A man at a rally who feels that certain elected officials ought to join the ranks of the unemployed. PHOTO: Paula Summerwind, CC license
Unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed expired on January 1st, setting the stage for the first big political battle of 2014. Harry Reid has promised to bring an unemployment benefits extension up for a vote when the Senate returns on January 6th. Republicans in the House will grumble about the deficit and the $25 billion cost of unemployment benefits. Here are 5 reasons that extending unemployment benefits ought to be a colossal no-brainer:
1. Unemployment benefits benefit everyone
Many conservatives see unemployment benefits as a wealth transfer from the tax payers to the poor, and yes, that is what they are, but that leaves out the fact that unemployment benefits are one of the best ways to stimulate the economy. Why? Because the gasoline the economy drives on is spending, and unemployment benefits are spent at something close to 100%.
2. There are more job seekers than jobs right now
We are still in a depressed, underperforming economy. Some jobs lost in 2007 and 2008 might not be coming back, but others are just waiting for the economy to perk back up. While it is true that unemployment benefits can be demotivating for the people receiving them, there are still plenty of job seekers to fill what openings there are. This demotivating effect is the biggest reason to cut unemployment benefits, but it’s not really a factor in this economy. What is a factor is that the economy is underperforming, meaning that it has unrealized potential. Economic stimulus can help the economy reach full potential. What’s a great form of stimulus? See point 1.
3. Funding the unemployed has positive effects that are difficult to measure
Unemployment benefits can keep people away from crime. They can help pay for medicine or for a child’s food. They give people a buffer while they learn new skills. For poor Americans, $500 a month can make all the difference in the world. We can see some of that difference in economic measurements, but the biggest benefits are the ones we can’t see.
4. I can think of some more expensive bailouts in recent memory
Not that everything should be compared to the bank bailouts, but the U.S. government, while chiding the banks, also handed over hundreds of billions to individual banks to save the economy from falling apart. If you want money in America, it helps to already be rich.
5. We are happily spending money on much less important stuff
The War on Drugs costs about twice as much annually as these unemployment benefits. Corn subsidies are in the low billions, but that’s still way too high. Banks get billions in de facto insurance, because they still know we will bail them out. $25 billion isn’t much compared to the rest of the U.S. budget.
If reasonable people were making this decision, unemployment benefits would never have expired. Instead we have the U.S. Congress, which is half-run by hard right Republicans who oppose all non-military spending and think that cutting subsidies to the poor is a form of helping them out.