In 2010, Republicans took control of North Carolina’s General Assembly for the first time since the 19th century, and in 2012, the party took the next step electing a conservative Republican governor, Pat McCrory. The result has been predictable but striking: the state’s policy agenda has shifted to the very far right with breakneck speed.
David Graham pulled together a helpful round-up of some of the more reactionary elements of Republican governance in the Tar Heel State in 2013, but Ned Resnikoff paid particular attention to the fact that North Carolina is now the “only state in the union with no safety net for the long-term jobless.”
“Thanks to reforms in the state’s unemployment insurance laws, North Carolina’s 71,000-plus long-term unemployed residents will lose access to the federally funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program.
North Carolina is losing eligibility to the federal program because of a new law, signed by the governor in February of this year, which reduces the number of weeks that unemployed people are eligible for state-funded benefits and cuts the maximum weekly benefit amount by roughly one third, from $535 to $350. It is the latter provision that has cost North Carolina workers its eligibility: States looking to receive federal EUC money are forbidden from cutting weekly benefits. The federal government granted a special exemption from that rule to four other states last year, North Carolina’s request for a similar exemption was ignored.
“I would call these cuts obscene,” said Michael Leachman, director of state fiscal research for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The national standard for state unemployment benefits 26 weeks, which North Carolina will cut to 19. What’s more, while in 49 states, jobless Americans can access federal resources once state benefits are exhausted, in North Carolina, those struggling to find work will simply be out of luck.
Paul Krugman added that the policy is based on the apparent belief that life is “too easy” for the unemployed, so North Carolina Republicans have decided to punish them.
[North Carolina] was hit hard by the Great Recession, and its unemployment rate, at 8.8 percent, is among the highest in the nation, higher than in long-suffering California or Michigan. As is the case everywhere, many of the jobless have been out of work for six months or more, thanks to a national environment in which there are three times as many people seeking work as there are job openings.
Nonetheless, the state’s government has just sharply cut aid to the unemployed. In fact, the Republicans controlling that government were so eager to cut off aid that they didn’t just reduce the duration of benefits; they also reduced the average weekly benefit, making the state ineligible for about $700 million in federal aid to the long-term unemployed.
Keep in mind, this isn’t just cruel; it’s counter-productive. Unemployment benefits, especially when the economy is struggling, are an excellent, hyper-efficient form of stimulus – North Carolinians who are out of work aren’t going to stick jobless aid into a mutual fund; they’re going spend it quickly just to get by.
So, by punishing these struggling folks on purpose, state policymakers in the state are also punishing every business in the state that might have benefited from their patronage.
What we’re left with is a state with high unemployment, well above the national average; desperate jobless people who’ll have no real safety net, who’ll soon lose their meager buying power; and state businesses with fewer customers. It’s a recipe for even more miserable economic conditions, made possible when voters elected far-right candidates to run the entire state government.