Jobs Report Underscores Continuing Need for Congress to Aid Long-Term Unemployed and Low-Wage Workers

Lawmakers Prepare for Recess as Millions Struggle with Low Wages and Unemployment

Washington, DC—March’s jobs report offered further evidence of the need for Congress to boost the economic recovery with support for the millions of Americans still feeling the worst effects of the recession and with higher wages for low-paid workers. While the economy added 192,000 jobs, a significant portion of those were in lower-wage sectors of the economy, like retail, temporary help services, food services and drinking places, and home health care that pay wages too low to sustain families. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7 percent; similarly, there was little change in long-term unemployment, which—with 36 percent of the unemployed out of work for six months or more—remains at crisis levels.

The lack of concern for the nation’s struggling workers was apparent on Wednesday, when House Republicans, in a party-line vote, blocked a measure to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, despite overwhelming support for the proposal among voters and small business owners. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 per hour since 2009, well below the poverty line for a family of two. Raising it to $10.10 per hour would eventually lift an estimated 6.8 million workers out of poverty and boost GDP by about $22 billion in the process. The Senate is expected to hold a vote to increase the minimum wage after the recess.

“There are millions of people in this country who work round the clock but still live in poverty, and millions who want to work but can’t find jobs,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “Recalcitrant lawmakers in Congress are failing these workers and their families, yet they still take home their salaries and are ready to head out on another break. Perhaps if we moved Congress to a performance-pay system, we might actually see progress on the income challenges so many Americans continue to face.”

April marks the beginning of the fourth month that millions of long-term unemployed Americans have struggled without federal jobless aid. Congress’s failure to renew federal unemployment insurance has denied 2.3 million long-term unemployed workers this vital income support they rely on during their job search, costing the economy approximately $5 billion in lost consumer spending as a result. The average job search still lasts about 36 weeks, 10 weeks longer than the maximum weeks of state benefits available, and long-term unemployed workers make up more than one-third of the total unemployed population.

Next week, the Senate is expected to approve a temporary extension of federal unemployment insurance, retroactive to January 1st—the first sign of progress in months. The bill, which would extend federal jobless aid through May 31st, will face an uphill battle in the House.

“Congress’s inaction is contributing to an economy where more and more people are falling through the cracks—whether it’s because they’re paid poverty wages or they can’t find work,” continued Owens. “Raising the minimum wage and reauthorizing jobless aid are two common-sense measures Congress could pass that would immediately improve the lives of millions of people, and boost the whole economy. There are no more excuses—Congress should reauthorize jobless aid and raise the minimum wage without delay.”

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