FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
NC Unemployment Cuts: A Necessary & Difficult Change
As her state budgets continued to balloon and unemployment remains uncomfortably high, the Republican controlled legislature ended the state’s war on prudent fiscal policy by exempting herself from receiving further federal assistance for people unemployed longer than 26 weeks, as well as lowering the maximum potential benefit.
If you listen to Paul Krugman of The New York Times, you’d believe the GOP was doing this to upset President Obama and purposefully hurt the poor.
Is life too easy for the unemployed? You may not think so, and I certainly don’t think so. But that, remarkably, is what many and perhaps most Republicans believe. And they’re acting on that belief: there’s a nationwide movement under way to punish the unemployed, based on the proposition that we can cure unemployment by making the jobless even more miserable.
But it’s not only elitist policy wonks from New York that believe the human cost shows a lack of compassion. The Charlotte Observer quotes resident Eddrena Morris, unemployed since February 2012, who asks, “What do they expect people to do? How are people going to feed their families?”
It’s a legitimate concern for someone looking to put food on their table but the difficult truth is that extended benefits play an unfortunate role in the stubborn 8.8 percent unemployment rate North Carolina currently lives with.
As of today, jobless benefits cap out at a pretax rate $350 per week (down from $535 prior to Sunday’s cuts). As Krugman notes, “some hammock,” in response to Paul Ryan referring to welfare’s changing role from safety net to entitlement hammock.
And he’s right, it’s not much money. Speaking personally, $1,500 per month would barely cover the cost of feeding my family of 6, much less cover electricity or water or any other of life’s essentials.
But the question remains: does receiving up to $1,500 per month purely as a matter of benefit for searching for a job hurt the economy as a whole? Or help it?
Studies have shown that the long term unemployed seeking benefits are choosier with their job hunts. After all, while they aren’t living in a hammock per se, they are able to know that some foundation of expense coverage exists, so why not find the job most conducive to the long term health of their family or their career?
The answer is not always comfortable. Depending on how long you hunt for your job and expect others to pay for it, it can be selfish.
As a Carolinian that has never spent time unemployed that I didn’t want to, I can attest to this one difficult truth: the food you feed your family is of higher importance than the place you cash your check. I love the job I have now but I can assure you that I’d take a job I hated to ensure that my children could eat while I hunted for something better.
As I drive around Charlotte, I see help wanted signs everywhere. Retail, restaurant, manual labor, and yes, government employment. All low paying, low-skill jobs. Most of which pay more than the $1,500 per month offered by the government that can allow people be picky in their hunt.
But, as the person quoted in the Observer noted, her benefits were simply ending. Another impact of the changes in legislation. My suspicion is that her hunt will become less picky and bear fruit at last. If not, there are any number of institutions and charities that are not going bankrupt that can help.
Yes, yes. I’m sure someone is quoting Scrooge now, “Are there no work houses?” Perhaps you’re thinking I’m being a cold hearted bastard with this article. Well, I’m not trying to be. And in fact, I believe that certain government safety nets have proven themselves to be valuable. Bankruptcy laws, medical assistance for the poor, and limited unemployment benefits to name a few. But we can no longer sustain a government or an economy that is built on the notion that we are guaranteed the right to never have to swallow our pride, never have to move to better job producing areas, never have to lower our expectations, and never have to accept that the government’s
“endless pockets” are lined with the futures of our children.
This post was cross-posted at The Tar Heel Report.