July 8, 2010
Why won’t Congress reauthorize unemployment benefits for people who’ve been out of work for longer than six months? For the past several weeks, Republicans in the Senate, with an assist from Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, filibustered bills to reauthorize the benefits due to concerns about adding the cost of the aid to the deficit.
Beneath the deficit concerns, however, there’s something else: the suspicion that the long-term unemployed are a bunch of lazy drug addicts. It’s not an opinion openly shared by most members of Congress, but a handful of senators and representatives from both parties have said this year that they suspect extended unemployment benefits actually discourage people from looking for work.
It started in March with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who said unemployment insurance “doesn’t create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.”
In May, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said extended benefits undermine the economic recovery because they “basically keep an economy that encourages people to, rather than go out and look for work, to stay on unemployment.”
And Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), after pushing party leaders to trim a domestic aid bill, said that in light of four months of job growth, “At some point you have to take a step back and look at the relative value of unemployment benefits versus people looking for jobs.”
Altmire said business owners in his district (he declined to say which ones) complained of hiring trouble because potential workers would rather stay on the dole.