Respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll are split down the middle on whether Congress should renew extended unemployment insurance benefits.
The federally funded benefits will expire Nov. 30 unless Congress reauthorizes them. Lawmakers in July 2008 initially approved benefits beyond the 26 weeks provided by states. Last year, the extension was increased to a maximum of 73 weeks in the regions hit hardest, for a total of 99 weeks.
In New York, the upper limit is 93 weeks. State Labor Commissioner Colleen Gardner says that without an extension some 200,000 New Yorkers will run out of benefits by the end of the year. By May 1, 2011, the number could grow to 400,000 — including 23,000 in the Finger Lakes region.
Fifty percent of Snap Poll respondents are opposed to renewing the extension. On the other side, 26 percent say benefits should be extended until the U.S. jobless rate — currently 9.6 percent –falls below 7.5 percent. Twenty-four percent favor renewing the extended benefits until the end of next year.
Federally funded extended benefits have been provided eight times since the 1950s, and Congress has never allowed them to expire with a national unemployment rate above 7.2 percent.
The estimated cost of reauthorizing the current extended benefits through 2011 is $65 billion.
More than 605 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted Nov. 22.
Should Congress renew extended unemployment insurance benefits (maximum of 99 weeks)?
Yes, until the U.S. jobless rate (currently 9.6%) falls below 7.5%: 26%
Yes, until the end of 2011: 24%
Which of the following statements do you agree with? (Choose all that apply.)
Extended jobless benefits are…
A necessary safety net for the long-term unemployed: 49%
A disincentive for the jobless to seek work: 45%
Additional government spending that taxpayers cannot afford: 34%
A highly effective economic stimulus: 17%
Here are some comments from readers:
As a previously unemployed person, I cannot imagine what it would be like to have no money to support yourself through tough times. My husband and I were both unemployed, though he was not getting unemployment benefits, so it was critical for us to receive those benefits during the six-plus months I was looking for a job. I know many others in that situation. While I believe some people abuse the privilege, there are many more who rely on those to get through tough times.
Why not extend the benefits? I would bet the majority of the money is used as intended, and the cost is peanuts compared with the huge amount of waste in so many other parts of the federal budget.
—Sam Messer, Applied Measurement & Controls Inc.
I hate it, but having 10 percent of us starving and homeless is something that I do not have the stomach to see either.
As an employer, I am finding it very difficult to find good job applicants, especially for more entry-level jobs, but in reality at all levels. Why would this be true when unemployment is at 9.6 percent? Well, it is because in the new socialist America, everyone gets paid well, whether they work or not. If you want to lower unemployment, quit extending the unemployment benefits!
—Joe Fabetes, Rochester
It seems like some unemployment insurance payment is reasonable to help people through the trauma of losing a job. Benefits for 26 weeks seems a reasonable upper limit. Extending benefits much above 26 weeks (six months) feels like paying people to not work. Ninety-nine weeks-that’s almost two years-is excessive and not healthy for the individual receiving the benefits or for society as a whole.
—Doug Lyon, Lyon Capital Management
These are not lazy people. Their jobs were sent overseas. Unless corporate America can create new jobs, high levels of unemployment will become the norm and the middle class will be a fond memory.
Extend, but let’s put some objective job search and retraining requirements in place.
—David Lamb, Rochester
It is unfortunate that a group of people abuse this benefit by not actively looking for work. I know many unemployed people in the Rochester area who are working extremely hard to find employment and need the benefits to survive. I think that more effort should go into cutting off the people who are cheating the system so that more funds can be directed to the people who are honest and deserve the benefit.
I recall the economic downturn of 1979. At that time, there were no extensions offered for those of us on unemployment. It forced me personally to take a job that I would have not otherwise considered. Having to support yourself and/or your family oftentimes means doing whatever it takes to pay the bills. I worked three jobs at one point just to stay solvent. Tough times require touch decisions and choices. Extending the benefits again only pushes off the inevitable to further in the future; it is not a solution.
Where is the incentive to work when the entitlement-laden nanny state continues to take the place of personal responsibility? I was unemployed for six months and hated every moment that I had to receive benefits. I was grateful that they were available, but I was raised to believe that hard work was the answer, not reliance on the government for extended support. To that end, I took a job in Arlington, Va., while my wife lives in the Rochester area. It is a hardship on us, as I’m only home a couple of times a month, but continuing to receive unemployment benefits was not an option.
—Chuck Barone, Rush
Is this what we are looking for? “The rules governing compensation to the unemployed were tightened from 1994, limiting the number of years the unemployed could receive benefits from seven to four. Most noticeably labor market policy in 1994 turned from ‘passive’ measures — besides unemployment benefits, an early retirement scheme and a temporary paid leave scheme — toward ‘active’ measures that were devoted to getting people back to work by providing training and jobs. It is commonly supposed that the strengthening of economic incentives helped to lower unemployment.” I hope not.
—Devon Michaels, Chili
Every person that I have talked to who has received unemployment benefits during this recession has informed me that they made more money not working than working. My life’s experience is that conservatives want the unemployed to accept any work regardless of pay rates in order to start supporting themselves. Liberals want us to give those same people money so they won’t live in their neighborhood. We need to create wealth, not redistribute it. We need to truly stimulate the economy, not just burn dollars on stupid projects or to pay people to stay home. I believe our society has a duty to provide its citizens (not someone else’s) with enough food, clothing and shelter to survive. Beyond that, we all should work. If we put all the unemployed and underemployed to work building lasting infrastructure that would benefit everyone, you wouldn’t have enough workers and we would import aliens, legal or otherwise.
We all miss an opportunity when we think the only options are to either extend unemployment or not extend in their current form. I believe we need to start “weaning” people off unemployment. To that end I would recommend that “extended benefits” are for three months, at 80 percent of the current rate and immediately end for those collecting Social Security. That is, you can no longer collect both unemployment and Social Security.
—Jerry Lighthouse, CPM, CPIM Advanced Purchasing Technology LLC
For 30 years, I have voted to prevent this demise of the U.S. economy, but the Congress has only catered to the rich and powerful. Congress, you cause this; help average Joe get by with the extension of benefits. If you want to stimulate the economy and employ Americans, enact an energy policy to free us from foreign oil, a 10-year plan to use U.S. natural gas supplies while moving toward electric cars, nuclear power and all other green energy sources. If done right, it would fix at least three major issues: eliminate our oil dependency with all the related security issues, create U.S. jobs and help the environment. Congress are idiots!
Unfortunately, exceptional circumstances beget exceptional solutions. The Bush government and the greed of Wall Street brought this country to its knees, and that on top of a massive exodus of jobs to foreign shores (a.k.a. offshore outsourcing) to fund corporations’ bottom lines. It’s a tough world out there for many currently unemployed. I’d recommend the cost of this extension be borne from the current profits of Wall Street and bankers. They bounced back so quickly, they still have jobs and houses, and they’ll still get paid basic if there’s no profits. All of this thanks to taxpayers — we could have let the corporations/banks go to the dogs, and perhaps we should have done. Then more people would be looking at the same side of the story and have more incentive.
—Richard Stevenson, co-founder and CEO, CobbleSoft International
And this should be paid for by taxes on the wealthy(income $300K+). Many of these have benefited from the very things causing the high unemployment.
Elections have consequences. The nation overwhelmingly elected Republicans to hold political offices knowing full well that their focus would be on fiscal restraint, less government (military spending excluded), less business regulations and keeping the Bush tax cuts in place. New York State had the worst voter turnout in the nation. States that voted “red” have some of the worst economic problems, long-term negative effects as a result of the housing bubble and the deregulation of the banking industry. Elections have consequences. I confess that as a Progressive and pro-labor (who, by the way, authorized a mailing in favor of Republican Ken Kraus’s campaign), I’m a bit bitter that so many Americans don’t have the wherewithal to perceive the depth of our national difficulties. Millions will be dropped from the unemployment rolls over the next few months and will be forced to take low-paying jobs. Businesses will suffer along with the families, making Christmas look a little bleaker this winter. Elections have consequences.
—Tim Judd, teacher, RCSD
There are many misinformed people who portray the unemployed as "freeloaders" who are milking the system and don’t want to work as long as they can get paid not to. This is so not true; most of the unemployed do not want to be in this situation and are doing everything they can to get back to work. Some have kids in college and many are having trouble making ends meet while they seek their next position. We should absolutely extend unemployment insurance benefits for them. I believe it could be easily paid for if we had a fairer and more consistent federal income tax system.
—Rick Corey, OpticsProfessionals LLC
There are a lot of great people with excellent skills that are in the long-term unemployed and are actively seeking work. They and their families need these safety net funds in order to survive. The government should tax the current excessive profits of the financial institutions that got us into this mess, continue to put severe constraints on credit for small business, refuse to reset mortgage rates for those that are losing their homes and in many cases were bailed out by taxpayer funds. It’s time they "gave back" to the citizens of this country so that our federal budget is not so burdened by increased deficits which will occur by providing this safety net. It appears they can afford to take on their fair share of the pain they have caused the American citizen and the American economy.
—Michael L. Harf, EMCO Commercial Flooring Inc.
I have entry-level positions that do include advancement, but no one wants the entry-level pay, which is below what unemployment is currently paying them. Perhaps those seeking to get off unemployment could come prepared with pre-approval forms for supplemental training grants so that the employer and the employee can get past a six-month training period. As a small business, I do not have the HR personnel to sift through all the forms that are required or that may be available to me.
—Nigel Heaton, Marni Spring Corp.
OK, so there’s a contradiction in my answer. Yes, the benefits should be extended but mostly for those older than 50 that have been actively looking for work but cannot find it. Those people probably won’t find work unless the economy really starts to move ahead. There should be more done in terms of qualification than is now being done. Can we afford it across the board? No. All the negatives certainly apply, but to that group of people who really need it, it’s not a luxury or extra money; it’s survival. Bottom line is that it’s not all or nothing. Make it conditional on true need and I’m all for it.
When conditions beyond the control of an individual push him or her (and me) into joblessness for an extended period of time, what makes more sense? Their previous employer is paying an unemployment insurance premium. Do we force more people onto social services or into foreclosure, or extend the benefits they deserve? Yes, it costs money, and what other good choice is there? Seems like a no-brainer to me.
—Margie Campaigne, Project HOUSE/Green Irene
Many people who have lost their jobs really want to work; there just aren’t any jobs available. A program for evaluating the skills and abilities of those who lost their jobs due to the recession should be done, and a focused retraining/educational system should be instituted to help wider placement for those out of work. Workers are assets and we need to find a way to deploy them effectively to re-energize the economy. Companies could receive tax credits, educational institutions could gain new revenue, and the government could fund the transformation of the workforce to meet future needs. People who had good jobs in the past and lost them won’t survive on unemployment benefits alone, especially those with family responsibilities.
—Frank Orienter, Rochester
A trillion dollars was given to businesses, and we have seen no significant results to reduce unemployment! The leaders of these businesses frequently received millions of dollars in wage increases and bonuses. But they have not contributed with their billions to get the economy back to the state before the meltdown. Millions of their employees became unemployed due to the reckless behavior of these business leaders. They generously sent these unemployed to the states and the federal government for support. Now is the time to keep these unemployed alive. The so-called ‘disincentive for the jobless to seek work’ is a miserable statement of the rich and uncaring. There may be some unemployed who fall into this category, but we cannot convict all of the unemployed and their families to a death sentence because of the few. Did we kill all our business leaders because of Madoff? The other miserable statement of ‘additional government spending that taxpayers cannot afford’ is a horrible attitude of the greedy. Those who earn money have the obligation to contribute to the well-being of the country. This means primarily to help those who are not in a position to earn money and contribute their tax share to help other unfortunates, and after that to our infrastructure. How more cruel can our United States treat its own citizens? Shame on all of you who rate money higher than lives! The money that goes to the individual unemployed, retired and disabled is so little anyway that they have to spend it right away to buy their life’s necessities. Hardly any of these dollars are not spent. With this money, the economy is sustained and those at a job are kept there, and the rich leaders of the economy can claim even more raises for themselves. It is high time that those who still earn give some of their riches as taxes to the upkeep of the country and its less fortunate citizens.
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting
Our country is exceptional because of capitalism. Capitalism has teeth. If you want European- style socialism, move to Europe or Canada. There are jobs out there. Seventy-three weeks is enough time.
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com
It is sad that we even have to discuss this. This administration has got to get its act together, create stability in the business community, and that alone will help job creation. This fiscal crisis will never end if we keep propping it up with one bad policy after another.
—Peter Caines, Penfield
We have far bigger spending issues than this one. And this does mean people will continue to buy necessary items, a stimulus of its own. I truly wish it were not necessary to consider extending benefits, but, on balance, I think we should do so for a few more months.
—Carolyn Phinney Rankin, president, Phinney Rankin Inc.
This is a recap of news reported first on the Rochester Business Journal’s website. To receive the Daily Report e-mail, go to staging.rbj.net/dailyreport.