The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

December 13, 2013

Rand Paul gets the Scrooge award

(Continued)

One relevant data point: when President Bush signed an extension of unemployment benefits in June 2008, the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent, the long-term unemployment rate was 1 percent and the average duration of unemployment was 17.1 weeks. Today those numbers are 7 percent unemployment, 2.6 percent long-term unemployed and 37.2 weeks in duration.

Another point: This could easily be you. According to a new report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, 40 percent of the long-term unemployed had household incomes, prior to job loss, between $30,000 and $75,000. One in five has a bachelor’s degree or higher. The more education you have, the less likely you are to fall into unemployment. But once you’re unemployed, your education offers no shield against joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

And about those overly generous benefits. They average $300 weekly. Would that be enough to keep you on the unemployment rolls? Ironically, long-term benefits help keep people in the job market — looking for work is a condition of receiving help — rather than simply giving up. Cutting them off would likely cause the unemployment rate to fall, but only because they would be out of the workforce.

Another indication that correlation is not causality: Most of those in the ranks of the long-term unemployed have exhausted their benefits. Of 4.1 million in the ranks of the long-term unemployed, only 1.3 million are still receiving the unemployment checks that Paul asserts are holding them back.

Republicans cite two recent studies as proof that, as the House Ways and Means Committee put it, emergency benefits are “the cause of the painfully slow labor market recovery.” But the bulk of academic research suggests that extended benefits only slightly increase the length of time people are out of work, mostly because of flexibility to find a suitable job rather than grasping at the first offered.

As researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco recently concluded, “Our estimates suggest that extending unemployment insurance benefits in weak labor markets has virtually no effect on the rate of job finding.”

If Paul and fellow Republicans had their way, 1.3 million jobless would be cut off by year’s end, another 1.9 million in the first half of 2014. Two words suffice in response: Bah! Humbug!

Ruth Marcus’ email address is ruthmarcus@washpost.com.

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