Yesterday evening I bumped into an unemployed acquaintance in Starbucks and the conversation confirmed for me my concern about the recent extension of unemployment insurance to a full 2 years.
His situation? 6 months ago he lost his job as a salesman in a commission-oriented retail store. Since then he has been collecting unemployment payments of $394 per week from the government, of course funded by taxpayers. He has also been working for his brother “off the books” earning another $300 per week. He tells me that when he went to the Department of Labor to sign up for unemployment he was asked to step over to a desk with a computer terminal on it and search a jobs data base. He said there were many jobs, “hundreds”, that he was qualified for, but that only paid $12-15 per hour. His next statement stunned me: “I didn’t go for any because I can make more on unemployment than at any of those jobs”, and then he said with enthusiasm, “and now I have 2 years!”.
It was so often said by many on the left last December that people like me who were skeptical or against the extension of unemployment payments that we are heartless, greedy, and insensitive to the plight of others. That we sit on our riches condemning the poor like bourgeoisie refusing to throw our bread crumbs down to the proletariat. It is seriously depicted this way by politicians, and even worse it is a point of view accepted with enthusiasm by their followers. This is of course incorrect as it relates to most of us (there are some who are non-caring, but it is surely the exception), and highly insulting to people like me who care deeply about the less fortunate.
Do I want the poor and unemployed to get help? Absolutely! Do I disagree with the existence of social programs to help those less fortunate or down on their luck? Of course not! There are people who need help and we are obliged to assist them, and this is clearly on of the key functions of government.
But my disagreement with these programs is not that they exist, or that people use them, or that the tax dollars I pay fund them. It is that so many people ABUSE them.
How easy it is for the left to paint the picture of an unfeeling and greedy right, and how difficult is it for the right to explain, “wait, it’s not that we are greedy, it’s that the incentives are all wrong, and that the system is ripe for abuse”.
In the case I described, if we cut off that person’s unemployment payments he would have a job in a matter of a few days. Instead, he collects unemployment payments funded by taxpayers and spends his evenings in Starbucks drinking a mocha latte. How many millions more are there like him? My bet is that half of what we spend on unemployment is used for situations such as the one I described above. We must do a better job getting help to the half who need it, and to stop providing it to the half that doesn’t.