Perhaps the most destructive policy of this administration has been the dramatic extension of unemployment benefits to 99 weeks.
We have accumulated debt to give to the most unproductive act imaginable; paying people not to work. Nancy Pelosi’s now famous idiotic statement that is the most productive way we can spend money because the poor and the unemployed will spend that money and thus stimulate the economy is so wrongheaded that were it not for her stature it would be foolish to even reply.
It is not a debate of stimulating demand vs stimulating production. Production is stifled not just by the impending higher taxes, but by the regulations which are approaching European Kafkaesque lunacy. We have learned that short term stimulus does not stimulate long term growth, especially when we have experienced a dramatic retrenchment.
We would have been better off to stimulate the economy with a broad tax cut that would have stimulated demand and production. We would have been better off creating public works projects rather than paying people to do nothing.
By paying 99 weeks of unemployment we have not only poured borrowed money down the least productive hole, we may have destroyed the work incentive for millions of Americans, and further created a stigma that will make the most chronically unemployed the hardest to hire.
Steady work is habit that once broken is hard to restore. With such high unemployment there should not be a single piece of trash on the street, or a single public building in need of a paint job. There should not be a single unwashed public vehicle.
It fascinates me that in spite of record high unemployment that so many employers seem to have a problem hiring at the low end of the wage spectrum. Part of this is because of the 40% increase in the minimum wage just before the recessions, and part of this is because of the generous unemployment benefits. This is not limited to the 99 weeks of unemployment; it includes food stamps, subsidized health care and often subsidized housing. A decent job threatens one to lose all of these benefits and it is hard to find a job that pays enough to replace all these benefits especially when computed in after tax dollars.
But the biggest damage is to the expectation and spirit of the worker who now discovers that he can no longer have he has come to expect. 99 weeks is no longer temporary- it becomes expected. Employers are hesitant to hire those who have been out of work a long time. As companies have cut back they laid of the least productive and have seen their profits grow on lower volume. This is a not a reality they are unhappy with.
Work is more than a necessity, it is a habit. For many Americans who have benefitted from our generous unemployment benefits it has become neither.