One of the many considerations in whatever kind of “bargain” Congress and the White House agree upon “” grand, grim, greasy “” are benefits for the unemployed. In terms of having the ability to meet basic expenses, those benefits are crucial for millions.

Greg Kaufmann, writing at The Nation, includes a focus on unemployment benefits in “This Week in Poverty: When Even Santa Can’t Get a Job.”

Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for NELP (National Employment Law Project), says she is “˜cautiously optimistic’ that unemployment insurance will be reauthorized for 2013″“either as part of any “˜grand bargain’ or a more limited package of cuts and revenues prior to January 1.

Kaufmann spends much of his article telling the stories of two of the five million “long-term” unemployed, “putting a face” on the numbers and statistics. Whatever DC decides, it’s people like Richard Crowe and Edith Harrison who will be directly affected.

In May 2012, Richard Crowe was laid off when the steel mill where he had worked for thirty-four years was shut down. He’d worked there since graduating from high school. New ownership filed for bankruptcy.

“˜The judge threw the workers’ contract out, the owners walked away with $20 million, and we got nothing,’ says Crowe, who is 54, and lives in eastern Ohio.

Seven months later, Crowe is one of 5 million “˜long-term’ unemployed workers in the United States who have been looking for work for more than six months. They are disproportionately older (over 50), women, and minorities, and according to today’s jobs report, their employment prospects haven’t much improved. …

“˜The jobs are still not there,’ says Edith Harrison, 59, who lives in Colorado Springs and was laid off from her job at a senior assisted living facility in August. “˜How can you cut unemployment benefits off, and blame someone for not being able to get a job, when they didn’t create the situation?

Like millions of others, Crowe and Harrison continue to actively, diligently look for a job. But at 54 and 59, they aren’t what most employers are looking for. Not that people of all ages don’t continue experiencing tremendous difficulties in finding employment, but age is one key factor. (emphasis added)

If Congress doesn’t extend the unemployment insurance program by the end of this year, 2 million of these workers will lose their benefits between Christmas and New Years Day, another 1 million by April 2013 and more than 5 million people will be without benefits by the end of 2013, according to the … NELP. This would occur at a moment when there are still 12 million people unemployed, and there are approximately 3.4 unemployed applicants for every available job opening.

Both Harrison and Crowe have firsthand experience in dealing with the “stereotype” that insists “unemployed people are lazy and would rather collect modest benefits than work.”

Kaufmann provides a lot of helpful information, and notes that

This Week in Poverty will continue to post every Friday. Beginning next week, TheNation.com will also post Today in Poverty once a week. There are so many people and groups doing great poverty-related work”“studies, actions, writing, TV, radio”“the single blog is way too long.

A sampling of the “Vital Statistics” he includes in this article:

US poverty (less than $23,021 for a family of four): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent.

Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 22 percent of all children, including more than one in three African American and Latino children. Poorest age group in the country.

Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, including more than 15 million women and children.

Increase in deep poverty since 1976: doubled”“3.3 percent of population to 6.7 percent.

Below twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than 1 in 3 Americans.

Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Youth employment: lowest level in more than 60 years. …

People age 50 and over at risk of hunger every day: 9 million.

The DC contrived fiscal drama serves to distract, and probably simply overwhelm, which, of course, it is designed to do. Meanwhile, millions of people, like Richard Crowe and Edith Harrison, are living out a daily drama of survival.

(Unemployment photo via National Employment Law Project)