This December, as I reflect on the successes and challenges of 2011, I cannot help but think about the millions of families who are facing the new year with apprehension. Instead of approaching January 1 with hopes for a fresh start, as many of us do, jobless workers who desperately want work but can’t find employment are standing at the edge of a cliff. Congressional inaction could be what sends these families and their children over the edge, plunging them into poverty.
Last year, unemployment insurance helped keep 3 million people from falling into poverty. However, if Congress doesn’t act before December 31, millions of unemployed workers will lose this critical lifeline. In January alone, 2 million workers will lose their federal unemployment benefits — more than 6 million will see their benefits disappear by the end of 2012.
Congress has never allowed these programs to expire when unemployment was anywhere near this high for this long. If they do so now, the consequences will be devastating, especially for women.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, “over the course of the recovery, women’s overall unemployment rate increased from 7.7 percent to 7.8 percent while men’s dropped from 9.9 percent to 8.3 percent.” With women’s unemployment rates going up — not down — a failure to extend unemployment benefits would deal a tremendous blow to women and their families.
The end of the year should be a nice time to reflect on the last twelve months and plan for the new beginning that a new year brings – not a time to be afraid of what the future may hold. Unfortunately, if Congress doesn’t act soon to renew federal unemployment benefits through 2012, January promises to be a devastating start for too many families. That’s why I’ll be calling on Congress to act today, before it’s too late — I hope you’ll join me.