As of midnight last night, unemployment benefits for nearly two million workers ran out. Democrats in Congress tried to get these benefits extended but the measure was blocked by Republicans in the United States Senate. A news report from MSN claims that nearly 15 million people have been out of work for six months or longer – the highest level of long term unemployment since the government began keeping track of unemployment numbers in the 1940’s. The Republican move to block a vote on extending unemployment benefits is historic. Our government has never failed to extend unemployment benefits when the unemployment rate has been over 7 percent. Even Ronald Reagan, the darling of conservatives, extended unemployment benefits to workers several times during the 1982 recession.
Congress’ failure to extend benefits is a tough pill for unemployed workers to swallow this close to the Christmas season. If unemployed workers were struggling to make ends meet before, they will surely really struggle now. I imagine that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol must take on a whole new meaning to those who will not be receiving any unemployment benefits this Christmas season. Statistics show that many American families were really struggling to make ends meet before, but with the loss of unemployment benefits, many of these same families are now really “scrooged.”
Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was one of my favorite holiday stories. I read the book, saw a dramatic performance of it, saw Jim Henson’s Muppets do it, and saw the recent film with Jim Carrey. However, I do not think that the Republicans Christmas Carol plays out anything like Dickens. If Bob Cratchett’s job hasn’t been outsourced to India, he is still sitting in the office almost freezing to death around that old stove. When he tells our scrooges that he needs to turn up the heat, they complain about the costs of energy and say, “not til we drill, baby, drill.” After Bob pays his bills, he hopes that he has enough money left over to buy a couple of those turkey pot pies so that his family can have a Christmas Dinner. And Tiny Tim, well our scrooges voted against SCHIP and health care so it doesn’t look like he’ll be going to the doctor anytime soon.
As far as I can tell, no one really liked the pre-Christmas Day Scrooge. However, that’s precisely what we have in the Congress – a whole bunch of pre-Christmas Day scrooges. Our problem, unlike Dickens’ Christmas Carol, is that we don’t have a Jacob Marley or a few ghosts to visit John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and all the other scrooges to scare the Dickens out of them and make things right for us. This Christmas, the unemployed are getting scrooged, but if Jacob Marley doesn’t show up soon, we will all be scrooged next year.