Un­em­ployed need sup­port from Congress

Austin American-Statesman - - OPINION - bshellykc­star.com

They are our neigh­bors and our kids’ school­teach­ers. They are the peo­ple who in bet­ter times built our houses and high­ways, man­u­fac­tured the goods we use and stocked the shelves in our stores.

Meet the long-term un­em­ployed. There but for some for­tu­nate breaks go many of us. So why are they be­ing vil­i­fied?

Congress is dither­ing on ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment in­surance ben­e­fits. The longer the de­bate goes on, the more it en­cour­ages the false but deep-rooted Amer­i­can no­tion that if a per­son is in need, it’s got to be his or her fault.

And so we have sen­a­tors and think-tank types opin­ing that ex­tended un­em­ploy­ment in­surance presents a “dis­in­cen­tive” for peo­ple to look for work. As if liv­ing on un­cer­tainty and an av­er­age of $310 a week is now the great Amer­i­can dream.

We have Rand Paul, the GOP sen­a­to­rial can­di­date from Ken­tucky, lec­tur­ing on a ra­dio show that “... ul­ti­mately we do have to some­times ac­cept a wage that’s less than we had at our pre­vi­ous job in or­der to get back to work and al­low the econ­omy to get started again.” Like peo­ple des­per­ate for jobs haven’t thought of that.

We have peo­ple us­ing the In­ter­net’s cloak of anonymity to ex­press in­sult­ing opin­ions.

“The great unasked ques­tion in the face of bad un­em­ploy­ment num­bers is, how many of these peo­ple weren’t per­form­ing well even in the ‘good’ times?” a reader asked in re­sponse to a piece by jour­nal­ist Rod Dre­her on beliefnet.com.

And we have some em­ploy­ers spec­i­fy­ing in their job list­ings that “un­em­ployed can­di­dates will not be con­sid­ered” or ap­pli­cants “must be cur­rently em­ployed.” And no, dis­crim­i­na­tion against the un­em­ployed is not pro­hib­ited by law

We have in our nation a ten­dency to want to blame peo­ple for their own bad cir­cum­stances. It reared up in the health care de­bate, when unin­sured peo­ple were ma­ligned as hand­out seekers.

It’s so­cial Dar­win­ism in ac­tion even if some who ex­hibit it don’t sub­scribe to the the­ory of evo­lu­tion. And I will agree that ac­tions and be­hav­iors can and of­ten do play a role in one’s cir­cum­stances.

But right now we have five job seekers ap­ply­ing for ev­ery open­ing. Those are lousy odds, even if em­ploy­ers aren’t stig­ma­tiz­ing the un­em­ployed.

Who are the long-term un­em­ployed? I asked Chris­tine Owens, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Em­ploy­ment Law Project, a re­search and ad­vo­cacy group.

They tend to be older, she said, usu­ally 45 years and up. A ma­jor­ity are men. Many, but by no means all, have less than a col­lege ed­u­ca­tion. Many worked in con­struc­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ing, bank­ing and re­tail. They have been out of work at least 26 weeks, of­ten much longer.

I know some of these peo­ple. Many of them have worked for decades and took great pride in do­ing so. They are peo­ple who vol­un­teer in their com­mu­ni­ties, send their kids to col­lege and care for el­derly par­ents.

We have some em­ploy­ers spec­i­fy­ing in their job list­ings that ‘un­em­ployed can­di­dates will not be con­sid­ered’ or ap­pli­cants ‘must be cur­rently em­ployed.’ And no, dis­crim­i­na­tion against the un­em­ployed is not pro­hib­ited by law.

The no­tion that they’re us­ing their un­em­ploy­ment checks to fi­nance an ex­tended vacation would be com­i­cal ex­cept that some peo­ple ac­tu­ally be­lieve it.

Con­ser­va­tives tell us that “the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity” of stud­ies show that peo­ple post­pone look­ing for work if they’re re­ceiv­ing un­em­ploy­ment pay.

Don’t buy it. Newer re­search is find­ing that it’s not the lack of try­ing that’s keep­ing peo­ple out of work. It’s the lack of jobs.

One ex­am­ple: Econ­o­mists Rob Valetta and Kather­ine Kuang at the Fed­eral Re­serve Bank of San Fran­cisco an­a­lyzed the ex­pe­ri­ences of work­ers who left their jobs vol­un­tar­ily and re­ceived no un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits, and work­ers who were laid off and re­ceive un­em­ploy­ment in­surance.

They found lit­tle dif­fer­ence in the length of time it took the two cat­e­gories of work­ers to find new jobs. For both groups, the search took too long.

Of course Congress should ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits. The money will act as a stim­u­lus, stave off fore­clo­sures and keep peo­ple from need­ing other forms of aid.

Agree or dis­agree, but can we at least not make un­em­ployed peo­ple the vil­lains of this de­bate? They don’t need the has­sle.

They need jobs.

Matt Rourke

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