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Ear to the Ground

Krugman Battles the GOP’s ‘War on the Unemployed’

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Posted on Jul 1, 2013
The Rachel Maddow Show (CC-BY)

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman eviscerated the GOP on Monday for acting on the falsehood that life is “too easy” for millions of out-of-work Americans who can’t find jobs by punishing them in the party’s effort to “cure unemployment by making the jobless even more miserable.”

In other words, the Republicans are now waging a “war on the unemployed,” as the title of his latest column states.

Krugman notes that at the federal level, Congress allowed extended benefits for the unemployed that were introduced during the economic crisis to expire. A number of states have also followed the government’s lead and cut unemployment benefits at the state level. One extreme example is North Carolina, where the 8.8 percent jobless rate is higher than California and Michigan. There, the state not only reduced the duration that the unemployed could receive benefits, but they also cut the amount the jobless could receive on a weekly basis so sharply that the state is now ineligible to receive $700 million from the federal government in aid for the long-term unemployed, who are already struggling to find work in an economy in which there are roughly three job seekers for every opening available.

“So what’s going on here? Is it just cruelty? Well, the G.O.P., which believes that 47 percent of Americans are ‘takers’ mooching off the job creators, which in many states is denying health care to the poor simply to spite President Obama, isn’t exactly overflowing with compassion,” the Nobel Prize-winning economist explains. “But the war on the unemployed isn’t motivated solely by cruelty; rather, it’s a case of meanspiritedness converging with bad economic analysis.”

Krugman says the Republicans are guided by a false belief that social safety net programs only encourage the unemployed to stay jobless, which thereby saps the country of its “national character,” in the GOP’s argument. As House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan acknowledged earlier this year while talking about his “welfare reform round 2” proposal, Republicans are essentially fighting against turning “the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”

But is there even anything to this line of thinking, Krugman asks? He points out that In North Carolina, the unemployed are taking home, on average, $299 a week before taxes, which is hardly the luxurious “hammock” that Ryan speaks of. There is some evidence, Krugman writes, that unemployment benefits may make job seekers a little more choosy in their search. Still, he adds, that fact is mostly irrelevant given the nation’s current economic situation.

“While cutting unemployment benefits will make the unemployed even more desperate, it will do nothing to create more jobs—which means that even if some of those currently unemployed do manage to find work, they will do so only by taking jobs away from those currently employed,” he writes.

Krugman adds that cutting benefits to the unemployed doesn’t just hurt the jobless, it also hurts the overall economy.

Paul Krugman via The New York Times:

Oh, and let’s not forget that cutting benefits to the unemployed, many of whom are living hand-to-mouth, will lead to lower overall spending — again, worsening the economic situation, and destroying more jobs.

The move to slash unemployment benefits, then, is counterproductive as well as cruel; it will swell the ranks of the unemployed even as it makes their lives ever more miserable.

Can anything be done to reverse this policy wrong turn? The people out to punish the unemployed won’t be dissuaded by rational argument; they know what they know, and no amount of evidence will change their views. My sense, however, is that the war on the unemployed has been making so much progress in part because it has been flying under the radar, with too many people unaware of what’s going on.

Well, now you know. And you should be angry.

Read more

—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

 

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