The US Senate voted on January 7 to consider extending emergency unemployment insurance for the 3.1 million Americans who depend on it. That includes the LGBT community, which commonly has considerably higher rates of poverty and unemployment than the mainstream population; many such families also still lack the legal protections others take for granted.
The Congressional Budget Office, which performs nonpartisan analysis for Congress, has confirmed what many countries in Europe already know: far from hurting taxpayers, extending unemployment benefits is beneficial to the economy as a whole.
Economists are predicting that extending unemployment will not only ensure that Americans still struggling to find work will have a roof over their heads and food on the table, but raise the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014 alone, thus helping create jobs for those most in need of them. In contrast, failing to extend benefits would actually shrink America’s economic growth, which is still going very slowly.
Unemployment insurance was introduced to the United States during the Great Depression of the 1930s, to ensure that people looking for work where there was none would still be able to pay for the most basic necessities of life.
During the still-current Great Recession, President George W. Bush signed emergency unemployment compensation into law in 2008, extending the limit on such insurance payouts from twenty-six weeks. Studies show that the average job seeker takes thirty-seven weeks—nearly nine months—to find employment, making the current job market the worst it’s been since the 1940s.
Without the protection of federal legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), anti-LGBT discrimination is still legal in most states. A recent report, “A Broken Bargain for LGBT Workers of Color,” showed that as bad as the unemployment rate is among the LGBT community in general—40 percent higher than the national average—it’s even worse for the transgender population, where twice as many people report being unemployed as their cisgender counterparts. It’s even worse for transgender people of color, whose unemployment rate is nearly four times higher than the rest of the nation.
Consequently, the LGBT community relies on public assistance in disproportionately high numbers—and would be hit especially hard if they were stripped of even that scant protection. Many unemployed workers lost their benefits on December 28 when Congress failed to pass an extension before the holiday recess, and it’s estimated that an additional 72,000 people will lose their benefits each week if action is not taken; over the next six months, that will add up to nearly two million.