The Impact on Women of Failing to Extend Unemployment Insurance

In the midst of this year’s holiday season, it is important to remember the millions of families that continue to struggle in the current economic climate. We have made steady progress over the last two years in getting people back to work after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The number of people laid off and going into unemployment has come down to their 2008 levels and job openings are on the rise. Yet, we still have more work to do.  There are millions of families who continue to struggle to make ends meet.

With 4 job seekers for every job opening, we know that it is still difficult for unemployed workers to find jobs no matter how hard they look.  As these hard working Americans diligently fill out job applications, write and update resumes and cover letters and sit for interviews, we need to continue to help them to put food on the table for their families and keep a roof over their heads. 

Over the next week, Congress will need to take action to extend the federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits program, which has served as a lifeline for the millions of long-term unemployed and their families who need this assistance to get back on their feet.

This program helps the unemployed but also the entire American economy.  Last year alone, the UI program helped 3.2 million people stay out of poverty, according to the Census Bureau.  And independent analysts have stated, for every dollar spent on UI, the economy generates about 2 dollars in economic activity – meaning that an unemployed worker, who spends his UI benefits on food at a grocery store, helps the workers and suppliers of that grocery store stay employed.  The UI money makes its way to gas station attendants, retailers and many other small businesses.  As a result, in 2010, the program provided a vital boost to the economy and helped to keep an estimated 800,000 more people employed and to raise GDP by close to 1%.

The current federal UI benefits program is set to expire on December 31, 2011.  Without action from Congress to extend the program, over 5 million people – people who lost jobs through no fault of their own – will lose the benefits they desperately need.

Women, who are increasingly a critical part of the economy and contributors to their family’s income, will be greatly affected as they are still being laid off state and local government jobs. If these benefits are allowed to expire, 2.2 million women stand to lose this critical lifeline, and 300,000 as soon as the second week of 2012.  Among women, more than half a million African American women and about half a million Latinas would lose benefits. More than a quarter of a million single parent households and their children – most of them headed by women – will lose the only income support they have.  There are 3.6 million children who live in households with a UI recipient.  These are the Americans who are just a benefit payment away from falling into poverty.

Without Congressional action before the end of the year, this is the fate these families would face.  They deserve better.  They deserve action.

Hilda Solis is Secretary of the Department of Labor

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