Las Vegas Sun

November 25, 2015

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Let them eat cake

That’s the heartless response of those who won’t extend jobless benefits

Republican opposition in Congress has stalled legislation that would extend much-needed benefits to unemployed workers. While Republican leaders complain about the cost of extended benefits, it is not merely a budgetary issue. The bill’s critics also question the value of unemployment payments, and some have been as brazen as to call the benefit an “entitlement.”

As we have noted before, some conservatives stunningly argue that benefits keep people from looking for work. As Anjeanette Damon reported in Sunday’s Las Vegas Sun, several of the bill’s critics have pointed to some studies that say workers with benefits take longer to find a job and are typically more productive in their job searches as their benefits run out. Some critics even contend that unemployment benefits do little to help spur the economy.

However, before jumping to conclusions, like Republican Senate nominee Sharron Angle’s ridiculous belief that American workers are “spoiled” by unemployment benefits, let’s consider the full context. The studies the critics referenced weren’t done in a time with high unemployment. In fact, Lawrence Katz, whose work has been cited in support of the theory, said those studies aren’t relevant today.

Last year Katz told that he supports an extension of unemployment benefits “when the labor market is weak and the ratio of job seekers to job openings is very high.” That would mean at a time like now. The nation is in the worst economy since the Great Depression with an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent. There are more than 14.5 million people out of work and another 2.5 million who are discouraged and have given up looking for work, according to the Labor Department.

It’s not as if there are jobs waiting for the people who lose their benefits. According to recent research, there are about five applicants for every open job nationwide. In 2007, there were two applicants for every open job. Carolyn Wilson, who heads a Reno nonprofit agency that helps people find work, said the situation is worse in Nevada. “For every job opening we have here there are probably at least 50 people applying for it,” she said. “That’s how bad it has gotten.”

Nevada leads the nation in the percentage of people unemplyed at 14 percent. There are 120,000 Nevadans out of work, and that doesn’t include those who have given up looking. Now there are about 2 million Americans who have run out of benefits because Republicans have blocked the legislation to extend the benefits. Most states typically offer unemployment for 26 weeks, and it’s notable that nearly half of the unemployed people in the nation have been jobless for more than 26 weeks.

The lack of benefits for the jobless will hurt the economy. Some economists say every dollar of unemployment benefits generates $1.60 for the economy because people who are unemployed spend the money.

Despite arguments to the contrary, this isn’t about people being spoiled or lazy. There aren’t jobs available. This is about ideology: The right-wing crowd doesn’t like government, and they are willing to let millions of Americans suffer to get their way. That is tragic.

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