As expected, federal emergency unemployment benefits expired over the weekend for 1.3 million jobless Americans. By the summer, another 1.9 million will be affected by the lapsed assistance. For Republicans, who celebrate the expiration, this will encourage the unemployed to work that much harder to find work – because the safety net that helped them keep their heads above water has now been removed.
Matt Yglesias, who called the situation “morally scandalous,” responds to the GOP argument by pointing to real-world evidence.
People who’ve been out of work for a long time obviously really need some money to get by, and they’re going to lose their money. And they’re not going to make up for it by getting jobs.
One way we know they won’t is from the experience of North Carolina, which for reasons of state politics did a UI cutoff for the long-term unemployed this year. Evan Soltas summarized the results and you can read Reihan Salam on the same thing if you want more right-wing street cred, but suffice it to say there was no “jobs boom” where lazy bums suddenly got off their asses and found readily available work. It turns out that being unemployed is really humiliating and depressing, and people who’ve been unemployed for a long time are people who genuinely can’t find any jobs. Cut them off from their benefits, and they end up scrounging at soup kitchens – they just can’t get work.
It speaks to the assumptions that undergird the political positions. For Republicans, unemployed Americans are lazy and lack the proper motivation. The government could help the jobless get by with meager, temporary support, but that only creates a “dependency.” It’s better, the argument goes, to cut these people off, encourage them to fend for themselves, and push them back into the workforce by leaving them with nothing.
Indeed, that’s precisely what Republican policymakers said in North Carolina back in July, when it became the only state in the nation to cut off access to federal emergency unemployment compensation after state benefits have been exhausted.
Did the far-right theory prove true? Of course not – the jobless, unable to find work, effectively abandoned the workforce altogether.
So, if cutting these struggling Americans off doesn’t help, what would? As we discussed last week, a more concerted effort to get these folks jobs.
As for Washington, congressional Democrats are eager to renew this fight when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next week. For his part, President Obama called Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) late last week to offer his support for their plan for a three-month extension.
Gene Sperling, the director of the National Economic Council, added that allowing UI benefits to expire, as they did on Saturday, “defies economic sense, precedent and our values.”