Commentary: A small price to pay to help America's jobless

Compared with the hundreds of billions of dollars American taxpayers spent on bailing out big banks and automobile companies in the name of avoiding another Great Depression, the $34 billion to be invested in extending unemployment benefits for those thrown out of work amid a deep and prolonged recession doesn't seem outrageous.

Yes, it's a lot of money, and it will add to the nation's $1.5 trillion budget deficit (for this year). That has to be a cause for concern. But consider the unknowns in doing nothing.

How many people who have run out of benefits would lose their homes? How many college educations would be interrupted? How many catastrophes, large and small, would visit families in this country? And how would community businesses be affected if huge numbers of people couldn't buy anything?

Thanks to the swearing in of West Virginia Democrat Carte Goodwin to the U.S. Senate seat occupied by the late Robert Byrd, the majority party put together enough Senate votes to approve the extension of benefits through November. Most Senate Republicans were opposed.

Thus, the long-term jobless (the average length of unemployment during the Great Recession has been eight months) will have a little more time to find work. And they are required to look as a part of receiving jobless benefits.

This is no handout for deadbeats. It's help for working people who can't find work. Have some been too choosy? Maybe a few. There also may be unemployed people who take temporary jobs, then receive lesser benefits after those jobs end. That's a disincentive to work, and the rules need to be changed to remove it.

But the Republican argument that any costs should be offset by cuts to the federal budget in the name of holding the line on the deficit, while it sounds good, offers a powerful irony.

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