As the struggling economy forces more Americans to rely on social aid programs, more and more Republicans are ratcheting up the attacks on those in need. When it comes to unemployment insurance, the party’s presidential candidates, governors, and lawmakers are searching out ways to not only gut the program but belittle vulnerable Americans in the process.
In South Carolina, where unemployment is at nearly 10 percent, state Sen. Paul Campbell (R) introduced a bill forcing unemployed workers that can’t find a job in six months to volunteer for 16 hours a week in order to continue getting benefits because “it’s easier for people to get a job if they have a job of some sort”:
If unemployed workers in South Carolina can’t find a job in six months, they would have to volunteer 16 hours weekly to continue getting benefits from the state under a bill up for debate today by a Senate panel.
Its sponsor, Sen. Paul Campbell, said it’s easier for people to get a job if they have a job of some sort, and his intent is to match people’s skills with work that needs done in city or county governments and schools, from electrical work to assisting in classrooms.
“I just think if someone’s busy working, they’ll be more industrious and more likely to get a job,” said Campbell, R-Goose Creek. “Depending on the skill they’ve got, I think we can put that skill to work. I’m not talking about collecting garbage on the side of the highway.”
Campbell, a chemical engineer, says the unemployed would still have time to search for a paying job, while honing their skills.
In reality, people who receive unemployment insurance actually work harder to find jobs than those who don’t qualify for the program. But for the last 34 months, there have been more than four unemployed job seekers for every job opening. Forcing these workers to volunteer not only takes away from much-needed time to job search but also reinforces negative stereotypes of unemployed workers’ laziness.
Like many other states, South Carolina is pairing this bill with another likely unconstitutional bill that mandates laid-off workers pass a drug test to qualify for their benefits. That bill’s sponsor state Sen. Kevin Bryant (R) argued that because “those working to keep their jobs are susceptible to a possible drug test,” those that are unemployed should be too. “Hopefully, folks would make the better decision to not use drugs, and we can get them back to work,” he said.
But as the National Employment Law Project pointed out, judging unemployed workers as lazy drug users severely mischaracterizes and marginalizes a large group of Americans: “The unemployed are just a slice of America. They’re you and I without a job…To suggest that the unemployed are lazy drug abusers who are just sitting around feeds a false, ugly stereotype.”