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Asked to explain his opposition to extending unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed, Texas Congressman Pete Sessions asserted: “I believe it is immoral for this country to have as a policy extending long-term unemployments [sic] to people rather than us working on creation of jobs. A job is the most important attribute, I believe, in a free enterprise system.”
If you did not know anything about Pete Sessions before reading that two-sentence quotation, it might be enough in itself to convince you that this guy is a horse’s ass.
It’s not simply that he opposes the extension of unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed. That is a policy matter that is open to debate. It is, instead, that he tries to couch his opposition to the legislation in moral terms that are so garbled that they suggest very pointedly that he himself has so little understanding of his reasons for opposing the legislation that he cannot come close to articulating those reasons in a coherent way.
The long-term unemployed have been more conspicuous in this recession than in previous economic downturns because there has been a very apparent reluctance to even consider applicants who have been without a position for more than a year. I am not sure what is behind this phenomenon—whether there is some sort of demographic pattern in the broader numbers, such as the typical age of the affected workers or the types of jobs at which they had been employed and which they are seeking. But it is very clear that these workers constitute a sizable portion of the workers currently unemployed and still seeking employment and that the number of positions created by the economic recovery has not yet risen to a level that would mitigate the bias against considering the long-term unemployed.
Rand Paul is more articulate than Pete Sessions, but in response to this policy issue, he said something only marginally less ludicrous than what Sessions said: “When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.” The logic here is very obviously tissue-thin, for the extension of unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed perpetuates their being classified as the long-term unemployed only if the alternative to receiving those unemployment benefits is employment, rather than continued unemployment but without any benefits. And if they could have found employment, they would not be at the point at which their eligibility for unemployment benefits is running out.
Lurking behind Paul’s comment is the Far Right assumptions that anyone who can’t find work simply is not trying hard enough and that receiving any sort of safety-net benefits makes people dependent on those benefits. Such assumptions are the luxury of those who have never been unemployed for any extended period of time and who have never tried to survive on unemployment benefits.
This brings me back to another one of the Far Right talking points embedded in Session’s garbled comment: his insistence that the Congress should be focusing on job creation, rather than on extending unemployment benefits, which he clearly regards paradoxically as an expensive “cheap fix.” But, despite the insistence of John Boehner and others in the House GOP leadership that they have been focused “like lasers” on job creation, the House that has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act almost four dozen times and to repeal elements of the legislation at least twice that number of times, has not produced one job-creation bill since President Obama took office in 2009. In fact, they have opposed the stimulus, the bailout of the auto industry, and every other piece of job-creation legislation introduced in the Senate or suggested by the president.
The economic legislation that has been introduced by the Far Right in the House has been uniformly focused on further tax cuts for corporations and the most affluent, cuts that have been framed as “tax incentives,” and the reduction of “regulatory burdens” on corporations, as if those burdens are now so costly that they are costing jobs. Putting aside the fact that these kinds of policies have been in place and continually reinforced since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 and have not done anything to improve the employment opportunities, income, or standard of living of the average American worker, one wonders what the long-term unemployed are supposed to exist on until the benefits of such policies do finally, if ever, “trickle down” to them.
And this sort of mindset ignores the basic truth that extending the benefits available to the long-term unemployed mitigates the impact of their unemployment on the rest of us. When legislation authorizing the extended benefits was not renewed, 1.6 million workers were not only removed, in effect, from the active workforce, but they were also removed from the economies of their local communities. Given the multiplier effect of income, their loss of benefits will cause other job losses in any community in which they have any concentration. Worse, those communities will have greater demands placed on the social services that they provide, even as they are dealing with the impact of reduced revenue from both income and property taxes. When people become homeless, they don’t disappear, and when properties stand empty, neighborhoods degrade.
Lastly, this is not a fixed problem—that is, it is not a problem involving “just” 1.6 million unemployed workers. Each week, another 60,000 to 70,000 workers exhaust their unemployment benefits—and, in effect, leave the active workforce.
As a point of contrast to the off-handed dismissal of the crises being faced by those 1.4 million workers and counting, consider the Far Right’s faux consternation and concern in response to the recent CBO report that indicated that, over the next decade, one to two million workers now employed in full-time jobs might choose to work part-time or not at all because the ACA will make it possible for them to acquire and afford healthcare insurance without having to work full-time.
Indifference and even hypocrisy do sometimes reveal themselves even more plainly in such juxtapositions.