Congress Must Protect the Lifeline Women and Families Depend On

| Dec 8, 2011

Some things are simply unthinkable. Congress failing to protect the basic benefits that are keeping women and families afloat is one of them.

If lawmakers fail to extend unemployment benefits by December 31st, families around the country will be devastated. More people will lose their homes; more children will be hungry; and more parents will be unable to clothe and care for themselves and their kids this winter. In January alone, nearly two million unemployed workers will stop receiving critical support. At least six million people will be cut off during 2012, including people in more than 20 states who are currently eligible to receive unemployment insurance because they are caring for an ill family member. A bad situation will get appreciably worse. And the road to recovery from this recession will be even longer and more arduous.

Women in particular will suffer. Women are now the sole or co-breadwinners in the majority of U.S. households, so it is especially alarming that the unemployment rate among women who maintain (or head) families is at 12 percent. Some five million women over age 20 are currently unemployed. And many of those who are employed are one sick day or one child’s illness away from being unemployed because they don’t have job-protected paid sick days or paid leave to meet their families’ inevitable health needs.

How do we stabilize and support these women and their families? It starts with extending unemployment benefits. The Census Bureau reports that unemployment benefits kept more than three million families from falling into poverty in 2010. When it takes unemployed workers an average of 8 months to find a job in this economy, letting this critical support expire would be irresponsible – and unforgivable. It would undoubtedly hurt women and families, and it would hurt our economy.

Helping working families and the nation recover starts with the extension of these benefits. But it is also essential that we create jobs and establish workplace standards like paid sick days and paid leave that allow workers to keep the jobs they have, particularly when illness strikes. We simply cannot afford to force working mothers and fathers to make impossible choices between job and family when they get strep, a child has the flu or a spouse is injured.

Congressional action to support families by extending unemployment benefits in tough times is not new, and it is far from rare. Lawmakers have taken this step routinely over the last 50 years whenever the unemployment rate was above 7.2 percent. And it’s higher than that now. Passing this important measure shouldn’t be the subject of debate, it shouldn’t become yet another political football, and it shouldn’t come down to the wire.

Let’s all tell lawmakers: Extend unemployment benefits, and adopt basic standards that let workers care for their families while holding their jobs. Women and families are counting on them to do that now.