Job­less dis­pute com­pla­cency claim

The idea that ex­tended ben­e­fits dis­cour­age peo­ple from seek­ing work is an in­sult, they say.

Los Angeles Times - - The Nation - Robin Ab­car­ian robin.ab­car­

It’s an old the­ory that’s gain­ing new po­lit­i­cal cur­rency: By cush­ion­ing the blow of un­em­ploy­ment for nearly two years, job­less ben­e­fits dis­cour­age re­cip­i­ents from look­ing for work.

The claim, most fre­quently ad­vanced by con­ser­va­tive pun­dits and politi­cians aligned with the con­ser­va­tive “tea party” move­ment, is seen as a fresh in­sult by the nation’s suf­fer­ing un­em­ployed work­ers.

Ne­vada Repub­li­can U.S. Se­nate can­di­date and tea party fa­vorite Shar­ron An­gle, who is vy­ing for Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid’s seat, put it this way this sum­mer: “You can make more money on un­em­ploy­ment than you can go­ing down and get­ting one of those jobs that is an hon­est job but doesn’t pay as much. We’ve put so much en­ti­tle­ment into our govern­ment that we re­ally have spoiled our cit­i­zenry.”

In July, as Congress de­bated ex­tend­ing emer­gency job­less ben­e­fits, an econ­o­mist from the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion said on PBS’ “New­sHour” that in­creas­ing un­em­ploy­ment in­surance pay­ments to 99 weeks — the max­i­mum now avail­able — had “cre­ated a bit of a prob­lem.” Giv­ing help for ex­tended pe­ri­ods, said Wil­liam Beach, “changes the be­hav­ior of the peo­ple who are un­em­ployed. They don’t look for work as much as they oth­er­wise would.”

In an opin­ion piece on the Fox News web­site, econ­o­mist John Lott wrote that the un­prece­dented length of to­day’s un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits “is al­most like a drug ad­dic­tion.”

Ad­vo­cates for work­ers, and the un­em­ployed them­selves, are push­ing back. Last week, a Face­book group called Ex­tend Un­em­ploy­ment Ben­e­fits, with nearly 4,000 mem­bers, re­ceived a flurry of at­ten­tion. It is de­voted to lob­by­ing for a bill in­tro­duced by Sen. Deb­bie Stabenow (D-Mich.) that would cre­ate a new tier of job­less ben­e­fits for those who have ex­hausted their un­em­ploy­ment in­surance.

Point­edly called the Amer­i­cans Who Want to Work Act, the bill would pro­vide an ad­di­tional 20 weeks of fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance. Un­em­ploy­ment com­pen­sa­tion is funded by taxes paid by em­ploy­ers, not by work­ers. The av­er­age weekly check is about $300.

Dave Yo­com, a 60-yearold col­lege grad­u­ate, has been un­em­ployed since 2008. Af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a stroke at 54 that wiped out his sav­ings, he left the high­stress res­tau­rant busi­ness and went to work for a con­struc­tion com­pany that re­paired res­i­den­tial fire and wa­ter dam­age.

He said he is in­sulted by the idea that re­ceiv­ing about $400 a week in un­em­ploy­ment di­min­ished his de­sire to find work, or that it was com­pa­ra­ble to drug ad­dic­tion.

Crit­ics of un­em­ploy­ment, he said, “are ei­ther in­cred­i­bly naive or they … have quite the opin­ion of them­selves if they think it can’t hap­pen to them.”

Since los­ing his job, Yo­com es­ti­mated, he has sent out 50 re­sumes a week. He said he has re­ceived no job of­fers. He be­lieves that his age is his biggest im­ped­i­ment. That and his ru­ined credit score, which prospec­tive em­ploy­ers of­ten check.

His 99 weeks of un­em­ploy­ment in­surance ran out in April. He re­ceives food stamps and lives in his sis­ter’s home in sub­ur­ban Chicago. His sis­ter, un­em­ployed as well, will re­ceive job­less ben­e­fits through Novem­ber. Af­ter that, Yo­com said, he’s not sure how they will make ends meet.

James Sherk, se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst in la­bor eco­nom­ics at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, agreed that work­ers like Yo­com are in ter­ri­ble straits, but said that such suf­fer­ing does not change the fact that un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits lead re­cip­i­ents to have un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions — par­tic­u­larly in hard­hit in­dus­tries such as con­struc­tion or au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ing.

“En­cour­ag­ing some­one to look for a job that is not go­ing to re­turn is not ul­ti­mately help­ful to them,” Sherk said. “If you have two years of ben­e­fits, it’s nat­u­ral to spend the first six months look­ing for the same job you had. Some will find jobs, but the vast ma­jor­ity won’t, and they have be­come less pro­duc­tive em­ploy­ees be­cause their job skills are de­te­ri­o­rat­ing.”

But Chris­tine Owens, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Em­ploy­ment Law Project, an ad­vo­cate for work­ers and the un­em­ployed, said the point of un­em­ploy­ment in­surance is to pro­vide a cush­ion that might pro­tect against down­ward mo­bil­ity.

“There’s noth­ing wrong with the idea that un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits would ac­tu­ally en­able some­one to spend a lit­tle more time look­ing for an ap­pro­pri­ate job — or, for that mat­ter, spend­ing time in job train­ing,” Owens said. “You want peo­ple to im­prove their skills and find a bet­ter job.”

In the cur­rent job mar­ket, there are nearly five un­em­ployed peo­ple for ev­ery job, ac­cord­ing to the Eco­nomic Pol­icy In­sti­tute, a pro-la­bor think tank. That alone, Owens said, means that most un­em­ployed work­ers are out of luck, no mat­ter how much they yearn for a pay­check.

She cited a re­cent Rut­gers Uni­ver­sity sur­vey that found 73% of Amer­i­cans have been “di­rectly af­fected” by the cur­rent re­ces­sion, mean­ing they had lost a job or had ei­ther a fam­ily mem­ber or a friend who lost a job.

“We find Amer­i­cans have great sym­pa­thy and em­pa­thy for the plight of the un­em­ployed,” wrote the sur­vey’s coau­thor, Cliff Zukin of the John J. Heldrich Cen­ter for Work­force Devel­op­ment at Rut­gers. “The un­em­ployed are seen as want­ing to work and try­ing hard to get jobs.”

Last year, sto­ries popped up about younger work­ers look­ing on the bright side of lay­offs. They were usu­ally sin­gle and un­en­cum­bered by mort­gages and chil­dren — like Alexis Mansinne, 27, who lost her job at a mag­a­zine and be­gan a blog called Fu­nem­ploy­ment.

Mansinne, now a grad­u­ate stu­dent in coun­sel­ing at Cal State Long Beach, said she used the term to make a scary sit­u­a­tion less daunt­ing, not to con­vey fri­vol­ity. Even while on un­em­ploy­ment, she spent many hours a week look­ing for work. But not ev­ery­one was as dili­gent. “I watched many of my peers take ad­van­tage of what’s in­tended to be a tem­po­rary so­lu­tion,” Mansinne said.

Un­em­ployed older work­ers of­ten don’t have the lux­ury of re­lax­ing. Su­san Vel­cich Rodway, 52, said she’s looked for work con­stantly since los­ing her med­i­cal of­fice job in May 2008.

“Ev­ery time you go to ap­ply for a job, the line is a mile long,” said Rodway, who lives in Des Plaines, Ill. “You’ve got 1,000 peo­ple ap­ply­ing for five or 10 po­si­tions.”

Her fam­ily cars have been re­pos­sessed. She and her hus­band, an un­em­ployed fork­lift op­er­a­tor, downsized apart­ments, low­er­ing their rent from $900 to $775.

Both are tak­ing on­line col­lege cour­ses. Rodway is study­ing med­i­cal tran­scrip­tion; her hus­band is study­ing in­for­ma­tion technology. When they fin­ish, she es­ti­mated, they will have $30,000 in added debt.

Each week, she gets $192 and her hus­band gets $314 in un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

“It’s easy for peo­ple who have jobs, in­surance and fancy cars to pass judg­ment,” Rodway said. “… But you know what? Let ’em walk a mile in our shoes.”

Stacey Wescott

IN ILLI­NOIS: Dave Yo­com, a 60-year-old col­lege grad­u­ate, has been un­em­ployed since 2008. He said he is of­fended by the idea that re­ceiv­ing about $400 a week in job­less ben­e­fits di­min­ished his de­sire to find work.

John Locher



IN NE­VADA: GOP Se­nate can­di­date Shar­ron An­gle ar­gued that “we’ve put so much en­ti­tle­ment into our govern­ment that we re­ally have spoiled our cit­i­zenry.”

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