Because Being Poor And Unemployed Is Just One Big Vacation

With all the moaning and groaning over ObamaCare in the mainstream press—including those godawful comparisons to Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War—and with all the ridiculous coverage of that crazy, crack-smoking mayor in Canada, many people have forgotten about the unemployed in this country.

But Chad Stone, the Chief Economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, isn’t one of those people who have forgotten. Last week U.S. News and World Report published a piece he wrote, “The Unemployment Insurance Cliff.” It begins:

Unless the president and Congress act before the end of the year, more than a million Americans will have the plug pulled on their jobless benefits the week after Christmas, and many others who’ve recently become unemployed or will become unemployed next year will see them sharply curtailed.  That would increase hardship for those workers and their families, and it would be bad for the economy.

What he is talking about is the expiration of a program called Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), which was created when George W. Bush was still president in June of 2008. The program, Stone says, “increased the number of weeks of federal emergency benefits as the Great Recession worsened in late 2008 and 2009.” And although it has been extended “several times” in order “to mount  a strong enough recovery to restore the labor market to normal health,” Republicans “want to kill the program.”

That’s a big surprise, isn’t it? Republicans want to kick folks off unemployment benefits? Who could have guessed that?

In any case, Stone posted this amazing graph:

As you can see, the Great Recession really was the Great Recession. And Stone reminds us that not only was that recession “so much worse” than previous recessions, but if it weren’t for unemployment insurance, the damn thing “would have been deeper and the recovery even slower.” Because, you see, unemployment insurance puts money in the pockets of folks who otherwise wouldn’t have it. And where does that money end up? Yes, it ends up going into the economy, which helps everyone, even rich everyones who own superstores like Walmart.

But Republicans have a theory about what that money really does, especially when it gets extended through programs like EUC. You know what their theory is called? The Great Vacation theory. Yes. That’s what economist Chad Stone calls it:

The “Great Vacation” narrative holds that unemployment insurance (UI) benefits — in particular, the added weeks of benefits for the long-term unemployed that Congress has funded in the past few years — have dissuaded millions of unemployed workers from taking a job.  If, then, jobless workers would get off their duff (or if we would give them a good swift kick there), unemployment would plummet.

The Great Vacation Theory of unemployment insurance has a cousin. It’s called the Hammock Theory, as in “the social safety net has become a hammock.” That has always been one of Rush Limbaugh’s favorite little digs at poor people. And perhaps you remember when Republican Paul Ryan, introducing his infamous budget-slashing plan to America in 2011, compared his plan to the so-called successful welfare reforms under Bill Clinton:

This budget extends those successes . . . to ensure that America’s safety net does not become a hammock that lulls able-bodied citizens into lives of complacency and dependency.

Yep, all those hungry kids that get food and health benefits from the government are living a life of leisure and, by God, Republicans are eager to help make them productive citizens by cutting the help going to their families.

Yep, all those elderly and disabled folks who get government help are endangering the country with their sloth.

Yep, those working poor who get such benefits as Ryan sought to cut don’t know they are lounging around in a hammock of “complacency and dependency” and it is up to Jesus-loving GOP lawmakers to push them out of their comfortable hammock and into…what?

Did you know, according to the Department of Agriculture, that in 2011:

Seventy-six percent of SNAP [the old “food stamp” program] households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person, and these households received 83 percent of all benefits.

Did you know that? And did you know this:

Nearly half (49 percent) of all SNAP households with children had earned income; 40 percent of single-adult households with children and 64 percent of married-head households with children had earned income. Four percent of all households with children had both TANF [the old AFDC program that provides a little cash to poor families with kids] and earned income.

That’s a helluva a hammock those folks are swinging in. I don’t know how they have time for all that “complacency and dependency” when they’re out there earning income, do you?

snap announcementIn any case, the Democrats stimulus plan passed in 2009 (remember the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?) temporarily increased SNAP benefits to those hammock-loving kids and old folks and the disabled. But that temporary increase ended on November 1 and SNAP households have seen their meager benefits cut. And there ain’t no way on God’s GOP-governed earth that SNAP benefits will go up again. As CBPP put it:

Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014. 

That’ll teach those slackers!

And now, according to Chad Stone, we have Republicans wanting to kill emergency unemployment insurance because they believe it “has created a ‘Great Vacation’ in which workers prefer unemployment benefits to a job.”

Meanwhile, most of what you hear on TV news these days is either stories about a crack-crazed Canadian mayor, or how Democrats didn’t adequately foresee every possible problem with making our healthcare system a little more humane for millions upon millions of Americans.

And that, my friends, is how Republicans can do their dirty work and get away with it.

7 Comments

  1. ansonburlingame

     /  November 19, 2013

    Duane,

    You are touching on a big and important topic herein, systemic, long term difficulty in finding and keeping good paying jobs in America. And it ain’t just the “poor” facing such a problem.

    My granddaughter is a sophomore at U of Arkansas. Straight A’s in high school and thus far straight A’s at UA. She is seriously considering going to law school after college. BUT check on line and stories are rampant about unemployment for students graduating from law school today, in the 50% range to be unable to find a job as a lawyer, right out of law school. Too many lawyers is the analysis stated by more than a few pundits which makes sense to me. Solution of course might be to increase the number of law suits, right???

    My senior in high school grandson, brother to the above girl, is applying for early admission to Yale. And he stands at least a chance of getting it. He thinks he wants to become a doctor. Now fast forward 25 years from now and consider the earnings of good doctors, with more and more socialized medicine looming on the horizon. Then consider the $500,000 or more it will cost for 4 years at Yale and God knows how many years in training before he starts earning money, real money as a doctor. Wonder how that kind of debt will be paid off in the future.

    Your call along with most progressives is for the federal government to do more. Spend more tax dollars for the government to do “something” to relieve unemployment, right now and to support more the people currently unemployed. If nothing else you are calling for a long term system of government paid unemployment benefits to support living costs for about half of Americans today.

    But if you wade through your humanitarian points above, you find NO call for how much taxes must go up, long term, to support such cost of living benefits for half (or more) of America today.

    You want the federal government to establish an acceptable cost of living benefit program for all Americans but fail to tell us just how much that will cost and where the money will come from to achieve that lofty goal. I submit that “a little bit more” from 10% of Americans won’t touch such a program of benefits. It will take wholesale redistribution of income in America at government demand to do what you call for doing.

    Now read Robert Reich’s column in today’s Globe (Tuesday). You two sound the same. I for one at least, will resist such attempts for as long as I can use a computer and publish in some form, my own views on the matter.

    Anson

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    • Anson,

      I hope your bright granddaughter pursues her dream despite worries about crowded opportunities in the legal profession. Perhaps you can steer her away from “trial law” into more lucrative specialization, such as corporate tax law or acquisitions and mergers. Assuming that ObamaCare does not destroy the economy, I am confident that sharp cookies will flourish should a Fortune 500 Company find their skillset a benefit.

      I must quibble with your take on wealth distribution. Today, ten percent of our wealthiest citizens own eighty percent of all financial assets. Five members of the Walton family have more money than forty percent of the population, earning $4, 756 per minute. Considering the average after-tax salary for Wal-Mart employees is approximately $17,000 per year, it seems rather stingy to encourage their below poverty line workers donate food so even hungrier colleagues will have something to eat for Thanksgiving.

      I am sure you know that Wal-Mart is the country’s largest employer and remember when General Motors claimed the top spot. In 1970, the average salary for the largest employer was $15,000. Multiply that number by six and then compare it to what Wal-Mart employees make in 2013 dollars. Wages have not stagnated; they have plummeted. Adding insult to injury, the second largest employer is McDonalds.

      And you wonder where all the money is. The only thing you resist is reality.
      .

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      • That was a helluva response, John. Wow.

        Let’s not forget that both McDonald’s and Wal-Mart are essentially using public assistance programs to subsidize their businesses. In some states, Wal-Mart workers are the largest group of folks on Medicaid and food stamps. McDonald’s actually has a program designed to help their employees take advantage of the available government help.

        The bottom line is this: a few people are growing rich by running corporations that count on welfare programs to keep many of their employees healthy enough to come to work every day. What is so hard to understand about right-wingers, is why they can’t see that obvious fact.

        Duane

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    • Anson,

      It is your right to “resist” attempts to make America a better place for all. Keep it up by all means. But let me say just two things here:

      1. I have advocated tax increases not just for the top 10%, which should be even higher than they are, but for all who earn relatively substantial income in America. The only thing I have suggested is not raising taxes on less affluent Americans while we are still struggling to recover from the economic mess of 2007-2008. I have also criticized President Obama for making most of the infamous Bush tax cuts permanent.

      2. Let me ask you about your grandson who wants to be a Yale-trained doctor: Why does he have to go to Yale? Why can’t he go to a less expensive school? If he wants to go to Yale because a diploma from that school would enable him to earn more money in his practice, then why complain about the high costs?

      Also, you ask us to “consider the earnings of good doctors, with more and more socialized medicine looming on the horizon.” I think you have that backwards. Why don’t we first consider how people who have no insurance or have inadequate insurance are supposed to pay those “good doctors” to treat them? And, further, the trend by many employers has been to reduce benefits to employees who they provide with insurance. In some cases, like my own daughter who works for a school district in Scottsdale, the trend has been toward what essentially is catastrophic insurance, which means putting off doctor’s visits until things get measurably worse. Not only does that make people sicker, but how does that help “good doctors”?

      Our system is broken, Anson. Compared to the rest of the civilized world, we spend way too much money for little if any associated marginal benefits. ObamaCare, or as you falsely call it, “socialized medicine,” may not be the answer in the end. It may not work as designed. It may take something else. Perhaps one day we will have Medicare for all, or something like it that you and your right-wing friends can truly call socialized medicine. But in the mean time, at least Democrats are trying to do something about the fact that a lot of people in this country do not have insurance and can’t afford to go see your “good doctors,” and other people are grossly under-insured and can’t afford to see those doctors either. The party you generally support, while they were in power, did exactly nothing to try to fix this problem, nor do they offer any new ideas now.

      Duane

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  2. ansonburlingame

     /  November 20, 2013

    OK, John, another reasonable set of points from you.

    Let me put it this way. There are the top 1% and the bottom 15% in America. Always have been and always will be. It is what to really do about those in between. I remain convienced that redistributing income by government decree is the wrong approach.

    But what to do remains the open and difficult question. I remaim firm in my belief that EDUCATION is the key. All those people in the “middle” must adapt to a very rapidly changing world where “new thinking” is needed, desperately.

    Long, long ago I was faced with such a challenge. While in a college where the educational curriculm was changing dramatically, from a “trade school” education to one of broad exposure to fundamental science, math and engineering, I wondered “what to do when I grow up”. The day I graduated from college I had NO intention of a career in the military, for sure. 4 years and go somewhere else was my intention. But I caught on in an emerging program that was complex, challenging, hard to get into and hard to stay in once there, nuclear power. I wound up making a career of such a profession, both in the military and as a civilian.

    If I was in that position today I would not touch nuclear power with a ten foot pole. But I would “leap” into cyber specialties, first in the military and then who knows. Lawyer, doctor, nuclear program manager, no way but cyber “stuff”, well the future is very broad and vague right now, both in the military and civilian world.

    Now I submit that neither of my “silver spoon in their mouths” grandkids stand a chance now to even begin to study “cyber”. They are way behind that curve now as neither has the technical background to face such courses in college today, much less go on to higher levels in such studies.

    The average kids graduating from high school, not the top drawer kids, should have the options before him or her to go for a golden ring of some sort, a new field of rapidly changing fields. Hardly any of them, even the top 10% have such skills to get into the ground floor of such things today.

    Finally, I was lucky for sure to be able to get into and then advance in a tough field, professionally. I went up in that field and did reasonably well. BUT there were a host of :others” that joined me in that profession. No they did not become the President of a company later on, getting into the top 10% of America. But they had the chance to be in the top 50% for sure, solid middle class lives, making good money and working their butts off doing so, for good careers. Almost all of them were high school graduates only but with advanced techical education along the way to help them proceed, always upward. As well MANY of those men came from backgrounds of poverty, etc. But they sure as hell did not stay there, either.

    Fix the education system and my God the sky is the limit for America, in my view. Let the education system founder as has been happening for 50 years however and just wonder what the hell those kids are going to do when the grow up??

    Anson

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  3. The nature of work has changed. Permanently. Automotive production lines now have robots in place of workers and there’s every reason to expect the trend to continue. I agree with Anson that education would seem to offer a solution because high-tech jobs are going begging, as are others that require vigorous work under stressful conditions. Cases in point: welding, iron-working, brick-laying, framing, roofing, farm labor. How ironic that many such jobs are filled by the now-diminishing labor pool of illegal workers, a pool that the Tea Party wants to eliminate.

    Anson sees the solution in a rigorous budget and seems to think the GOP offers that, but they are neck-deep in hypocrisy. They violently oppose “Obamacare” and yet offer no viable alternative. They rail against the growing national debt while ignoring that, unlike his predecessor, president Obama has steadily reduced budget deficits while nurturing the economy out of the greatest recession since the Great Depression. They advocate continuing to stoke a military budget that, fueled by fears of terrorism, continues to pump out Cold-war style munitions inappropriate for the new threats.Their policies are moribund.

    I see little hope of improvement in the education conundrum, ham-strung as it is by politics and social hyper-sensitivities. The problem is not laziness, but it is cultural. Most of the recent generation, the Millennials, appear to have been raised in a cocoon of relative comfort and indulgence and have an expectation that it will continue. Children of families on SNAP, a growing minority, are about to pay a high price for this trend. As Duane’s essay points out so well, Melville’s assessment from two centuries ago still rings true:

    “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.”
    — Herman Melville, US novelist & sailor (1819 – 1891)

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  4. Sedate Me

     /  January 8, 2014

    The Poors should just hurry up and die in order to “decrease the surplus population”, as they say.

    As Anson correctly points out, helping The Poors avoid starvation would just increase the tax burden on the rest of us by at least a few bucks a year. It may even force the Job Creators (peace be upon them) to degrade themselves by doing something that might eat into their profits (repatriating jobs, paying living wages, etc) or raise their taxes, which are already far too burdensome.

    We just can’t have that!

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