Friday, July 2, 2010

At What Point Should Unemployment Benefits End?!?

As ya'll know, I've been pretty critical of those (mostly Republicans, but some Democrats too) on the Hill who've blocked extensions of unemployment benefits purely for the sake of political posturing. In this election year, when the GOP is trying to regain control of the House and Senate, we've seen this pissing contest play out seemingly every month. The GOP argues that extending benefits without figuring out how to pay for them is irresponsible given our current deficit. The Democrats argue that you shouldn't worry about deficits when you're in such a deep recession. As usual, I side with the liberals here.

Everyone who works and pays taxes has money taken out for unemployment insurance. This isn't exactly an entitlement, not when you've already paid for it (whether or not you've paid your personal share relative to what you receive is arguable) and can't otherwise collect it unless you happen to be unemployed. For those suddenly jobless, this money helps keep the economy moving because they can still pay their rent, buy food, and afford gas to go looking for their next job. I don't need to remind you that as long as people are paying their rent, buying food, and pumping gas, they're supporting businesses that keep other people gainfully employed, thus ensuring that fewer people require unemployment benefits. It's a big circle that keeps our economy going.

Many Conservatives have somehow managed to paint those who receive benefits in a time of need as moochers who'd rather sit home on their a$$es collecting a check than work hard.[1] This ignorant logic overlooks the fact that we've got 9.7% unemployment at the moment, and that people collecting unemployment are doing so because, well, they were once employed.

Doesn't matter, this sort of "Lazy Them vs Productive Us" argument is yet another arrow in the populist quiver of election year positioning. Why the GOP assumes that only liberals are collecting unemployment, and fail to see how labeling once-hardworking Americans as shiftless leaches might actually offend some of the many Republicans who've also found themselves jobless. If the GOP kept their anti-unemployment benefits extension argument limited to simple economics, they might actually win score more legitimate points.

Then again, nobody ever accused the GOP of being logical.

They seem to have been successful with their latest ploy to prevent real, once-hardworking Americans from keeping their lights on this holiday weekend.
More than 1.3 million laid-off workers won't get their unemployment benefits reinstated before Congress goes on a weeklong vacation for Independence Day. Hundreds of thousands more will lose their benefits in the coming weeks.

For the third time in as many weeks, Republicans in the Senate successfully filibustered a bill Wednesday night that would have continued unemployment checks to people who have been laid off for long stretches.

A little more than 1.3 million people have already lost benefits since the last extension ran out at the end of May, according to the Labor Department. By the end of the week, the number will jump to 1.7 million.

Many Democrats see state aid and unemployment benefits as insurance against the economy sliding back into recession. However, many Republicans and some Democrats worry about adding to the growing national debt.

Republicans offered to support the unemployment bill if it was paid for with unspent money from last year's massive economic recovery package. Democrats rejected the offer, saying the money was needed for jobs programs.

The unemployment bill would have provided up to a total of 99 weekly unemployment checks averaging $335 to people whose 26 weeks of state-paid benefits have run out. The benefits would be available through the end of November, at a cost of $33.9 billion. The money would be borrowed, adding to the budget deficit.
Anyone who thinks folks are happier sitting at home watching Maury than going out an earning their keep is just stupid. A man can't feed his family on $335/week. Sure, there are probably some folks who are working the system, but my guess is those people are in the extreme minority. If the Democrats had any balls, they'd be calling the GOP on their nonsense from the mountaintop.

But again, nobody ever accused the Democrats of having heart.

That said, even I wonder if there should indeed be a point when these benefits should expire. Not because people are mooching, but because you simply can't afford to pay out forever.

What say ye'?

Question: What's a reasonable amount of time to receive unemployment before you're cut off? Should Congress be more concerned about deficits or helping people stay afloat in our current economy? Does this "unemployment" debate have some racial undertones, or is it just me?

1.3 million unemployed won't get benefits restored [AP]

[1] This rhetoric gets dangerously close to mirroring the old "welfare queen" archetype of the Reagan years.

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