Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) held a “listening session” at Burns Elementary School on Tuesday where he discussed a variety of issues with a crowd of nearly two dozen constituents. One of the attendees uploaded video of the session on YouTube.
At one point during the session, a man asked about drug testing for “welfare recipients.” Farenthold said that this is an idea worth considering, and then went on to complain that unemployment insurance is too generous. He then compared Americans on unemployment insurance to alcoholics and drug addicts:
FARENTHOLD: Drug testing for recipients of various welfare programs, I really think that’s something that needs to be considered. We’ve gotta, you know, nobody wants to starve anybody. Everybody wants to help folks out. But we’ve got a system where you can stay on unemployment for an awfully long time. And I think we need to create a system of decreasing benefits over time to encourage you to get a job. I think anybody who’s had an alcoholic in their life or somebody with a drug problem, realizes that until things get bad enough there’s no incentive to change. I think that we’re so generous in some of our social problems that people are unwilling to get a job outside in the heat. Rather than get 15 dollars to go get roofing they’d rather get 9 or 10 dollars in benefits. I think drug testing is not an unreasonable requirement to get benefits.
Farenthold’s insults towards unemployed Americans are as devoid of factual backing as they are offensive. The reason there are so many unemployed people in his state right now is because the jobs simply do not exist, not that unemployment benefits are too “generous.” The following chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a gigantic jump in unemployment from 2008 to 2011. Unless the congressman is arguing that Texans simply became more lazy during this time or that there was a massive expansion of the welfare state during this time, it appears that the recession is the primary reason to explain unemployment, not meager benefits:
Additionally, it should be noted that U.S. social spending is far from “generous” when compared to other developed countries. Among OECD countries, the United States ranks second to last in social spending, ahead of only Turkey. Goldman Sachs actually studied this issue earlier this year and concluded that “only ½ percentage point of the current 9.4% jobless rate can be explained by the extension of UI benefits. Moreover, our calculations suggest that this effect will fade when the extended benefits eventually expire. These estimates—broadly in line with a recent study by the San Francisco Fed—reinforce our view that the overwhelming share of unemployment is cyclical rather than structural.” (h/t: rgvtpweb YouTube account)