Rebekah Friend

Arizonans are still trying to recover from being hit hard during the recession. Our unemployment rate is still too high at nearly 8 percent, and when funding for unemployment insurance expired on Dec. 28, the benefits that kept millions out of poverty vanished as we entered the New Year.

The failure to renew this benefit before the end of 2013 cost a staggering 17,100 Arizonans more than $3.7 million during the first week of 2014, robbing families of a support system that remains essential to economic survival.

In spite of all of this, Senators McCain and Flake refused to vote in support of advancing an unemployment insurance extension bill when it was brought to the Senate floor early this past Tuesday.

Although they could not have made up for leaving the issue unresolved before jetting off to enjoy their holidays, our senators should have at least started this year off right by strongly supporting a bill to extend jobless aid.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, unemployment has hit close to home for many Arizona families. 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. Yet while 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.

In today’s economy, nearly three jobless workers apply for each job opening and more than 37 percent 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 Arizonans 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 themselves are very 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.

By not extending unemployment benefits we are robbing businesses of customers and costing the country more than 240,000 jobs, including nearly 2,000 jobs in Arizona that could be saved if the extension passed. As the year goes on, the consequences will be even worse when benefits for 3.6 million Americans are scheduled to expire.

It is shameful that there was nothing included in the recent budget negotiations to help the millions of people who want to work but cannot find employment. This was coupled with a resistance to close tax loopholes for the corporations which caused our economic crisis.

Especially in times of need, Arizona working families must demand that Congress creates good jobs and restores opportunity that grows the economy from the middle class out. Members of Congress have a chance to redeem themselves by voting to restore unemployment benefits as they return to work this month.

Arizona families urge Senators Flake and McCain to show leadership and vote to extend unemployment benefits for the hardest hit. Our economy cannot afford for them not to.

• Rebekah Friend is the AZ AFL-CIO Secretary/Treasurer and Executive Director. She is a resident of Mesa and can be reached at her office, (602) 631-4488.

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