Senator McCaskill opposes UI benefit extension

Missouri’s economically-stressed African-American voters put Claire McCaskill over the top in a close 2006 race. She repays her most loyal constituents and her party by opposing UI extension.

(Cross-posted on the Century Foundations’s Taking Note).

David Goldstein reported this last year,

Black voters were pivotal to McCaskill’s Senate victory in 2006 over former Republican Sen. Jim Talent. She won 91 percent of African-American votes.

More importantly, the black share of the overall voter turnout in Missouri rose to 13 percent in 2006, up from 8 percent two years before…

That was an important victory, in no small part because Missouri’s African-American community needs some serious help. Indeed, the African-American jobless rate in greater Saint Louis was ranked third-worse among the nation’s top fifty metropolitan areas.

So it’s especially disappointing to hear (via Daniel Strauss at the Hill) that Senator McCaskill has come out against the extension of UI benefits. Her stance will hurt the American economy. It will hurt the Democratic Party. Most important, it will hurt her own core supporters, many of whom must wonder why they turned out in force to help her win a close election five years ago.

Many conservative and moderate Democrats are trying to court swing voters by neglecting the human pain being experienced among poor people and among working-class Americans who are enduring economic catastrophe. I believe this is bad politics. It is also disgraceful. This stance will only mar Senator McCaskill’s own mixed political legacy.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

30 thoughts on “Senator McCaskill opposes UI benefit extension”

  1. Unemployment benefits have already been extended to 99 weeks. That’s almost two freaking years! If somebody can’t find a job in TWO FREAKING YEARS, either they’re unemployable, or they’re not trying to get a job. In either case, a program designed to cushion the transition from one job to the next is not appropriate.

    Really, what’s the end game here? Transforming unemployment benefits into a return of pre-reform welfare?

  2. Unemployment benefits have already been extended to 99 weeks. That’s almost two freaking years! If somebody can’t find a job in TWO FREAKING YEARS, either they’re unemployable, or they’re not trying to get a job.

    Right. Given the vibrant state of the economy there is no excuse for remaining unemployed for two years. Let ’em starve.

  3. You needn’t be unemployed for 2 years to be unemployable. One year will suffice, even less. Many employers are quite open about their policy of not hiring people who’ve been out of work for an extended period. Given that the supply of jobs isn’t keeping pace with the size of the labor pool it’s not surprising some folks would be out of work for more than 99 weeks. It would be interesting to know how many people we’re talking about reaching the limit. My guess is it’s not a lot as a percentage. So, couldn’t hoit — and will likely help the unlucky few who’ve slipped into the deep end of the “unemployable zone”.

    How about this, let’s extend the benefits temporarily while we get a jobs program going. It’s not like we don’t have stuff that needs doing. We’ll get things done, increase consumer demand, lower credit defaults, increase tax revenues to help pay down the debt. You know, recover the economy.

  4. OK, Brett, how bout a swap: cut unemployment benefits to 52 weeks – to be followed by a modern-day WPA.

  5. Brett: should the “unemployable” simply commit suicide? What’s your answer? Do you know any long-term unemployed? Have you ever been unemployed? I hope you will give a more thoughtful answer than your first post on this thread.

  6. Brett :

    I know a couple people in their late 50’s who have been
    actively looking for a job for over two years.

    They’re better humans than you.

  7. Joel, I’m in my mid 50’s now, I got laid off back in Michigan in 2008. With my wife 4 months pregnant. I could very easily still have been unemployed if I had only done two things;

    1. Restricted my job search to commuting distance from my home.
    2. Refused to take anything that involved a drop in my pay.

    If I’d just settled on that simple strategy, I could have gone looking for work every day, and still be unemployed. Instead, when I determined within a week that I wasn’t going to find an acceptable job within commuting distance, I decided to uproot my family, and go someplace there WAS a job. How many of these people who are still unemployed after 99 weeks are also still living in the same place, and only looking for jobs where they’ve already determined there aren’t any?

    You know what your problem is, all of you? You don’t see anything wrong about being on the dole, so you don’t think anybody should make any sort of sacrifice at all to get off of it. That was the thinking behind the pre-reform welfare system, too, and the result was a generation of children whose role models were all on the dole, instead of working. You really are going to recreate pre-reform welfare, if you just mindlessly keep extending the benefits. (Mindlessly extending. Yup, reminds me of your approach to the debt ceiling, too.)

    And, yeah, actually a WPA would be an improvement over perpetually extended unemployment benefits. If we’re giving somebody money, why shouldn’t we get some work out of them? It might motivate them to look for a job for real, too.

  8. Brett, as of July 2011, there were 3.1 million job openings, with 14.4 million unemployed to fill them, i.e. about 4.6 unemployed per job opening. Last I checked, this pretty much makes it impossible for every unemployed person to get a job, no matter how hard they try.

    I’d be interested in your proposed solution to this issue; I am afraid that I can’t seriously consider repealing the laws of mathematics as an option.

  9. Brett: There are a lot of people that can’t uproot their families and move elsewhere. There are a number of reasons for this. Many of them own homes that are4 worth less than the outstanding mortgage, and so are unable to sell it. Others are dependent upon a family network to survive. Others do not have the capital necessary to move and be able to raise a family.

    In my case, Minnesota is one of the few states in which I can get health insurance, thanks to pre-existing conditions. If I leave here, it has to be for a job that provides health insurance; otherwise my medical expenses will jump to a level that eliminates the benefit of moving. And, if something were to go wrong with that job, I would have forfeited my Minnesota residency and not be able to get back into the program.

    When I lost my last job in 2005, thanks to some of the above mentioned medical conditions, I went back to school. I decided to learn accounting, as that was a field where everyone was saying that there are lots of jobs. Not willing to take a pay cut? I’ve been applying to every accounting job I can find, regardless of salary level. The entry level ones won’t hire someone who is 43, trying to get started in a new field and has a masters degree in accounting. The ones above entry level won’t hire someone without experience.

    I’ve even applied at fast food restaurants and as a security job. They won’t hire me, either.

    What would you suggest, since you’re so brilliant?

  10. John, just because a make-work job actually produces something of value, (As the WPA did.) doesn’t mean it’s not a make-work job. If you wouldn’t have hired somebody but for the fact you were looking for an excuse to give them money, then it’s not a ‘real’ job, even if the person sweats doing it.

    But even make-work jobs are less destructive than giving people money for doing nothing. That rots people from the inside.

    J, *I* owned a home worth less than the outstanding mortgage. The real estate crash happened the week my house went on the market. (My bad…) I left anyway, and I’ll be paying for that house I don’t own anymore for several years yet. But if the house is just keeping you someplace you can’t get work, well, boat anchors are underwater, too…

    Hard cases make bad law. Why? Because the laws aren’t written to apply only to the hard cases.

  11. The article says the Conservative middle class is ignoring the plight of poorer people. If only. As several posts make clear there is active resentment against anyone who is perceived as getting something more than the agrieved. Why anyone be jealous of people who get Govt benefits is beyond me. If you are doing well enough to not need food stamps you should be happy. I thought I was doing Ok when that happened. I think people with that much resentment must be un-happy with their lives and jobs. We needed a new CCC and WPA when Obama got in. Conservatives do not like WPA because you do not have to grovel before a private employer to be deemed worthy of work. You sign up. So much needs to be done. Any Righty who thinks it isn’t work should go shovel rocks for 7 hours then tell me if it is work. And finally,a person 50+ and still unattached enough ( unless re-unattached)to be able to pick up and move like a 20 year old is a truly poor, poor in community, sad person.

  12. “You know what your problem is, all of you?”

    -That you troll this blog.

    “You don’t see anything wrong about being on the dole, so you don’t think anybody should make any sort of sacrifice at all to get off of it.”

    -I believe psychologists call this “projection”.

  13. “Instead, when I determined within a week that I wasn’t going to find an acceptable job within commuting distance, I decided to uproot my family, and go someplace there WAS a job.”

    1. You are lying. You didn’t move anywhere.

    2. This is an example of inductive reasoning, which is evidence that you are not very well educated.

  14. Why, that’s right, Benny: I started seeding the internet with false stories about losing my job, selling my house, and moving to South Carolina, over three years ago, so that I could lie to you about it in this comment thread.

    Benny, I don’t care about your opinion enough to bother lying to you about anything. Get a grip.

  15. let’s be civil

    Sorry; I started this, and I was out of line.

    I know Brett’s a striver and is very proud of that; and justly so —
    I further know he’s had serious health problems in recent years,
    and has managed to be employed nonetheless.

    I wish I could convey the observation that “some people work hard and are morally good, and yet bad things happen to them from which they may never be able to recover; our society is better when the rest of us help people who need help” in a way that would allow libertarian-conservatives to see people who need help through the prism of “there but for the grace of God go I” rather than through “must be lazy or a moocher or wouldn’t need help”.

    I do know people who, through accident or illness, have had their lives permanently crushed, and who would not be able to get by without what remains of our social safety net — people who were once just as proud, just as determined, worked just as hard as Brett, but now cannot work, or cannot find another job.

    Brett acknowledges the existence of a category of people that in our society are effectively “unemployable”.
    One wonders what they are supposed do with themselves.

  16. And, as I said before, the reason hard cases make for bad laws, is that the laws aren’t written to apply only to the hard cases, and most cases aren’t the hard cases. I mean, you get hit with stories like this, but who’s introducing “The quadriplegic orphan support act of 2011”? And even Soto recognizes that she could be less of a burden on others, if she weren’t insisting on forcing other people to pay for her simulation of a normal life.

    Even in the hard cases, it’s mostly the case that people’s troubles are exacerbated by their own decisions. As Orwell said, “An autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.” Who among us can deny the truth of that? I can certainly trace many of my own problems to bad decisions I made, even knowing they were bad decisions. Heck, just a couple of weeks ago, I said to myself, “Man, time to get the 401-K plan moved entirely into Asian growth stocks, who knows when this country is going down the tubes.” But did I do it? No… Probably be working until I drop, now.

    At some point you have to figure out what to do about genuinely hard cases, where the people are refusing to do what’s necessary to improve their situation. And it’s not like they won’t have a reason for refusing to do it. I mean, I really didn’t want to let go of my home in Michigan; I built it with my own hands, on the land I’d grown up on as a child. There were 40 ft. trees around that house I’d planted myself! Who knows, if my wife hadn’t been pregnant, if I hadn’t had somebody else’s welfare to be concerned about, would I have had the resolution to get out of that dead end situation? Maybe not.

    But why should somebody else have been on the hook to enable me to stay in it, if I wouldn’t do what was necessary? You take the suffering of Soto, (And people in a LOT less trouble than her) seriously, but it’s like the fact that you’re ameliorating it by harming others just doesn’t carry any weight with you.

    I suggest two things:

    1. We need to make a LOT more effort to distinguish the genuinely hard cases from the cases that are ‘hard’ only because somebody won’t do what’s necessary to get out of their situation. (I’ve proposed in the past that welfare carry with it a legal requirement to move to someplace with lower than average unemployment. The idea that we shouldn’t pay people to stay in locations with 40-50% unemployment was greeted with outrage.)

    2. We need to make assistance genuinely distasteful, sufficiently aversive that people aren’t comfortable staying in it. We need to work people on the dole like dogs, to the point where standing in an air-conditioned booth saying “You want fries with that?” looks like an attractive option.

    Not just because it’s better for the people on the receiving end, though it would be. Because it’s the minimum we owe to the people liberals tend to take for granted, the people on the end of the income transfers who are getting taken from, having their situations worsened by the government, not ameliorated.

    Oh, and Benny: You gonna admit I moved, or what?
    Yes, once we’ve sorted the genuine hard cases from the slackers, we need to make being a slacker more painful than working.

  17. I’m still curious, Brett, what about a job like a WPA job or a CCC job makes it not a “real” job. People do productive work for which they get paid. What makes it unreal?

  18. Brett: “This site needs a preview option…”

    Now there’s something that we can genuinely agree on. 🙂

  19. John, I already covered that, though you might not like the answer: Jobs you hire people for only because you want to give them money are “make work” jobs even if they aren’t quite as pointless as digging holes and filling them back in. They are, by their very nature, going to be less productive uses of the money than jobs where you would have hired somebody anyway because you wanted the job done.

    But that’s not to say that make-work isn’t still better than just giving people money for doing nothing. At least you get SOMETHING for the money, weed out slackers, and give the people you’re hiring a bit of deserved dignity.

  20. This was a clean hit which won’t irritate any refs. I agree that McCaskill’s choice is not only depraved, but also stupid given her one aim in life — re-election.

  21. Brett: “John, I already covered that, though you might not like the answer: Jobs you hire people for only because you want to give them money are “make work” jobs even if they aren’t quite as pointless as digging holes and filling them back in. They are, by their very nature, going to be less productive uses of the money than jobs where you would have hired somebody anyway because you wanted the job done.”

    It may interest you that Germany has been doing something along these lines as part of its Hartz IV program: the so-called “one Euro jobs” (not the official term, but what they’re generally called). These are offered to long-term unemployed people as a prerequisite for continuing to receive social benefits and which are usually “paid” 1.0-2.5 Euro/hour (mostly to cover costs and not actual remuneration). These jobs generally involve activities that are in the public interest (from street-cleaning to assisting the elderly with shopping).

    However, the results can at the very best be called mixed and have some proven negative side effects (such as reducing employment in some areas where they’re competing with actual jobs, creating a below-minimum-wage sector); these jobs have also generally failed at accomplishing their primary goal (which is to assist the unemployed with going back to a normal working life). So, it does not strike me as a very good model to emulate.

  22. Why is it bad for someone’s character to give them UI benefits, but not bad for their character to massively raise the FDIC limit, to take just ONE example of the many many $$$$ we gave to the already-rich? Seriously. Someone’s too stupid to remember where their money is, or how much of it there is, but we guaranteed it. Why?

    Or take a look at the Sheila Bair piece in the NYT a while back. Or at Bachmann’s disclosures.

    I don’t think there’s even one person in this country who’s not on the dole one way or another. Didja hear that Brett? You’re getting interest deductions on that house you still own, right?

    Libertarians … still annoying.

  23. Well, I agree that the FDIC limit increase was intended as a giveaway to the wealth; Nobody not wealthy has to worry about running up against the previous limit. Something of a theoretical giveaway, though, since it only involved actually spending money if a bank failed. Did any?

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