The effect of jobless benefits on the unemployment rates has been fiercely debated for decades. To qualify, people have to be seeking work. Tea partiers such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky argue that the payments aggravate rather than relieve unemployment.
The benefits allow some jobseekers to hold out for higher wages. Without the benefits, they might accept lower-paying jobs, reducing the unemployment rate. Others may be looking for work only to keep the benefits flowing and will drop out of the job market entirely once the checks stop. In theory, that also would push the unemployment rate lower.
The flip side is that the benefits — in addition to alleviating suffering — get spent on consumer goods, stimulating the economy and creating jobs.
Extended unemployment insurance "is really a lifeline to help pay the bills, put food on the table, and put gas in the tank so people can look for work," argued Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director at the left-leaning National Employment Law Project.
Michael Feroli, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase, said ending the extended benefits will lower the unemployment rate by half a percentage point as the long-term unemployed leave the labor force. While that statistical change may look good on the surface, Feroli cautioned the drop could be accompanied by a similar decrease in consumer spending. That would also hurt clothing retailers, car dealers and other Main Street businesses.
Extending the program, on the other hand, would boost GDP growth by some 0.2 percent and increase full-time employment by 200,000 next year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated, but at the price of increasing the government's debt.
Advocates of extended benefits say communities hardest hit by the recession will feel the sudden loss of cash in circulation the most.
They cite a set of their own troublesome figures: three jobseekers still competing for each opening; some 4 million people in the ranks of long-term unemployed; unemployment lasting on average 37 weeks, two months longer than most states provide insurance.
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