As Pain From Unemployment Grows, Broadcast News Remains Silent


Broadcast evening news programs have remained silent on unemployment benefits since a measure to restore emergency compensation failed to pass the Senate. However, for many Americans, the prospect of losing benefits has only just begun.

At the end of 2013, emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed -- a program that has been in place since the financial crisis took hold -- expired. In the first weeks of 2014, Congress attempted to pass an extension, but the measure eventually fell to a Republican filibuster in the Senate on January 14.

Since the failed bid to extend unemployment benefits, nightly broadcast news programs have largely ignored the issue. Only one evening news segment on ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted time to discussing the now-expired benefits. That came in the form of NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams explaining that the measure to extend benefits failed in the Senate on January 14. Since then, there has been no discussion on any of the three networks.*

And as the Huffington Post's Sam Stein noted, broadcast Sunday show programs on January 19 provided no airtime to discussing the benefits except for a passing mention by NBC's Peter Alexander on Meet the Press.

While broadcast news may see this issue as complete, the negative effects of the benefits expiration will continue for an increasing number of Americans.

In a January 21 piece in The New York Times, reporter Annie Lowrey outlined the very real consequences of letting benefits expire, focusing on the story of Alnetta McKnight, an unemployed security guard. McKnight lost her benefits after 20 weeks due to a recently passed law in North Carolina, and is finding it hard to make ends meet or find a job. According to Lowrey, McKnight's experience is bound to increase across the country because, since the expiration of the emergency unemployment compensation program, “the maximum period of unemployment payments dropped to 26 weeks in most states, down from as much as 73 weeks.”

Indeed, the situation will get worse for a number of Americans unless Congress acts to reinstate long-term unemployment insurance benefits. When the long-term unemployment benefits program expired, 1.3 million unemployed people immediately lost benefits. As more of the unemployed reach the maximum time allowed to collect benefits, they will find themselves in similar circumstances. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a total of 4.9 million people will be without any unemployment benefits by the end of the year if emergency measures are not reinstated.

More Americans will face the same situation as Alnetta McNight until the program is restored. Unfortunately for the millions who are currently unemployed, broadcast media have given up the public debate.

*Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of evening news broadcasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC from January 14 to January 21 using the following search terms: unemploy! or employ! or job! or insur! or benefi!. The "!" operator in Nexis allows for all possible suffixes to the word it follows (for example, unemploy! returns unemployed, unemployment, etc.). When transcripts were missing or incomplete, we reviewed video.

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