Are we punishing the unemployed?

Published 9:32 am Thursday, July 22, 2010

Virtually every developed nation as a form of unemployment compensation designed to soften the blow to those who lose jobs and need time to retrain or time for the job market to improve in their chosen field of endeavor.

For the most part this is a social construction that makes sense to everyone in America and even our most radical politicians have voted to invest in workers by supporting unemployment compensation. Until now.

The Great Recession, beginning at the end of 2007, has been the most punishing recession on American workers since the Great Depression, and jobs have yet to return to over 10 million workers who have been affected by this economic downturn.

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No one seems to know this better than Republican critics of the administrations attempts to stimulate the economy and encourage business and industry to once again hire.

Republicans are quick to remind Americans that there are not enough jobs…and the economy is not yet recovered and returned to prosperity.

They are right, and the administration must continue to encourage economic development.

But these very same critics, armed with the knowledge that there are not enough jobs to employ the great numbers of the unemployed today, still want to deny unemployment benefits to those most in need. And their premise for abandoning their fellow Americans in an economy with too few jobs?

It is twofold; first they claim unemployment benefits encourage the unemployed to avoid work. Second, they argue that the cost of unemployment benefits must be paid for by cuts in other areas of government.

There is not a great deal of research available on the effects of unemployment in causing people to not want to return to work.

And most Americans would be justifiably offended to have it suggested that our modest unemployment benefits offer enough value to make unemployment a great job.

However, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco has done a calculation regarding this argued effect, determining that the extended jobless benefits may have caused a 0.4 percent increase in the unemployment rate this year. That would translate into 600,000 extra people on the unemployment rolls. That would be an extraordinarily modest effect.

The second argument against funding unemployment benefits is that in our deficit spending environment these benefits must be paid for by other reductions in government spending.

Over the past half century such costs have not been offset by other cuts in spending. This argument might have more creditability if those advocating it had not largely voted in favor in 2003 of Medicare Part D, prescription drug coverage, without paying for it.

The argument might also be less offensive if many of these belated fiscal watchdogs did not still advocate making the 2003 Bush tax cuts permanent, at an estimated cost of over a trillion dollars, paid for by debt.

So while opponents of helping the unemployed can justify paying for tax cuts for the rich with debt, paying for meager unemployment compensation for average Americans is simply totally unacceptable.

Ironically, while these politicians stand steadfastly opposed to helping the unemployed, their other claim, demanding more help for the economy, is best served by paying unemployment benefits.

Moody’s Analytics reports that for every dollar spent on unemployment benefits $1.61 in economic growth is achieved. This compares with a $0.32 economic growth estimated for extending the Bush tax cuts.

It is clear that both the rational and compassionate choice should be to extend unemployment benefits immediately for the many Americans still struggling to reclaim their jobs and careers in this difficult economic environment.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.