The year’s not over, but it’s not too early to declare the hands-down winner of this year’s Scrooge award: Sen. Rand Paul.
The Kentucky Republican wants to cut off people’s unemployment benefits — not to save taxpayers’ money from being frittered away by loafers unwilling to haul themselves out of their comfy hammocks to look for work. No, Sen. Scrooge wants to cut out of solicitude for the long-term unemployed.
Because, as the kindly doctor explained (correctly) on “Fox News Sunday,” it is clear that the longer people are unemployed the more difficulty they have finding work. Ergo, says Paul, the obvious solution: Limit the length of unemployment benefits — even if there are not jobs available.
“I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers,” Paul said. “When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”
Paul is wrong, by the way, about the 99 weeks — the longest combined state and federal benefits can now last is 73 weeks, and then only in three states where unemployment has hovered above 9 percent. Elsewhere, depending on the severity of unemployment, the maximum duration is between 40 and 63 weeks.
But Paul is more fundamentally wrong with his diagnosis that the best way to help this unfortunate group is to terminate their benefits. Talk about burning the village in order to save it. Long-term unemployment benefits don’t cause long-term unemployment; they ameliorate it in hard economic times. (States generally cover benefits for the first 26 weeks, but during downturns the federal government has long stepped in to subsidize extended help.)
Yes, I know about moral hazard. In a well-functioning economy, overly generous unemployment benefits may dissuade people from taking new jobs. But this is not a well-functioning economy. Even with unemployment at a five-year low, nearly four of 10 jobless workers count as long-term unemployed, out of work for 27 weeks or longer. In October, there were nearly three people unemployed for every available job.