Barring a minor legislative miracle, it appears that 1.3 million long-term jobless Americans will be thrown under the bus this holiday season, that their federal unemployment benefits will be severed in the spirit of “let them eat cake.”
Compliments of the heartless GOP.
Congressional Democrats are trying to shame their counterparts into extending these benefits beyond the year-end expiration date – the benefits have been reauthorized 11 times since the Great Recession struck at the tail end of the Bush era – by arguing that this is the least we can do for the long-term unemployed. But, alas, the Republicans are apparently shameless in their belief that what those people really need, to cure their alleged laziness, is just a swift kick in the pants.
Republicans are perfectly happy to help out the “makers” – corporations and rich folks get all kinds of government subsidies and tax loopholes – but they’re far less inclined to aid the “takers.” Makers with benefits are real Americans; takers with benefits are slackers. Hence, the apparently imminent death of the 99-weeks Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
Senator Rand Paul is merely the latest Republican to articulate the party’s mentality. Last Sunday, in the friendly confines of Fox News, he said: “I do support unemployment benefits for the (standard) 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to those workers. When you allow people to be on employment for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”
The libertarian ophthalmologist was quite diplomatic in his choice of words, but his meaning was clear: Giving jobless people a few hundred bucks a week for 99 weeks is a surefire way to turn them into slackers (“causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group”); providing them with benefits is really “a disservice” to them.
We’ve heard this kind of talk before. At a Republican dinner in 2010, Nevada congressman Dean Heller (he’s now a senator), fretted that long-term jobless benefits would make people too lazy to look for work. His rhetorical question: “Is the government now creating hobos?” But that year’s pungency award went to Senator Jim Bunning. He tried to block the reauthorization of those benefits, and did so for quite awhile. When Democrats in the chamber begged him to knock it off, he simply replied, “Tough s–t.”
This GOP mentality – this belief that a safety net merely coddles its users – long predates our era. Way back in 1935, Republicans didn’t like the idea of Social Security, either. As New Jersey Senator A. Harry Moore contended, Social Security “would take all the romance out of life. We might as well take a child from the nursery, give him a nurse, and protect him from every experience that life affords.”
The GOP argument today is that if the long-term jobless were weaned from their benefits, they’d get off their butts and find the romance in life by getting new jobs. But that argument has no basis in reality. According to the most recent studies, the long-term jobless aren’t idle because of the benefits they get. They’re idle because this recession and the new, digitally-impacted economy are particularly inhospitable to the long-term jobless.
As another new study has explained, the long-term jobless are typically caught in a Catch-22. Employers are reluctant to hire them because they’ve been jobless for so long; these idled workers are perceived as too far behind the learning curve, or too old to adjust, or tainted by cooties, whatever.
Despite that grim reality, the long-term jobless aren’t sitting at home in lazy despair. On the contrary, they’re still out looking for work – because, if nothing else, the federal benefits encourage them to seek work so that they can stay eligible for the benefits. That’s the finding in a new study sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco; as one of the participating economists explained, the jobless stipend “doesn’t reduce their probability of finding or accepting a job offer, but it keeps them in the labor force.”
Plus, these benefits actually help the economy. Long-term jobless people spend that money as soon as they receive it – typically in the retail realm. According to the Congressional Budget Office and J. P. Morgan, that’s worth as much as 0.4 percentage points in the GDP (and helps support 200,000 jobs in the consumer economy.)
But hey, facts are often trumped by ideology. The jobless benefits were excluded from the bipartisan budget deal precisely because Paul Ryan knew he couldn’t sell them to the GOP rank and file; Patty Murray punted on the benefits because she knew the deal would’ve died had she insisted on them. The only remaining route is to put the benefits in a stand-alone bill, and put Republicans on the spot:
Do they want to cut these people off, or not? Rhetoric aside, do they really think these people are slackers?
I’d love to hear the answer.
History junkie alert: Thirteen years ago tonight, capping the ’00 election, the five Republican appointees on the high court dragged the popular-vote loser across the finish line. Here’s the opening paragraph I wrote for the morning paper: “The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court went to the polls last night, and cast their ballots in the 2000 presidential race. They favored George W. Bush over Al Gore by a single vote, and there will not be a manual recount.”
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