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.