The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Business

December 18, 2013

A sincere message for the jobless among us

It appears that on Dec. 28, barring unexpected political action that would amount to a true Christmas miracle, 1.3 million jobless Americans will stop receiving unemployment benefits.

This is to those people:

I’m sorry this is happening.

I’m sorry our political leaders lack the foresight or compassion to honestly address this issue, and to understand the economic realities unemployed people in this country face.

I’m sorry that people like Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky believe that extending unemployment benefits beyond 26 weeks is a “disservice“ to all of you. I’m sorry that he recently said: “When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.“

First off, there’s no state in the country where a person can be on unemployment for 99 weeks. That’s factually incorrect.

The longest period of time a person can get state and federal unemployment benefits is 73 weeks, and that, according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, is only in Illinois, Rhode Island and Nevada, states that have unemployment rates in the neighborhood of 9 percent.

The length of unemployment benefit eligibility in other states ranges from 19 to 63 weeks, depending on each state’s unemployment rate.

More importantly, the implication that receiving unemployment checks causes people to stay unemployed is off base.

The belief, I guess, is that you 1.3 million unemployed Americans grow so addicted to receiving, on average, about $300 a week that you lose all interest in working for a living. Because who wouldn’t be perfectly comfortable keeping a family afloat while pulling in around $15,000 a year?

But to get your benefits, you have to be actively seeking a job and providing proof of your efforts. And most Americans are honest and hardworking people who don’t like being on unemployment and will fight and scratch and claw like mad to find jobs.

And that, my friends, is the problem. Paul and others seem to think that as soon as you know there will be no more unemployment checks coming, then and only then will you get serious about finding work.

That’s nonsense.

According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 10.9 million unemployed people in this country as of Dec. 6. At the end of October - which is the most recent data available - there were 3.9 million job openings.

How do you make that work? How do you say that people who have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks are going to hop to it and find work when there’s about one job opening for every three unemployed people?

Furthermore, research does not support the claim that extending unemployment benefits keeps people unemployed.

A paper published in April by Henry Farber of Princeton University and Robert Valletta of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that “extended benefits do not delay the time to re-employment substantially.“

This was an important study because it examined the dynamics of the current recession. Many economists have said that some studies claiming extended unemployment benefits have a disincentive effect are based on data from the 1970s and 1980s that are no longer applicable.

In testimony before Congress in 2010, economist Lawrence Katz of Harvard University said that “the most compelling research suggests only modest impacts of UI (unemployment insurance) extensions on the search effort and duration of unemployment of unemployment insurance recipients.“

People on both sides of this issue can toss studies around, but let’s look at this as decent human beings. Are there people receiving unemployment benefits who take advantage of the system? Of course there are. Take any system and there will be people manipulating it to their own ends.

But where do people get off assuming a majority of unemployed people are nursing the system? Who looks at their friends and relatives and neighbors - and who among us doesn’t know someone who has lost a job? - and assumes they’re just fine coasting on government assistance?

That’s cynical.

The unemployment rate is trending down, and there are signs of economic improvement. But it’s not there yet, and cutting off what for many jobless people is a lifeline will only make things worse.

I recognize the need for fiscal restraint. But the $25 billion needed to extended unemployment insurance over the next two years is a fraction of our overall budget, and it’s money that circulates swiftly back into the economy.

We are a nation of good-hearted and hardworking people. That shouldn’t get lost in a turbulent sea of conflicting ideologies.

I am sorry to each and every one of you - all 1.3 million - who will be losing your unemployment benefits.

You deserve help, not a political brushoff.

And you deserve leaders who deal in facts rather than fiction, and who believe that we are at our best when we see the good in everyone.

Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at rhuppketribune.com or on Twitter RexWorksHere.

 

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