week, robbing families of a support system that remains essential to economic survival.

In today's economy, nearly three jobless workers apply for each opening and more than 37% of the unemployed have been out of work for at least six months. Numerous studies have shown employers frequently discriminate against the long-term unemployed, leaving far too many Californians out in the cold.

For the families of these job seekers, unemployment benefits represent the difference between total hopelessness and a place to live and food on the table.

While many portray unemployment insurance as a hand-out or giveaway, jobless workers must demonstrate that they are constantly searching for work to receive unemployment benefits. The benefits are modest, averaging just $300 a week.

But ensuring these families can make ends meet has been demonstrated to create jobs and boost the economy, since a decline in buying power can send a weak economy into a deeper tailspin.

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