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  • Empathy & Unemployment

       September 15, 2010

    I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about how America is a "nation of entitlements". I think the article has some good points, but I do object to the general attitude towards unemployment benefits. There seems to be this widespread belief that people on unemployment are living high on the hog and enjoying fun, carefree day after day.

    While there's certainly a large part of this country that doesn't actually pay taxes, I think there's also a large part of this country that has never had to deal with any serious financial setbacks. If they had, they'd know what people on unemployment feel like day after day.

    People on unemployment don't really want extensions beyond 99 weeks of benefits. People on unemployment want a good job. The maximum you can get in unemployment benefits varies by state, but it's generally between $350 - $500/week. And remember, that's the maximum, so if you were making, for example, $60,000 your income might be knocked down to just over $18,000. If you've built a $60,000 lifestyle and obligations, you're not going to be living it up, you're going to be making serious sacrifices.

    And that's just the money. When you're unemployed you feel depressed and worthless. Every job you never hear from is another way you feel like there's something seriously wrong with you. Then, you get these jackasses who think you should just get a job at McDonalds - as if McDonalds is in the habit of hiring 30-something marketing managers rather than pimply teenagers. As if McDonalds solves your problems or puts you in a better financial situation.

    Unemployment sucks. What sucks even more is when people think that the government should teach you a lesson about responsibility rather than help you survive. Mind you, this is the same government that gave billions to banks and car companies to bail them out from their own poor decisions. But God forbid we give Joe Six Pack another few thousand dollars so he doesn't end up on the street.

    The comments on the WSJ article are typically mean spirited:

    "I don't like taking government money," says Mr. Hester, but "what else is there?"

    The nagging question, is how much faster would Mr Hester (et al) have found an alternative source of income if there was NO government cash available?

    Entitlement outlays simply must be cut until the programs are viable (assuming we are forever stuck w/SS/Medicare/Medicaid).

    Can you imagine if there was no unemployment insurance at all? Imagine how powerless employees would be. If you were basically SOL if you got laid off what would you do to make sure that didn't happen? And if it did happen, what would you do?

    I also think a lot of people don't understand that unemployment insurance is a true safety net. People want to be on it for as little as possible. However, when times are really tough like right now, as little as possible is going to be longer:

    "A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted late last month found 61% of voters were 'enthusiastic' or 'comfortable' with congressional candidates who support cutting federal spending in general. But 56% expressed the same enthusiasm for candidates who voted to extend unemployment benefits."

    The 17% of voters who answered yes to both questions are exactly why I have no faith whatsoever that we will avoid the entitlement apocalypse. The numbers are even worse for SS & Medicare. Most people who say they want spending cuts are lying. Most candidates that say they will cut spending are lying.

    People don't support unemployment benefit extensions because they're inconsistent. They support them because they understand that people need help right now.

    I did read one really good comment that I think provides a solution I could support:

    We need BALANCE in our endeavors to provide assistance where there is legitimate need, while simultaneously inspiring individual responsibility & independence. In fairness to all, we need education regarding personal financial planning, circumstances enabling independence (such as reduced taxes), and suitable products, while simultaneously collecting ample taxes for the policies & programs necessary for federal service, ensuring that we charitably care for the vulnerable whose needs are unquestionable. We should assess and close all loopholes that enable cunning individuals to demonstrate deceptive illusions of need. Deception is clearly outside the intent of the law.

    Regarding entitlements discussed in this article, we need immediate attention to:

    1) THE EXTENSION OF UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS BEYOND 26 WEEKS: When INDIDIVUAL unemployment benefits expired at 26 weeks, Congress owed it to the American people to look at HOUSEHOLD income rather than individual job loss when deciding whether unemployed persons were eligible for extensions. When Congress extended individual benefits beyond 26 weeks to households having two heads and one enjoys continued employment capable of sustaining reasonable room and board, thereby enabling the second to stay at home, care for the home, and in some cases the children (thus reducing childcare and other costs associated with employment), our Congress acted irresponsibly. Extension without case assessment was irresponsible with respect to our federal deficit, and with respect to duty. It is an example of wasteful spending. Extensions at expiration should have incorporated a prudent look at each case relative to household need before authorizing further taxpayer expenditures on unemployment entitlements.

    Can we elect this person? I think they've got the right mix of empathy and practicality - qualities that seem to be lacking in both the electorate and the government right now.

    Posted by kris at September 15, 2010 09:59 AM

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