Monday, January 6, 2014

Unemployment Extensions

The big debate that is dominating the airwaves at this point seems to be unemployment benefits. Democrats want to extend them, while Republicans want to clip them back. Both sides have principles on the line in this debate.

Democrats see unemployment benefits as necessary for maintaining a minimum level of humanity for families with unemployed adults. They believe that, if a person is out of work, they should still be able to provide the basics for their family's existence. On the other hand, Republicans believe that provided long-term unemployment benefits reduce the incentive for people to go out and get a job, and that there is so much misuse of the system that it costs much more money than it should.

I happen to agree with both of these groups, which both make good arguments for their case. On the one hand, I have seen firsthand the waste, fraud, and abuse of unemployment. I know that many people out there use the system as their primary income, that they purchase expensive electronics and nice clothes, and that they find the cracks in the system and exploit them. But I also know that many people rely on these programs because they've been laid off, that they want to work, and that they try hard to get off the programs. I know that some places just don't have enough jobs for the number of people looking, and that the time-worn mantra of "McDonalds is always hiring" rings hollow in many an ear.

One of the points that's hardly ever made anymore is that the unemployment system is set up to help people find jobs. I've worked closely with many people on unemployment, and I've seen the paperwork and requirements involved. They have to complete a certain number of hours of job search and/or volunteering a week, usually 30-40 hours. They have to provide proof that they are applying for jobs. They have to meet weekly with economic service workers to review this information. They may have attend classes on how to polish their resumes or on how to fill out forms. There is a lot that they are supposed to do.

If a person on unemployment wants to get off of it, there are many tools available to help them. From job fairs to lists of employers, training programs and free seminars. For those who want to stay on unemployment, there is enough gray area and loopholes to make that possible. If we want to curb the money that unemployment costs us, and get more people into the workforce, I don't believe cutting unemployment limits is the answer. Rather, give economics service workers the authority to reduce or eliminate funding based on the individual. They know the ones who are gaming the system, and they know which ones are serious. You can't create a dragnet that catches everyone when only about half are really the problem.

In my mind, unemployment is a bad thing, and should be dealt with. We could create all the jobs we need overnight just be investing in infrastructure jobs, expanding our highway, rail, communications, and energy sectors, providing training for new workers, and raising the minimum wage (which is another whole debate in itself). Until that happens, though, we should be giving people a minimum level of support to keep them in their homes, keep food on their tables, and provide them with the basics.

3 comments:

samp said...

In the last sentence of your penultimate paragraph you state "you can't create a dragnet that catches everyone when ONLY (emphasis added) are really the problem. Half??? Really? If it's that many then something should be done. And even if only half of the half are caught it would be a great savings. In my book half is way too many violators to just ignore. And finally, IF they know who that half are why haven't they gone after them?

Chain-thinker said...

It's true that I said half, but I should clarify that I don't have an exact number; nobody does. It speaks to the question you have, which is why no one does anything to stop the abusers. The truth is that those who deal directly with people in the system do not have the authority to deny support. They can sanction the individual for failing to meet requirements, but if the person is turning in bogus paperwork (going to places that are not hiring to ask for work is very common), there's nothing they can do. Furthermore, a person who fails to do even the bare minimum still gets a small amount of money that, coupled with other subsidies, allows them to subsist.

Again, these are problems that only come from a fraction of the population on unemployment, and I'm not sure how large that fraction is. In my experience, it is a good-sized chunk, but not nearly a majority.

Now, if you wanted to improve this, I would say that you need to force people to volunteer, or work for a certain minimum number of hours each week. Don't let them fill their requirements just with applications. Find companies that will take them on for X number of hours a week, and pay them a minimum wage. If the people want subsidy from the state or federal government, the system should find them a job to do until they can find one themselves. That way, if they aren't interested in working, they don't get any money. Sound fair to you?

samp said...

Yes, it sounds fair that those who receive support from those who work should themselves work. There must be a number of jobs, volunteer or otherwise that could be found to "allow" those being supported by the system to actually contribute to that support. It's able bodied 20-somethings, both male and female that drives me crazy. So, their solution is to have another kid after all we can't let the little children suffer. How despicable to use children.