On December 30th, 1.3 million Americans saw an end to “long-term” unemployment benefits. The 113th Congress allowed these emergency benefits to expire before taking a holiday recess. And while all Americans collecting long-term – longer than 26 weeks worth – benefits have been impacted by this lack of movement in Washington DC, Black women stand to face distinctly difficult circumstances if those benefits remain suspended.
Most states originally offered no more than 26 weeks of unemployment “insurance” or aid. But after the Great Recession— which began in late 2007–benefits were extended across the country. In some states, benefits could be collected for two years or longer. President George W. Bush ushered in these changes to unemployment insurance as he exited the White House. This infusion of capital into the middle and lower classes was seen as a method to keep the country afloat and stimulate the economy via consumer spending,
Six years later, the very same workers who were so integral to America’s economic recovery have fallen victim to Congress’ “government by crisis” style of legislating. The Republican-led House of Representatives signaled in early December that they would be working to end long-term emergency unemployment aid. Amounting to nothing more than a bargaining chip for congressional Republicans, emergency unemployment insurance benefits contribute to a healthy and thriving economy.
Black women were hit hard during the economic recession and continue to struggle even during the country's recovery. In 2011, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) published a study which found that Black women only made up 12.5 percent of all female workers in June of 2009, yet accounted for over 42 percent of job losses for all women between June 2009 and June 2011. Similarly, Black women’s unemployment rate increased 2.1 percent in the same period— three times the increase of the next highest unemployment rate (Black men).
Even well into President Obama’s second term, Black women continue to struggle with unemployment. The NWLC released a study in 2013 which found that Black women were the only subgroup of women who did not see a decline in unemployment rates. As other racial, ethnic, and gender groups have seen improvements in their employment status, Black women continue to lose jobs at disturbing rates.
In an effort to discourage the lapse in benefits, the White House published a report in December detailing the state by state impacts of failing to reauthorize emergency unemployment. According to the report, Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) lifted an estimated 2.5 million people out of poverty in 2012.
Conversely, the White House predicts that 3.6 million more people will lose unemployment benefits beyond the 26 week mark in 2014. And, this legislative change may cost both jobs and gross domestic product (GDP.) The outlook is extremely negative for all impacted. And, sadly, most Black women have little security shielding them from disparate long term economic effects.
Juxtapose these statistics with the fact that half of all Black children in this country live with a single mother and that minimum wage jobs are disproportionately held by women of color. Without a second salary in the household to depend on, these economic hardships are unilaterally daunting for Black women, with or without children, seeking to earn a living.
The greatest impacts of these benefit losses will be felt by families, especially those headed by single Black women. In 2014, the dissimilar impact to black working mothers and families will be palpable. The onus is on Congress to address and represent constituents of all walks of life. Black women are counting on them, but will it matter?
Jenn M. Jackson is a writer, mommy of 3, politics scholar, and recovering misanthrope. Hit her up on Twitter: @JennMJack and read more from her at her blog.