The Republican’s canard that is leaving the unemployed out in the cold

An couple on long-term unemployment sit in their living room. The husband, feasting on caviar and filet mignon, watches TV with an expensive cable plan (with all the add-ons) while his wife, downing her second glass of Dom Pérignon, inspects her new diamond bracelet. 

Suddenly, the news flashes across the screen – long-term unemployment benefits to end! Immediately, the couple knows what to do. They put down the caviar and expensive champagne, print out copies of their resume and go find decent paying jobs. 

 The end. 

I hope this little story helps you understand how conservatives can support the idea of not extending emergency unemployment benefits to people out of work for more than 26 weeks. You see, when a Republican sees someone who’s been on unemployment for any length of time, they don’t think about the difficulty of finding a job, or the pain and heartache that comes with accepting government help. Nope, everyone on long-term unemployment is simply bilking the system, getting paid by the government to do nothing. To them, they might as well be “Unemployment Queens.” 

That’s how they’re able to justify allowing this vital benefit to expire for 1.3 million Americans, and another 1.9 Americans in the first 6 months of 2014. 79,000 New Jerseyans lost their benefits on Dec, 28, making it the hardest hit state per capita in the country. And moving forward, the maximum length of time anyone in the Garden State can get unemployment is 26 weeks, chopped in half from the 63 weeks that had been offered. By comparison, about 84,000 Pennsylvanians stopped receiving financial assistance, and about 3,600 in Delaware lost their benefits. 

In the past, Congress has waited for unemployment to drop lower than pre-recession levels before scaling back benefits (unemployment is higher now at 7 percent than when aid begun). But we don’t have a normal, functioning Republican party these days. We have a tea party-led insurgency that thinks government is evil, and people on long-term unemployment are all lazy slackers that just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job. 

Obviously, that’s easier said than done these days. Despite an economy that’s slowly improving, there’s still 2.9 unemployed workers for every job opening, which is worse than any point during the 2001 recession. Also, studies have shown that companies don’t give the long-term unemployed a fair shake, assuming that if they’ve been unemployed for so long, they must not be the best candidate.

I’ve always been confused by conservatives who believe in trickle-down economics, but don’t understand the multiplier effect unemployment can have. Almost by definition, cash-strapped individuals are likely to spend their unemployment benefits as soon as they receive them, increasing economic activity locally and instantly. One study found that ending long-term unemployment benefits would result in 240,000 less jobs being created in 2014. 

There is an argument to be made about cost, but these same conservatives again and again prove themselves to be hypocrites on the subject. The plan Democrats plan to push in the next week would extend long-term unemployment benefits another year, at a cost of $25.2 billion. But that’s just the sticker price – it doesn’t take into account the added revenue that would be created or saved by the added economic activity, estimated to be a $37.8 billion increase in GDP and $14.1 billion in higher government revenues (as more people and companies would pay taxes). 

Besides, if conservatives really wanted to find a way to pay for long-term unemployment benefits, they wouldn’t have increased Pentagon spending next year by more than $22 billion. Keep in mind, the budget at the Pentagon has more than doubled since 1998 alone, and has 86 major defense systems under development, at a combined cost of $1.6 trillion. 

I know it’s difficult, but I would urge conservatives to listen to the president when it comes to unemployment, who says jobless “Americans rely on their unemployment benefits to pay for the mortgage or rent, food, and other critical bills. They need our assistance in these difficult times, and we cannot let them down.”

Good thing for them, it’s wasn’t Obama that said this. It was George W. Bush. 

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Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe. 

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