April 7, 2013

Only on Fox News would unemployment insurance be presented as some kind of “cruelty” to the poor that “deters” them from getting hired at low-paying jobs. That’s right, with a straight face, Fox guest John Tamny said that we should scrap federal unemployment benefits in order to make “existing jobs” more attractive and “help” the unemployed by “luring” them back into the workforce. Naturally, host Tucker Carlson was all ears.

It started with a suggestion by Carlson that unemployment insurance benefits are unnecessary and wasteful. He cited a statistic that, during the past recession, the federal government paid “almost $80 million in jobless benefits to households that made more than $1 million a year.” He added, “Is this proof that the system is broken or should top earners be entitled to federal assistance if they lose their jobs?”

His guest, John Tamny took the concept a few steps further. He thought it would be even worse if millionaires were “forced” to pay into a system “that only non-millionaires could collect from.” But he went on to advocate for getting rid of unemployment insurance altogether - couched in the kind of rhetoric George Orwell would surely have loved - by calling one of our most important social safety nets “anti-poor” because it doesn’t encourage them to work for lower wages.

(The system) makes it that much more expensive for (businesses) to lure workers back from the sidelines. It actually raises their labor cost. If you didn’t have the federal government essentially paying people not to work, their labor demands would naturally fall to the level at which the markets would hire them again and they would get back to work more quickly. I think it’s anti-poor to say only you get a program that’s going to make you unemployed for a longer time.

…If you’re being paid money not to work, it’s going to make it that more expensive for businesses to hire you back into the labor force. So if you wanted to rid that, you’d get rid of unemployment benefits and people would then have to accept the existing jobs that are available. Many of them maybe don’t look attractive now. …Unemployment benefits are a deterrent to getting back into the labor force so I think it would be particularly cruel to say if you’re poor, you get paid to stay on the sidelines.

Predictably, Tamny’s solution is to privatize. He wants “401K-style programs" that both employers and employees would pay into "so that if the unthinkable happens, you have a little cushion that you own for during the time that you’re looking for new job.” What nobody mentioned is that this would do exactly what Carlson was supposedly against in the first place - subsidize higher-paid workers' unemployment longer and better.

But if you're new at a job before getting laid off or working at a low-paying job that would only provide a very small “cushion” or if the stock market should tank again – well, I guess the rest of us could count our “lucky” stars as we flip burgers at McDonald’s.

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