The U.S. unemployment rate has fallen substantially since its recession high of 10 percent in October 2009. But when it finally dropped to 7 percent in November, it still remained two full percentage points above what it was in the months before the downturn.
The economy is clearly picking up, in other words, but it has been something less than a dynamo at creating jobs. In fact, fewer Americans overall are employed today than in 2007.
Those are among the reasons Congress would be justified in extending expired unemployment benefits for another three months, as President Obama has requested, and why the Senate's 60-to-37 preliminary vote Tuesday was encouraging.
To be clear, we're not suggesting that emergency unemployment benefits, originally approved in 2008, be extended reflexively every time their expiration approaches. At some point, a normal labor market will reassert itself, and the rationale for another extension will fade.
But the economy has yet to meet that definition and, until it does, we don't believe the arguments of some Republicans that the benefits are a deterrent to job-seeking have as much merit as they might.
To be sure, the granting of perpetual jobless benefits can influence recipients' behavior, which is why such benefits historically have been limited during robust periods of job creation and relatively modest levels of unemployment. But that's not the situation the country finds itself in today — however much we all would like that to change.
Both of Colorado's Democratic senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, support the latest extension. Without it, Bennet argues, “tens of thousands of Coloradans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own lose this important lifeline.” Udall says pulling the plug on the benefits will “undermine middle-class families and slow our economic recovery.”
And at this stage of what is still a lackluster recovery, the senator is probably right.