Leaving the Unemployed to Fight For Themselves

By: Denny Tang

During the start of the Recession in 2008, Congress, with the approval of then-President George W. Bush, had passed legislation extending benefits to those that were unemployed for a period of time of more than 26 weeks.[1]  This benefit is referred to as long-term unemployment benefits.[2]  Some states that required more assistance received up to 99 weeks of long-term unemployment benefits.[3]  The recipients of these benefits, which for some approximated to $126 a week, survived purely on these benefits, as it was their only source of income.[4]  Since its inception in 2008, long-term unemployment benefits have been extended 11 times.[5]  However, in December of 2013, Congress, instead of further extending the benefits, let the program lapse, ending the benefits for more than 1.7 million people.[6]

Proponents for the budget cut of long-term unemployment benefits stress that by further extending the benefits the federal government is inhibiting people’s urge to find employment.[7]  There is evidence of this in other countries, such as in Europe, where unemployment benefits are provided for a much longer period of time and replace more than just the loss of income; there is a general trend of longer periods of unemployment amongst their citizens.[8]  But long-term unemployment in this country is not as beneficial, so economists sought to discover if this seemingly meager weekly income is enough to individuals from seeking employment.[9]  Two economists, Alan Krueger of Princeton University and Andreas Mueller of the University of Stockholm, found that after 12 weeks of being unemployed, the unemployed spend approximately 30 minutes less searching for employment, which is a drastic decrease, considering the average person surveyed spent only about 70 to 100 minutes searching for employment.[10]  Krueger and Mueller credit the decrease in employment-seeking activity due to the emotional strain associated in the search for employment.[11]  Surveyors noted high levels of stress and anxiety and low level of happiness.[12]  These emotions seem obvious and understandable.  But what perpetuates the difficultly is that those with a long period of unemployment seem to attract less employers.[13]  “Last year, Rand Ghayad of Northeastern University sent out thousands of fictitious resumes and found that potential employers were drastically less likely to respond if the fictitious applicant had been out of work more than six months, even if he or she was better qualified than other applicants.”[14]  What this shows is that, while initial-impressions dictate that long-term unemployment benefits seem to promote or disincentives the search of employment, the issue is not so clear-cut.  That is not to say that all 1.7 million people who are affected are actively and whole-heartedly seeking employment, but that there are victims and family of victims of unemployment that need government assistance to survive.  Some have theorized that as an alternative, the federal government should create federal temporary hiring program with lowered pay, in a sense making citizens earn their unemployment benefits while seeking permanent employment.[15]

Polls show a 60% support for extending long-term unemployment.[16]  But nonetheless the benefits have been denied.  Perhaps it is for the best. Perhaps after six years, the benefits have been extended long enough and that those still unemployed are so because of a lack of motivation.  But to the individual struggling to pay rent or those relying on it to make-up for where social security benefits fall short, it seems as if the federal government has “written them off” and abandoned them.[17]

[1] Erika Eichelberger, Unemployment Benefits Are Ending for 1.3 Million Americans. What’s That All About? Mother Jones. Dec. 17, 2013.

[2] Id.

[4] Corinne Lestch, Washington cuts unemployment benefits and food stamps for New Yorkers, posing new challenge to Mayor de Blasio. Daily News. Feb. 8, 2014.

[5] Leigh Ann Caldwell, Why do Republicans oppose unemployment benefits? CNN, Feb. 7, 2014.

[6] Id.

[7] Paul Krugman, Writing Off the Unemployed. New York Times. Feb. 9, 2014.

[8] Megan McArdle, The Secret to Shortening Long-Term Unemployment. Bloomberg News. Feb. 11, 2014.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Krugman, Supra Note 7.

[14] Id.

[15] McArdle, Supra Note 8.

[16] Caldwell, Supra Note 5.

[17] Krugman, Supra Note 7.


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