Several states in the last few weeks — including Michigan, Missouri, and Florida — have moved to cut or restrict unemployment benefits, even as long-term unemployment has failed to drop significantly for months. Joining the list is Utah, where the state senate president believes that denying benefits to jobless workers will force them to go back to work:
“It’s tax money, and people need to be weaned off of the government paying for everything,” Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said. Refusing to continue to extend unemployment benefits “is a motivation for people to get back to work.”
The state is also setting an example of self-sufficiency by not accepting the money, Waddoups said. “Someone has to start pulling back from the federal government somewhere,” he said.
It’s bad enough that the Utah legislature saw fit to cut benefits even as the economy is still incredibly weak. But it did so based on the faulty premise that benefit cuts would lead people to work harder to find a job. Unemployment benefits, at roughly $290 per week, are hardly lucrative, and research by the San Francisco Federal Reserve has found that workers who qualify for UI benefits stay unemployed just 1.6 weeks longer than those who do not qualify for such benefits.
This kind of rhetoric is sadly pervasive within state governments. Some Idaho legislators tried, unsuccessfully, to cut unemployment benefits last month, with state Rep. Marv Hagedorn (R) saying, “it’s time to lead the horse away from the trough and make him go to work.”
But it’s not only at the state level that the myth of the unemployed worker living high off the government persists. Republicans in the federal government have characterized the unemployed as, among other things, lazy, drug-addicted “hobos.” “I’m sure most of them would like work and probably have tried to seek it, but you can’t argue that it’s a job enhancer. If anything, as I said, it’s a disincentive,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) last year. “We can’t just keep paying people to stay at home,” added Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC).
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.