[Guest post by Lee Stranahan]
Another day, another illusion-sustaining scary headline at The Huffington Post.
I say illusion sustaining because the goal of the article is not actually to help people who are unemployed. If that were the goal, an entrepreneur like Arianna Huffington might have any number of useful things to say to the people facing the prospect of no income. In fact, to be fair, I think the Huffington Post actually does have a number of articles that are useful to would be entrepreneurs, usually found on the Business or Life sections.
But the Politics section is the big eye-magnet for the Huffington Post so it gets front-page headlines. The real point of this article is to reaffirm to the mostly liberal readers of the Huffington post that the Democratic talking point of extending unemployment benefits is the only salvation for the unemployed.
As I’ve argued before, long-term unemployment benefits aren’t any sort of panacea because our long-term employment scenario has changed due to the digital revolution of the last decade. In short, many of the jobs that have gone away are not coming back, ever. Those jobs are remnants of a bygone era and the sooner policymakers get real about that point, the sooner they can start dealing with some solutions that might actually work.
Let’s put this in some practical terms and take a look at the first few paragraphs of the Huffington Post article…
Robin St. Louis of Charlotte, N.C. lost her job as a sales rep just before Christmas in 2009 and said she hasn’t had much luck with her job search since then.
"Looking for a job, it seems your résumé goes into a black hole," St. Louis, 46, told HuffPost, describing the process of flinging one job application after another at unresponsive potential employers and staffing agencies.
St. Louis said her family is grateful for the $325 she’s received every week in unemployment insurance since her layoff: "This money’s sustaining us.
The amount of money that will be lost to this woman and many like her is $325 per week. That translates into roughly $60 a day, five days a week.
My thought on this is that it can’t be that difficult to teach someone how to earn $60 a day. Starting a simple service or home-based business should be able to net somebody putting in the effort $60 a day and possibly much more.
How much better the entire economy would this be? Even the proponents of unemployment benefits know that it’s not the same as productivity; it’s taking money from someone’s pocket and putting it into someone else’s. Yes, it’s the redistribution of wealth – but let me point out that I think there are plenty of cases where the redistribution of wealth is needed, such as providing some sort of basic safety social net. But my view is also that this sort of redistribution is far from ideal and that 99+ weeks of benefits are way beyond the bounds of a reasonable social safety net.
Is there any role for government here? I’d argue that an efficiently run government program that put people to work doing something productive would be a greatly superior alternative to extending unemployment benefits out into infinity. For instance, there is no shortage of trash to be picked up or vacant lots to be turned into community gardens.
I’d love to see some actual research into how many people who are collecting unemployment benefits actually want to work. Whenever I bring this topic up, I’m always met with the answer that most people really and truly want to work. I just don’t believe it. Sorry, my personal experience tells me that there are people out there who are quite happy collecting unemployment and going through the motions of filling out job applications willy-nilly or whatever other hoop they need to jump through to collect a check. This is all anecdotal of course which is why I said I would love to see some real numbers.
In the meantime, is it too much to ask for some political middle ground between the people on the left who think that these benefits should keep going on and on forever and the people on the right who simply want to cut them off cold. Can we put some thought into creating some programs that spur productivity and give people willing to work a chance at a different future?
– Lee Stranahan