We hear the refrain almost hourly: “People shouldn’t get unemployment payments! It’s a handout! They don’t deserve it! They should find a job! Grumble, grumble, grumble.”
Invariably those who spew such sentiment are in jobs they feel are secure with ample pay and reasonable benefits… but they’re only a layoff, a catastrophic accident or medical problem away from having to pick up the phone and file for unemployment compensation themselves.
Nor does it take into account the false premise that one can simply skip along doling out resumes and expect a job to magically appear. The current rate of hopelessness appears as such: There is only one job opening on average for every five applicants. Math sucks, eh?
But what is most telling… if not deliciously humorous… is that the cold-hearted and short-sighted among us who ignore the facts and readily comprehensible labor statistics are actually clamoring to harm their own wallets by reducing or eliminating unemployment benefits.
Unemployment insurance in this country is funded by employers, businesses that hire and fire and pay salaries to their workers. We - individual taxpayers - do not pay for anyone’s unemployment benefits. And contrary to deliberately spread myths, unemployment compensation is no gravy train. Nationally, the average weekly payout in benefits is less than $300 a week. Would you want to attempt to live on that? In Alabama, which offers one of the lowest weekly benefit amounts, the average worker can get a whooping $230 per week. We should also note that unemployment compensation benefits are not eternal. No one can continue to receive payments indefinitely. Payments are based on previous earnings and will run out.
Such narrow thinking also neglects the fact that without unemployment benefits in hands of the unemployed to pay their rent, utilities, car payment and other common expenses, we’re harming all the businesses and workers who would otherwise have their business. That individual is keeping others employed by virtue of having some way to exist financially and consume products and services.
So if in our hateful zeal we cut off unemployment compensation payments to the unemployed among us, not only is it spiteful and pointless, but it fails to address the problem and harms others because there’s no money in the pockets of the unemployed to make house payments, buy groceries, etc. It simply shifts the “burden” of keeping these people afloat to…. wait for it… us!
Because without those unemployment payments in hand to meet basic needs, those individuals will have nowhere to turn but the entitlement programs so many on the outside looking in love to demonize - food stamps and Medicaid and welfare, oh my! The result - we only shift the “burden” of keeping the unemployed afloat from taxes paid by employers to us… tax-paying individuals who fund entitlement programs, including of course the very individuals who want to teach those darn jobless people a lesson… by… uh… apparently increasing the tax burden on themselves by having to fund and pay out more in entitlements as a result of eliminating unemployment benefits.
So the next time you encounter some red-faced, chest-thumpin’ individual who somehow feels empowered by demonizing the unemployed, kicking them when they’re down, and advocating the death of unemployment compensation, please gently remind him that in doing so, it will only mean increased payouts in entitlements and more people rushing in desperation to the welfare rolls. Better yet, perhaps we should offer him the opportunity to put his money where his mouth is by asking how much more he is willing to pay to fund a massive expansion of entitlement programs as a result of eliminating unemployment compensation payments…. A swift kick in the ass would probably be beneficial as well. On an applicable side note: Ridiculing and belittling the unemployed won’t make your penis any bigger.
Our options are simple: We can preserve a fair, well-functioning system in which employers pay taxes on wages that pay for unemployment benefits that will keep people who have worked hard and want to do so again on their feet until they find something else. Or we can wallow in cold-heartedness and be petty by cutting them off, thereby shifting the burden of their needs to ourselves by paying more in taxes to cover the resulting increase of individuals on the welfare rolls. Take your pick.
About the author: Joseph O. Patton is the editor-in-chief and founder of the Capital City Free Press. He is a former news editor for the Coosa County News, lead reporter for the Montgomery Independent and editor-in-chief of the AUMnibus, the student newspaper of Auburn-Montgomery. Patton is also the creator of and writer for the satirical news radio segment "Goat Hill Gossip," which previously aired on WAUD in Auburn, Alabama and has appeared on several Central Alabama radio programs as a political analyst.
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