By Simon Johnson
The principle behind unemployment insurance is simple. Since the 1930s, employers – and in some states employees — have paid insurance premiums (in the form of payroll taxes, levied on wages) to the government. If people are laid off through no fault of their own, they can claim this insurance – just like you file a claim on your homeowner’s or renter’s policy if your home burns down.
Fire insurance is mostly sold by the private sector; unemployment insurance is “sold” by the government – because the private sector never performed this role adequately. The original legislative intent, reaffirmed over the years, is clear: Help people to help themselves in the face of shocks beyond their control.
But the severity and depth of our current recession raise an issue on a scale that we have literally not had to confront since the 1930s. What should we do when large numbers of people run out of standard unemployment benefits, much of which are provided at the state level, but still cannot find a job? At the moment, the federal government steps in to provide extended benefits.
In negotiations currently under way, House Republicans propose to cut back dramatically on these benefits, asserting that this will push people back to work and speed the recovery. Does this make sense, or is it bad economics, as well as being mean-spirited? Continue reading “Mean-Spirited, Bad Economics”