Such a step would enjoy overwhelming public support. According to a new poll by Hart Research Associates, 60 percent of Americans support an extension of benefits. Fully 73 percent of those polled agreed with the following statement: "With unemployment at 9.6 percent and millions still out of work, it is too early to start cutting back benefits for workers who lost their jobs." And 67 percent favored continuing benefits until the unemployment rate drops.
Such measures enjoyed majority support in all regions of the country and among Democrats, Republicans and political independents.
Some people cite concerns over the deficit as a reason to oppose the extension. Ironically, these tend to be the same people who don't bat an eye at the prospect of increasing the deficit $700 billion by extending Bush era tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. To use one of Jesus' best one liners, this is a case of straining at gnats and swallowing camels.
Others may worry that unemployment insurance keeps people from taking available jobs. But a study by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank found that "extended unemployment insurance benefits have not been important factors in the increase in the duration of unemployment or in the elevated unemployment rates."
Let's talk basic economics. If you ask most Americans what they remember about that subject, chances are they'd say "supply and demand." That's about all you need to understand why we need to extend these benefits.
There is plenty of supply out there; the stores are full, profits are at or near record levels, and businesses are sitting on something like $2 trillion in cash reserves, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve. If supply side snake oil economics was true, we'd be sitting pretty. You may have noticed this is not the case.
The problem in a recession is on the demand side. Jobless workers, the underemployed, people who have lost savings, and people concerned about losing their jobs either don't have or are afraid to spend enough money to get the economy rolling. Cutting the lifeline of unemployment insurance at a time like this will only make a bad situation worse.
I hope that Sen. Manchin and his colleagues in Washington will seize this chance to make a real difference this holiday season.
Wilson, director of the American Friends Service Committee WV Economic Justice Project, is a Gazette contributing columnist.