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Democrats urge extension of emergency unemployment benefits

Some top members of the US House—including one from Michigan—say Congress should act on unemployment insurance this week.

Emergency federal benefits for the long-term unemployed expired in late December. 1.3 million people lost unemployment benefits immediately—including more than 43,000 in Michigan.

Michigan Congressman Sander Levin is one of the Democrats who argue it’s counter-productive to cut off the long-term unemployed.

Levin, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, argues that’s cruel--and harms the economy by reducing purchasing power in “one of the toughest job markets ever.”

Former US Labor Secretary and University of California economics professor Robert Reich agrees.

Reich—who joined Levin and Harvard University professor Lawrence Katz on a conference call Friday—says some Republicans have argued the added benefits discourage the long-term unemployed from seeking work.

“But the real reason don’t have jobs is because there are not enough jobs,” Reich says. “There are still three unemployed people for every job opening in America, and more than a million fewer jobs today than when the recession began over six years ago.”

Levin says he’s been talking to the long-term unemployed—and more members of Congress should hear their stories.

“One of them said…I just want to stay alive. I just want to keep a roof over my head,” says Levin.

Levin says Democrats in the Senate plan to bring up the issue on Monday, when Congress reconvenes. President Obama has also urged renewing the emergency benefits, and will reportedly push the issue again this week.

Republicans have also argued that the longer-term benefits too expensive to continue without being offset by other budget cuts. Levin acknowledges extending them another year would cost $26 billion.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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