88,000 Floridians Lose Unemployment Benefits

You know how Obamacare/high taxes/regulations/whatever is strangling the economy, stifling job creation and keeping good, hard-working folks out of work? And you know how those good, hard-working folks are actually lazy bums who need to stop suckling the government teat, get off their asses and find a job?

Wait …

Last week, 1.3 million Americans and 88,000 Floridians — including nearly 6,300 in Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties — lost their federal emergency jobless benefits. By December 2014, unless Congress acts, nearly 4 million more Americans will join them. They will do so for no other reason than Republicans decided they should, lest we inculcate a culture of leeches; the benefits extension thus wasn’t a part of the recent bipartisan budget deal President Obama signed. Take, for example, state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, who told the News Service of Florida, “I don’t think it’s healthy for our society to create that kind of dependency and keep extending these benefits where people are living on government assistance for years.”

Florida already ranks among the stingiest states on this front. The average unemployed person collects just $230 a week — nationally, benefits average around $300 a week — and during Gov. Scott’s tenure, we’ve slashed the number of weeks the jobless can reap that weekly fortune from 23 to 19 to now 16. (The max allowed by federal law is 26.) The emergency federal benefits that just expired provided for another 14 weeks. (Under federal law, we could have offered 47 weeks, but then we’d be mollycoddlers.)

The undergirding philosophy here is that this fat government cheese incentivizes the poor to park on the sofa with a bag of Doritos and watch Maury all day instead of schlepping it down to the local McDonald’s, where they can be duly exploited by our corporate overlords. (Yay, capitalism!) By giving the newly jobless just four months to find new work before the benefits run out — even though the average unemployed Floridian stays that way for 48.7 weeks, and only two in five unemployed find work within 14 weeks — we’re actually doing them a favor.

Except, well, no. The problem isn’t lack of motivation; it’s lack of opportunity.

A person receiving even the state’s maximum weekly benefit, $275, is hardly in a position to laze about. (The median monthly rent in Jacksonville was $904 in 2011, according to City-Data.com. Do the math.) When benefits are cut off, the economics data tell us, the unemployed don’t suddenly start pounding the pavement; they’ve already been doing that. Instead, some take low-paying jobs for which they’re overqualified, but most give up and drop out of the labor force altogether.

The real issue is this: There are nearly three unemployed people for every job opening, and the long-term unemployed — those out of work for 27 weeks or longer — have just a 12 percent chance of getting one of these positions. Their odds decrease every day they stay jobless. Kicking them in the nuts won’t help.

By the way, the median net worth of members of Congress — the folks who’ve decided the unemployed have it too good — is $442,007.