Sad to say, the fact that the official unemployment rate jumped from 5.8 percent in March to 6.0 percent in April is not the most troubling statistic in the Labor Department’s April unemployment report. Even more troubling is the fact that nearly 22 percent – some 1.9 million – of unemployed workers have been without a job for at least 26 weeks.

Nor is that the end of trouble: The Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) program that provides up to 13 weeks of extended benefits to workers who exhaust their state benefits, is set to expire on May 31. Unless Congress acts, and acts soon, unemployed workers who exhaust their state benefits after that date will be up the proverbial creek.

A study by Economy.com, an independent financial research group, found that each dollar dedicated to extending the TEUC program would boost the economy by $1.73 while the same dollar connected with reducing the taxation of dividends would boost the economy by just nine cents.

The urgency of the situation is underlined by a recent report by the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities showing that six key labor market indicators are worse now than when the TEUC program was enacted in March 2002 and extended in January 2003.

* The official count of the unemployed (8.79 million) is at the highest level in nearly a decade.

* The number of jobs is at the lowest level in 41 months; that is, at a lower point than at any other time during the current slowdown.

* The rate at which people are exhausting their regular unemployment benefits before they find a new job is at its highest level since data was first collected in 1973.

* The official count of unemployed rose to 8.79 million in April – up by 570,000 from March 2002, and the highest number since July 1993.

* In April the number of payroll jobs fell for the third straight month, hitting its lowest level since November 1999.

* Not only has employment fallen since the TEUC program was enacted, it is now 2.1 million below its level when the downturn began.

“For the last two years, stubbornly high long term unemployment has been the most consistent feature of the weak economy. Workers continue to bear the brunt of the prolonged slowdown, as the clock runs out on their unemployment benefits,” said Maurice Emsellem, Director of Public Policy at the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

According to Emsellem, there are 580,000 more long-term unemployed Americans than when Congress passed TEUC. Since then, he said, the program has helped more than 4.6 million get by in the persistently beleaguered labor market and that over 2.8 million workers have completely run out of federal jobless benefits.

Critics of the present program point to the fact that during the last recession when President George H.W. Bush was in office, the TEUC program provided 26 weeks of extended benefits, with workers in many states receiving 33 weeks. “With long-term unemployment now just as severe as it was during the last recession the 13 weeks of benefits available today are just not enough,” a statement issued by NELP says.

“The time has come for Congress and the President to expand the current program to provide no less in aid than what was available during the previous recession.” Emsellem and others point out that the federal unemployment trust funds currently have a $21 billon surplus and thus it would cost no additional money to extend the TEUC program.

The National Employment Law Project has launched a new initiative calling attention to plight of the long-term jobless with its “Laid Off & Left Out” initiative. Results of an NELP survey of unemployed can be viewed at www.unemployedworkers.org.

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com

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