Unless Congress acts today, unemployment benefits will expire for 2.5 million Americans, with unemployment above nine percent and five unemployed workers competing for every available job opening. If Congress, as expected, does nothing, this will be first time in the last forty years that benefits have expired with unemployment so high.
According to calculations by the Congressional Budget Office, Moody’s Economy, and myriad other economists, unemployment benefits are the single best way to pump money into the economy and generate economic activity, as the unemployed are very likely to spend all of the benefits they receive (thus moving money into local businesses). But during an interview with MSNBC’s Mike Barnicle today, Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) scoffed at the notion that unemployment benefits help the economy. “Unemployed people hire people? Really? I didn’t know that,” Shadegg jeered:
BARNICLE: What about the fact that unemployment benefits pumped into the economy are an immediate benefit to the economy? Immediate…
SHADEGG: No, they’re not! Unemployed people hire people? Really? I didn’t know that.
BARNICLE: Unemployed people spend money Congressman, ’cause they have no money.
SHADEGG: Aha! So your answer is it’s the spending of money that drives the economy and I don’t think that’s right. It’s the creation of jobs that drives the economy…Actually, the truth is the unemployed will spend as little of that money as they possibly can. Job creators create jobs.
BARNICLE: Have you ever been unemployed? Have you ever been unemployed?
SHADEGG: Yes, I have.
BARNICLE: What did you do with the money? Save it?
At the same time that he was dumping on the unemployed, Shadegg called for extending all of the Bush tax cuts without paying for them, joining a slew of Republican lawmakers who care more about tax cuts for the very wealthy than unemployed Americans about to lose the last strand of safety net that they have available.
Shadegg never managed to explain why all of the job creators he cites would create any jobs if households aren’t spending money. In that vein, MarketPlace noted today that “when unemployment checks stop, it’s felt right away by businesses like gas stations, apartment operators, and grocery stores.” And as the Center for American Progress’ Heather Boushey and Jordan Eizenga found, “the workers losing benefits have an average weekly benefit of a little over $290 per week, which translates into a total loss of about $2.5 billion dollars in benefits over December. This is equal to about one in seven dollars of the gain in retail sales seen between December 2008 and December 2009.”
Some economists estimate that allowing benefits to expire could cause economic growth to “fall by one half to nearly 1 percentage point,” as well as throw hundreds of thousands of people into poverty. “Look for homelessness to rise and food lines to get longer as we approach Christmas if the situation can’t be resolved,” says Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial.
While Shadegg joked that he will be unemployed come January since he is retiring from Congress, next year he will be eligible for a federal pension (if he opted for one), as he is turning 62 and served on Capitol Hill for more than five years.