Today, the unemployment rate stands at 5.9%, but it runs much deeper than what is often reported.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs and apply for unemployment insurance. Black Americans were hit especially hard, as we often are when the economy takes a turn for the worse. These unprecedented waves of layoffs prompted Congress to appropriate money to increase people’s unemployment benefits, which has helped countless Hoosier families get through this tough time. Today, Black unemployment is dropping, but it still remains high at around 9%.
Now, as more Americans get vaccinated and COVID-19 case numbers fall, many states have opted to end these expanded unemployment benefits, including Indiana. Some claim that they are no longer needed as our country continues to open back up, and businesses struggle to find workers. This outlook is shortsighted, and it won’t help American workers in the long run.
Even before the pandemic hit, many states’ unemployment insurance systems were underfunded, including Indiana’s. Going back to the status quo means returning to a system that didn’t adequately support unemployed Hoosiers. As we gradually recover from this pandemic, unemployment assistance programs are keeping many Americans out of poverty.
I strongly believe that living off of unemployment insurance shouldn’t be a long-term solution for anyone who is out of work, but these systems absolutely should be sufficient enough to help get families through tough times. People lose their jobs for many reasons, and it’s often through no fault of their own. They all deserve adequate help.
That’s why I have been working hard in Congress to improve unemployment insurance and establish comprehensive federal unemployment insurance benefits. I recently sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal, encouraging them to make strengthening our unemployment insurance systems a priority in the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan. These legislative proposals are once-in-a-generation opportunities to create a stronger foundation for all Americans and build back better.
Strengthening unemployment insurance benefits should be a part of that framework.
I am also pleased that a judge recently blocked the move to end Indiana’s expanded unemployment benefits. I thank the Hoosiers who brought this case forward. With so many folks still in a precarious position, now is not the time to remove a vital safety net.
And to the people who claim cutting unemployment is the only way we can get Americans back to work — I must wholeheartedly disagree. A system that must force workers to apply for jobs that don’t pay the bills is a system that is unsustainable, unfair and immoral. We must raise the minimum wage and establish living wages, so that every person who is earning an honest living can also live well. In the richest country in the world — or anywhere else — it is an outrage that so many people working full-time jobs are also living in poverty.
It’s clear we need to build an economy that uplifts all — one that rewards hard work but also provides a hand up for those in need. I’ll keep working hard to advance this vital goal.
Rep. Carson represents the 7th District of Indiana. He is a Member of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of three Muslims in Congress. Rep. Carson sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, where he is chairman of the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence and Counterproliferation. Contact Rep. Carson at carson.house.gov/contact.