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?
In 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.