Ah, just in time for the Christmas season — wherein we celebrate the nativity of an individual who advocated feeding people , housing people, and restoring the incarcerated — the right wing hauls out all the ammo from the box about extending unemployment benefits, and other Grinchy items.
Grinch One: “Welfare pays more than minimum wage in 35 states, and more people are on welfare than have full-time jobs.” [RGJ] This, as the Gazette Journal helpfully explains, is the logical equivalent of bits of bituminous debris at the bottom of a Grinch stocking. In a demonstrably evident exercise in finding and massaging numbers to make them fit an ideological template — the conservatives have happily assumed that if a person receives any form of public assistance he or she must be receiving them all…each and every one. Not. So. Fast. That is hypothetically possible, but far from the usual case. Then, to compound the errors, the conservatives assume that if one person in a household receives any form of benefit — such as Granny on Medicaid — then everyone in the household is “receiving” welfare, thus inflating the figures beyond rational calculation. Somewhere between comparing apples and oranges, lemons and pomegranates, and eggplant and celery, the conservatives manage to “make their case.” Not really.
Grinch Two: Unemployment insurance benefits are “welfare.” Nupe. Employers and employees pay into the unemployment insurance benefit programs. The “insurance” plan into which they have paid is designed to run for 26 weeks, or 1/2 a year, to give people a cushion while looking for work. If the economy and related employment is “sluggish,” then the benefits can be extended for longer periods. One source of confusion is the omission of the word “insurance” from popular commentary — as when a broadcaster speaks of “unemployment benefits,” leaving the operative term out of the sentence. INSURANCE.
Grinch Three: People who subsist on unemployment benefits are less likely to seek work. Sorry, but this doesn’t take place in the real world. That a person is unemployed after a long period of time doesn’t mean the person wants to be unemployed for a long period of time. The assumption that an individual is “satisfied” to be unemployed ignores other factors, the most important of which that employers aren’t enthusiastic about hiring people who have changed jobs too often, or have been out of work because they lack updated job skills. [Atlantic] The longer a person is out of work the more likely employers are to hire “someone else.” Thus, blaming the out of work laborer for the actions of potential employers is misguided at best and cruel at worst.
Grinch Four: Offering people extended unemployment insurance benefits will create a nation of dependent people. Accepting this premise requires a leap of ideological faith festooned with all manner of purely academic propositions. At worst, this form of Grinchiness would assert that donating to your local food bank will only serve to make more people dependent upon charity — and at the core this thinking is little more than a rationale for unrestrained selfishness.
If any form of collective action to secure the very lives of those in need, public or private, is eschewed as contributory to dependency, then the obvious extrapolation is a denial of any form of altruism, any concern for our fellow human beings, and the creation of a dis-utopian nightmare of pure self aggrandizement and self absorption. Central to the self absorption is the creation of a framework in which the individual is justified in refusing assistance to anyone at any time who doesn’t meet the prospective donor’s outrageously high standards of “need.”
Consider the proposal that public benefits be denied to anyone who owns a motor vehicle, or a basic cable subscription, or an air conditioner [Heritage] — and then think of the trap in which a person without a motor vehicle would be placed if there were no way to get to work other than by commuting for 20 minutes or more? Consider the trap created when a person is declared ignorant of current affairs, but also thought ineligible for benefits if he or she secures access to cable news services? Finally, is the recipient of benefits considered at fault if the landlord is the source of the air-conditioning? When these questions are inserted into the conversation the discussion should move from the academic and hypothetical to the practical and human.
Grinch Five: We cannot support increasing numbers of people receiving public assistance. Who’s “we?” 95% of the income increase since 2009 has gone to the top 1%. [BusInsider] A more accurate rendition of Grinch Five would be to say: The United States cannot support a growing number of people eligible for public assistance without increasing the revenue available for social services.
A better question would be to ask: What can we do to reduce the number of people eligible for public assistance?
- Job training programs?
- Day care services for parents of young children?
- Increasing the minimum wage to a living wage?
- Public works investments and infrastructure renovation, rehabilitation, and improvements?
- Facilitation of the creation of manufacturing for new products? The energy sector seems alive with possibilities in this regard.
Perhaps this is the season to put aside the Grinch and to give more attention to the economic viability of Whoville. We can hope for a nation which provides a safety net for those facing economic hard times without fear that we are changing our fundamental values.
We can hope for an enlightened labor policy, emphasizing the factors which will help people find and keep employment without fear that the assistance will jeopardize our own security.
We can hope for a government which represents the hope of a nation rather than the “sum of all fears.” We could hope for a holiday season in which the Grinches are minimized and the spirit of the season is maximized.