Washington's focus on the "fiscal cliff" a potentially disastrous combination of tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1 has shifted attention away from the biggest problem in the economy, which is the more than 12 million Americans still unemployed.
More than 5 million of them have been sidelined for more than half a year, which means they're no longer receiving unemployment insurance benefits from their state. Instead, many are receiving extended unemployment benefits paid for by the federal government. Unless Congress agrees to renew the program, however, that support will end as well, even before the country reaches the fiscal cliff.
It would be tragic if Congress abandoned the unemployed in order to clip a relative smidgen off the deficit about $30 billion of a deficit of $1 trillion. According to the most recent federal survey of job vacancies, there were about seven applicants for every two openings. That's an improvement over the worst days of the recession, when the ratio of applicants to openings was more than 10 to 2. But it still means that there aren't nearly enough jobs available to put everyone back to work, especially when you consider the more than 9 million Americans who are either stuck in part-time jobs when they want full-time work, or who've become so discouraged they've dropped out of the workforce.