Here’s Another Bad Idea: Reduce Weeks of Unemployment Insurance

December 11th, 2011 at 10:56 pm

In the most recent jobs report, we hit a new, albeit unenviable, world’s record: the average number of weeks of joblessness among the unemployed—40.9 weeks—has never been higher (see figure).*

So, what do conservatives do?  They snap into action and propose a holiday gift for the unemployed and their families: a reduction of 40 weeks of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits and, for stocking stuffers, unprecedented, preposterous rules for UI eligibility.

It was enough to make NELP yelp (the National Employment Law Project**):

Federal unemployment insurance programs currently provide 34 to 73 weeks of assistance to unemployed workers in every state, depending on the state’s unemployment rate, after workers exhaust [26 weeks of] state unemployment insurance. Representative Camp’s proposal would cut Tier II of the federal assistance (14 weeks available to workers in every state) as well as Tier IV (six weeks available to states with high unemployment). The proposal would also allow the last leg of the federal unemployment insurance extension – the 13 to 20 weeks of Extended Benefits in the hardest-hit states – to expire. As a result, states with the highest unemployment, including Representative Camp’s home state of Michigan, would face a triple-whammy of cuts to three different pieces of the federal programs.

Their bill also requires recipients who lack a high-school degree to enroll in a GED program or lose benefits; it would also allow states to make applicants take a drug test.  I suspect that you, like me, agree that people should have at least a high school degree and not take drugs.  But don’t the long-term unemployed have enough problems without this kind of harassment and political grandstanding?

The whole thing makes no sense.  The conservative meme about UI allowing unemployed people to scoff at all the available jobs out there is belied by the fact that there are four job seekers per job opening.  Under such demand constrained conditions, conservatives, including Alan Greenspan, have typically supported UI extensions.  In fact, we’ve never failed to extend with the jobless rate this high.

It’s bad for families who need the money, and it’s bad for the macro economy, since they spend the money.  I mean, who’d want to both hurt out-of-work families and further restrain the recovery?  Why would anyone want to do that??!!

Oh…right…never mind.

AVERAGE WEEKS UNEMPLOYED (source: BLS, see note (*) above)

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7 comments in reply to "Here’s Another Bad Idea: Reduce Weeks of Unemployment Insurance"

  1. Michael says:

    The awesome thing is that at least 40% of the white folks cut from the unemployment rolls by this move would still vote Republican.

    The Dems are oligarchy servants, but what kind of damaged moron votes Republican these days?

  2. Sandwichman says:

    Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

  3. rjs says:

    just to nitpick; the average duration of unemployment is now at a record 41.1 weeks; you used a seasonally adjusted number…

    how can you “seasonally adjust” the length of time someone’s been out of work?

    • Jared Bernstein says:

      It’s not intuitive, but the common practice is to always use the seasonally adjusted number in any given month because you want to extract the impact of any seasonal effects so you’re just looking at the economic effects. For example, if you wanted to gauge retail employment right now, you’d want to subtract the holiday effect to get at the underlying levels.

      Same with numbers like this related to unemployment, which goes up and down with seasons.

      • rjs says:

        i understand that…but to an individual who’s unemployed & eligible for emergency federal unemployment rations or not, the actual number of weeks out of work is critical…

  4. Fred Donaldson says:

    The next step of the financial masters is a requirement that we wear a gold pound sign to distinguish us from the hallowed “job creators.”

  5. Jeff Carter says:

    The high-school degree/GED requirement is even more objectionable than you describe. The NELP paper describes the problems with it in further detail, for those interested.

    The biggest barrier for adults wanting to achieve a GED or a similar HS-equivalent credential is this country’s unwillingness to fund adult education programs at anywhere near close to adequate level. There are about 160,000 people across the country on waiting lists for such programs, and IMO that probably lowballs the demand considerably, as that number comes only from programs that keep and report waiting lists.

    In addition, many unemployed workers do not have the basic literacy skills that would qualify them to enroll in a GED class. It appears to me from the language of the bill that these folks, even if enrolled in adult education to improve their literacy skills, would simply be out of luck for UI under this bill.

    This comes at a time when, in addition to a lack of federal investment in adult education, states across the country are drastically cutting back on it. California’s adult education system, for example, one of the largest, has been really decimated over the last several years.