Penalizing the unemployed isn’t smart

December 29, 2013 

The new year isn’t starting well for 213,793 Californians – their unemployment benefits expired Saturday, owing to inaction by House Republicans.

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released a state-by-state count of American workers who lost their benefits. California is one of the hardest-hit states, as is Nevada. In the past 12 months, the state has received $4.5 billion in federal jobless benefits.

In addition to the 213,793 Californians whose unemployment benefits ended over the weekend, another 325,800 others stand to lose their benefits in the first half of 2014 – unless they find work or Congress acts upon its return to Washington, D.C.

California’s unemployment rate of 8.3 percent remains above the national average. The entire Central Valley is well above the national and state averages. Consider these numbers:

•  Merced County, unemployment is 13.6 percent, and, 1,939 people lost their benefits.

•  Stanislaus County: 12.1 percent unemployment and 3,749 lost benefits.

•  San Joaquin County: 12.2 percent unemployment, and 4,942 lost benefits.

•  Tulare County, unemployment is 12.9 percent, and 3,256 lost benefits.

•  Fresno County, 12.6 percent of the workforce is out of work, and 7,108 lost benefits.

The Fresno Bee recently quoted Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, as saying that extending unemployment “hurts the unemployed” because it “reduces the incentive they have to get into the workforce.” That is balderdash. The overwhelming majority of the unemployed want jobs. Losing these benefits “hurts” the unemployed because they won’t have money to pay the rent. And that hurts the landlord who can’t collect and likely can’t move the unemployed out until going through costly and time-consuming legal procedures.

Poor people spend virtually everything they get, and what they spend helps fuel the area economy. Let’s put some of these numbers into perspective. If every unemployed person in Merced County is getting the average monthly federal benefit of $1,166, that means there’s $2.26 million that won’t be circulating through Merced businesses in January. In Stanislaus, the hit will be $4.37 million, and in San Joaquin $5.76 million. Yes, this will hurt the unemployed, but this will also hurt people selling gas, groceries and clothes.

One more thing. These folks might not have a job or a paycheck, but they still will have a vote. Come November, perhaps they will use those votes to help express their disapproval of such theories.

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