I always try to assume the best about people. I realize that’s unrealistic. If I didn’t I would be continually disappointed. I feel a moral obligation to assume the best until proven otherwise rather than the other way around. All this by saying that I assume that those who opposed extending emergency unemployment benefits did so because they believed it would incentivize a return to work. It hasn’t:
The case against extending unemployment benefits essentially boils down to two arguments. First, the economy has improved, so the unemployed should no longer need extra time to find a new job. Second, extended benefits could lead job seekers either to not search as hard or to become choosier about the kind of job they will accept, ultimately delaying their return to the workforce.2
But the evidence doesn’t support either of those arguments. The economy has indeed improved, but not for the long-term unemployed, whose odds of finding a job are barely higher today than when the recession ended nearly five years ago. And the end of extended benefits hasn’t spurred the unemployed back to work; if anything, it has pushed them out of the labor force altogether.
Of the roughly 1.3 million Americans whose benefits disappeared with the end of the program, only about a quarter had found jobs as of March, about the same success rate as when the program was still in effect; roughly another quarter had given up searching.
Isn’t it about time to try something else? There is no dearth of possibilities. The obvious conclusion to draw from the real life experiment we’ve conducted is that people aren’t returning to work because there are no jobs for them. Among the possible remedies are extending emergency unemployment benefits possibly forever if the alternative courses of action aren’t to our liking, starting a WPA-style jobs program, or removing the barriers to job creation. Those are just a few of the possibilities.
I get no sense of concern or energy on this subject from either side of the aisle.