mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

Republicans: A Party of Unemployment

Sen Orrin Hatch-"Drug test the unemployed"

From now until 2 November, the Republican party will be the party of unemployment. The logic is straightforward: the more people who are unemployed on election day, the better the prospects for Republicans in the fall election. They expect, with good cause, that voters will hold the Democrats responsible for the state of the economy. Therefore, anything that the Republicans can do to make the economy worse between now and then will help their election prospects.

While it may be bad taste to accuse a major national political party of deliberately wanting to throw people out of jobs, there is no other plausible explanation for the Republicans’ behaviour. They have balked at supporting nearly every bill that had any serious hope of creating or keeping jobs, most recently filibustering on bills that provided aid to state and local governments and extending unemployment benefits. The result of the Republicans’ actions, unless they are reversed quickly, is that hundreds of thousands more workers will be thrown out of work by the mid-terms.

The story is straightforward. Nearly every state and local government across the country is looking at large budget shortfalls for their 2011 fiscal years, most of which begin on 1 July 2010. Since they are generally required by state constitutions or local charters to balance their budgets, they will have no choice except to raise taxes and/or make large cutbacks and lay off workers to bring spending and revenue into line.

State and local governments have cut their workforce by an average of 65,000 a month over the last three months. Without substantial aid from the federal government, this pace is likely to accelerate. The Republican agenda in blocking aid to the states may add another 300,000 people to the unemployment rolls by early November.

The blocking of extended unemployment benefits promises similar dividends. As Paul Krugman rightly notes this week, unemployment benefits are not just about providing income support to those who are out of work, they also provide a boost to the economy. Since unemployed workers generally have little other than their benefits to support themselves, this is money that will almost immediately be spent. The benefits paid to workers are income to food stores and other retail outlets.

Unemployment insurance provides the sort of boost to demand that the economy desperately needs. That is why neutral parties such as the congressional budget office or economist Mark Zandi, a top adviser to John McCain’s presidential bid, always list unemployment benefits as one of the best forms of stimulus.

Republicans give two reasons for opposing benefits. First, they claim that benefits discourage people from working. Second, they object that the Democrats’ proposal will add to the national debt.

On the first point there is a considerable amount of economic research. Most indicates that in periods when the economy is operating near its capacity, more generous benefits may modestly increase the unemployment rate. However, they are less likely to have that effect now. The reason is simple: the economy does not have enough jobs. The latest data from the labour department shows that there are five unemployed workers for every job opening.

In this context, unemployment benefits may give some workers the option to remain unemployed longer to find a job that better fits their skills, but they are unlikely to affect the total number of unemployed. In other words, a $300 weekly unemployment cheque may allow an experienced teacher the luxury of looking for another teaching job, rather than being forced to grab a job at Wal-Mart.

However, if the teacher took the job at Wal-Mart, then this would simply displace a recent high-school graduate who has no other job opportunities. That might be a great turn of events in Republican-econ land, but it does not reduce the overall unemployment rate, nor does it benefit the overall economy in any obvious way.

The other argument the Republicans give is that these bills would add to the national debt. For example, the latest extension of unemployment benefits would have added $22bn to the debt by the end of 2011. This means that the debt would be $9,807,000,000 instead of $9,785,000,000 at the end of fiscal 2011, an increase of the debt-to-GDP ratio from 65.3% to 65.4%.

It is possible that Congressional Republicans, who were willing to vote for hundreds of billions of dollars of war expenditures without paying for them, or trillions of dollars of tax cuts without paying for them, are actually concerned about this sort of increase in the national debt. It is possible that this is true, but not very plausible.

The more likely explanation is that the Republicans want to block anything that can boost the economy and create jobs. Throwing people out of work may not be pretty, but politics was never pretty, and it is getting less so by the day.

Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited. Published on Tuesday, July 6, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

July 6, 2010 Posted by | Unemployed | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Punishing the Jobless

 

Paul Krugman-Nobel Prize Winner in Economics

There was a time when everyone took it for granted that unemployment insurance, which normally terminates after 26 weeks, would be extended in times of persistent joblessness. It was, most people agreed, the decent thing to do.

But that was then. Today, American workers face the worst job market since the Great Depression, with five job seekers for every job opening, with the average spell of unemployment now at 35 weeks. Yet the Senate went home for the holiday weekend without extending benefits. How was that possible?

The answer is that we’re facing a coalition of the heartless, the clueless and the confused. Nothing can be done about the first group, and probably not much about the second. But maybe it’s possible to clear up some of the confusion.

By the heartless, I mean Republicans who have made the cynical calculation that blocking anything President Obama tries to do — including, or perhaps especially, anything that might alleviate the nation’s economic pain — improves their chances in the midterm elections. Don’t pretend to be shocked: you know they’re out there, and make up a large share of the G.O.P. caucus.

By the clueless I mean people like Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for senator from Nevada, who has repeatedly insisted that the unemployed are deliberately choosing to stay jobless, so that they can keep collecting benefits. A sample remark: “You can make more money on unemployment than you can going down and getting one of those jobs that is an honest job but it doesn’t pay as much. We’ve put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry.”

Now, I don’t have the impression that unemployed Americans are spoiled; desperate seems more like it. One doubts, however, that any amount of evidence could change Ms. Angle’s view of the world — and there are, unfortunately, a lot of people in our political class just like her.

But there are also, one hopes, at least a few political players who are honestly misinformed about what unemployment benefits do — who believe, for example, that Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, was making sense when he declared that extending benefits would make unemployment worse, because “continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.” So let’s talk about why that belief is dead wrong.

Do unemployment benefits reduce the incentive to seek work? Yes: workers receiving unemployment benefits aren’t quite as desperate as workers without benefits, and are likely to be slightly more choosy about accepting new jobs. The operative word here is “slightly”: recent economic research suggests that the effect of unemployment benefits on worker behavior is much weaker than was previously believed. Still, it’s a real effect when the economy is doing well.

But it’s an effect that is completely irrelevant to our current situation. When the economy is booming, and lack of sufficient willing workers is limiting growth, generous unemployment benefits may keep employment lower than it would have been otherwise. But as you may have noticed, right now the economy isn’t booming — again, there are five unemployed workers for every job opening. Cutting off benefits to the unemployed will make them even more desperate for work — but they can’t take jobs that aren’t there.

Wait: there’s more. One main reason there aren’t enough jobs right now is weak consumer demand. Helping the unemployed, by putting money in the pockets of people who badly need it, helps support consumer spending. That’s why the Congressional Budget Office rates aid to the unemployed as a highly cost-effective form of economic stimulus. And unlike, say, large infrastructure projects, aid to the unemployed creates jobs quickly — while allowing that aid to lapse, which is what is happening right now, is a recipe for even weaker job growth, not in the distant future but over the next few months.

But won’t extending unemployment benefits worsen the budget deficit? Yes, slightly — but as I and others have been arguing at length, penny-pinching in the midst of a severely depressed economy is no way to deal with our long-run budget problems. And penny-pinching at the expense of the unemployed is cruel as well as misguided.

So, is there any chance that these arguments will get through? Not, I fear, to Republicans: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” said Upton Sinclair, “when his salary” — or, in this case, his hope of retaking Congress — “depends upon his not understanding it.” But there are also centrist Democrats who have bought into the arguments against helping the unemployed. It’s up to them to step back, realize that they have been misled — and do the right thing by passing extended benefits.

By PAUL KRUGMAN-Published: July 4, 2010 NYT Op-ED
Photo:Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

July 5, 2010 Posted by | Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: