In the White House Briefing Room on January 7, Barack Obama took to the microphone to take yet one more political pot-shot at Congress over the fact that long-term unemployment insurance benefits had expired while they were on winter recess and “how important to the economy” these benefits are. He made an astounding claim, one that is espoused by the leftists who accept the Keynesian philosophy as true: “But there’s an economic case for it, as well. Independent economists have shown that extending emergency unemployment insurance actually helps the economy, actually creates new jobs.”
Personally, I have never been able to make the math work with this theory; simple arithmetic is the only thing necessary for me. Government in and of itself has nothing to do with economic stimulation; any monies it has comes from taxing the citizenry. If you tax the grocer a dollar, send it through all the levels of government bureaucracy, each taking their cut, then give the pennies remaining to the unemployed person, how does it stimulate economic production by giving those pennies back to the grocer when buying a loaf of bread? The grocer is not able to take those pennies next door to the cobbler to buy the shoes he would have had he not had government taxed that money away from him in the first place. I can think of a good many labels to call this activity, but economic growth is not one of them.
Next we come to the notion of long-term unemployment benefits, financial assistance for those who have not found employment for over a year. Yes, it helps keep food on the table “while Dad is sending out résumés” and it helps Mom pay the rent “while she’s learning new skills for that new job”, as Obama said. But unemployment insurance benefits were not intended to be anything more than a stopgap–funds to tide you over briefly until you obtained another job, another source of income. Once upon a time you were not staying home sending out résumés–you were scouring the Want Ads in the local paper for something you could manage in order to put that food on the table. You weren’t learning new skills–you fit the ones you possessed to the job descriptions to take whatever you could to pay the rent.
When I was a young girl, my father’s union went on a strike that lasted over a year. In addition to being required to walk the picket line for eight hours every day, he took a job at a grocery store, re-stocking the shelves overnight. On Sunday, he was the counter-man at the local delicatessen. Long hours, sometimes it was brutal, but he did what he had to in order to pay the mortgage and keep food on our table. They weren’t anything like his regular job, and the two jobs combined did not replace his usual salary, but it got us through that long, difficult period. It is why they call it “work.”
Obama kept emphasizing a particular point in his speech, how the “long-term unemployed are not lacking in motivation”. I beg to differ. When you are hungry you will do just about anything not to be. Obama presented his usual “ordinary Americans” stories to help push his case for extension, including a woman named Devlin who was laid off thirteen months ago. She wrote to the president describing how she has done anything and everything to find a new full-time job and needs the long-term unemployment benefits to continue to help pay for her cellphone. Okay, I can see a phone is helpful, for job callbacks and such, but as I related to you, sometimes you need to accept part-time work in order to afford that which will help you on to the longer, permanent position. Another woman, Katherine, wrote what Obama called “a more eloquent letter than he could write” to make her plea for another extension of her benefits. Katherine wrote, “I have applied to everything for which I am possibly qualified to no avail.” My question to her would be, “Have you applied for everything, regardless? Would you take a job waiting tables or washing dishes in order to feed and house yourself, even if it meant you were overqualified, nothing you had studied for or have the long experience in? Would you try harder to find any type of job if the politicians in Washington recognized our nation is over $17 trillion in debt and we can no longer afford to pay your benefits?”
These women are in luck. Obama will win this PR fight, as the Members of Congress who possess a strong backbone and moral code are few and far between. The hue and cry of outrage from the more left of the aisle, the usual scare-mongering shouts of “Heartless!” and “Cruel!” will be resisted by a scant few. The extension will pass and be signed into enactment, and long-term unemployment benefits will continue on. People will not be hungry. The real motivating factors for earning a living, food, shelter, clothing, medicine, will be removed from the worry of those who receive the money.
And a little bit more of the old American ethic will disappear–use it or lose it.