April 27, 2021

Merkley, Wyden, Colleagues Push Plan to Help Long-Term Unemployed Oregonians Get Back to Work

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden—alongside U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and U.S. Representative Andy Levin (D-MI-09)—have introduced the Long-Term Unemployment Elimination Act, legislation to create a subsidized jobs program that would help Americans who have been unemployed long-term finally get back to work.

Even before the pandemic hit, over 1 million Americans were looking for work for over six months and could not find a job. That number rose to over 4 million people in the wake of the pandemic. In light of these circumstances, President Biden’s American Jobs Plan specifically endorses a subsidized jobs program to help long-term unemployed and underemployed workers get back to work.

“A good job is better than any government program, but millions of Americans have been looking a long time and not finding work,” said Merkley. “If we’re going to fully recover from this pandemic, we have to make sure that every American—regardless of the color of their skin, their zip code, or their income—has the opportunity to get back on the job. I talk to people all across Oregon and nobody wants a handout, people just want a chance to go out and get a job they can live on, so let’s create partnerships with private employers and give everyone that chance.”

“Long-term unemployment is devastating for Americans’ job prospects and financial security. The pandemic has caused millions of Americans to experience long-term unemployment and we need to do all we can do get these folks back to work so they can pay rent, buy groceries, and save for the future. Our bill is an important piece of the puzzle that would get Americans back to work,” said Wyden.

The Long-Term Unemployment Elimination Act would help those who are experiencing long-term unemployment get back on their feet and into the workforce, by sharing the cost of some of the wages for employers who create jobs for workers who have been out of work for six months or more. Eligible employees would be 18 years old or older, authorized to work in the United States, and have been seeking work for at least four weeks.

Merkley, Wyden, Van Hollen and Levin were joined by U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA-06).

Full text of the legislation is available here. A one-pager on the legislation is available here.

The legislation is supported by a wide array of organizations and advocacy groups, including Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Skills Coalition, Heartland Alliance, National Association of Workforce Boards, National Association of Workforce Development Professionals, United States Workforce Association, Community Advocates Public Policy Institute, Center for Employment Opportunities, REDF, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Democracy Collaborative, National Urban League, America Forward, Invest In America Action, Midwest Urban Strategies, United Way of Central Maryland, and Maryland Workforce Association.

"Black Americans, who were among the hardest hit by coronavirus layoffs, are now recovering at the slowest rate. This threatens to worsen stark wealth and income disparities long after the pandemic is over. The effects of long-term unemployment can be devastating as workers become discouraged and face mounting financial stress. We know that people facing long-term unemployment need extra support and increased access to opportunity, and The Long-Term Unemployment Elimination Act addresses these needs head-on,” said Marc H. Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League?.

“Frontline staff in the American Job Centers know that the longer a jobseeker is out of work, the harder it is to help them find a job. The Long Term Unemployment Elimination Act provides an innovative solution. The Act focuses on decision making and accountability at the local level – where problems are solved. NAWDP is proud to support this legislation on behalf of our members around the country, who will be doing this work and helping to solve this problem,” said Melissa Robbins, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Workforce Development Professionals.

"America Forward is proud to support the Long-Term Unemployment Elimination Act, which would make critical, targeted investments in proven approaches to reach, engage, and support workers experiencing prolonged unemployment. Directing resources specifically to eliminate barriers and create pathways back into the workforce for people who've been unemployed for six months or more is essential to driving an inclusive economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, creating a more equitable, sustainable economy in the long term, and moving all of America forward,” said Deborah Smolover, Executive Director, America Forward.

“Long-term unemployment is a devastating policy failure that threatens families, harms employers, and destabilizes local communities. It particularly harms Black communities but is unquestionably harmful to all of us. With more than 4 million Americans jobless for six or more months in March 2021, we need a focused plan to ensure a full and equitable economic recovery. This well-designed proposal would expand economic activity and help ensure that working people facing lengthy unemployment spells simply have a chance to engage in meaningful paid work,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, Co-Executive Director, Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.

“As the nation’s largest reentry employment organization, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) is proud to support the Long-Term Unemployment Elimination Act. In providing training, jobs, and wraparound services to people who are long-term unemployed, this legislation will ensure the 600,000+ individuals leaving prison this year during COVID-19 recovery have access to economic opportunities. The best way for justice-involved individuals to build skills is through a paying job. This legislation will create permanent connections to the workforce for people returning home to COVID-19-impacted and historically underserved communities,” said Sam Schaeffer, Chief Executive Officer, Center for Employment Opportunities.

Right now the nation is in the midst of one of the worst employment crises in history. The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic fallout has pushed millions of workers out of their jobs. Right now four-in-ten unemployed workers have been without work for at least six months. Such long bouts of unemployment are extremely harmful for workers, many of which simply don't have the savings to make ends meet. Further, prolonged unemployment is costly to the nation, as it unnecessarily sidelines our best resource: our people. The Long-Term Unemployment Elimination Act will confront this catastrophe head-on. The plan is simple: end long-term unemployment by providing job opportunities for those in need. The bill will provide essential funding for local workforce development boards and community organizations to put people back to work. This investment in the people is precisely what the nation needs to build a more equitable and just economy that works for all,” said Mark Paul, Assistant Professor of Economics, New College of Florida.

 “The Long Term Unemployment Elimination Act will bring much needed resources to the local areas hardest hit by the pandemic.  Dislocated and discouraged workers will have the opportunity to regain their footing in the labor market and employers will benefit from a coordinated effort to support the onboarding of job seekers.  It’s a critical investment to the nation’s human infrastructure,” said Tracey Carey, Executive Director of Midwest Urban Strategies.

“The Long-Term Unemployment Elimination Act will help to build a more equitable and inclusive workforce and restore the dignity of work for over 30 million people who are striving to overcome steep employment barriers, including previous incarceration, youth disenfranchisement, periods of homelessness, addiction, or mental illness, ?and many of whose economic exclusion has only worsened amid COVID-19. As an intermediary that invests in and advises employment social enterprises, ?businesses with a distinct social mission to provide income, training, and supportive services to people overcoming employment barriers, REDF believes that individuals who have faced great adversity deserve the opportunity to work and contribute their skills and talents to our economy. This legislation recognizes that a job is more than a paycheck and how social supports are critical to help these individuals succeed in the workforce and build a better life. The Long-Term Unemployment Elimination Act will ?innovatively combat economic and racial inequities by supporting entities like employment social enterprises, which could be the transformative first step in an individual’s career pathway,” said Manie Grewal, Head of Policy, REDF.

“Long-term unemployment has soared during COVID-19 and we are at risk of repeating the mistakes of the last recession where long-term unemployment remained stubbornly high for too long. This bill addresses a crucial issue by encouraging employers to take a second look and therefore encouraging workers to keep searching. We don’t have a moment to lose in helping the long term unemployed get back to work,” Peter Ganong, Assistant Professor, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.