Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Unemployment reform takes wrong approach

The Republicans running the show on Jones Street in Raleigh had better hope their theories are correct. They better hope that slashing the state's unemployment benefits and reducing the financial burden on businesses will result in an explosion of good-paying jobs. That has to be their rationale for cutting unemployment benefits by more than a third. The state Senate has passed the bill, and it will soon go to Gov. Pat McCrory's desk.

If the miraculous explosion in jobs doesn't occur, and if the many thousands of North Carolinians who area already out of work can't find a job, the state's economy will fall into a deep hole. Dropping the top unemployment benefit from $535 to $350 might help the state repay its debt to the federal government, but it also might make jobless residents more desperate than they already are.

In addition to cutting the weekly benefits, the GOP-sponsored bill also cuts the number of weeks the state will pay unemployment benefits to as few as 12 weeks. This action also eliminates North Carolinians' eligibility for extended unemployment benefits paid entirely by the federal government. I wonder if any of the legislators voting for this bill have ever been laid off and struggled with the despair and desperation of losing your income, your identity and even your self-respect.

I've been where I suspect few of these GOP legislators have been. I was laid off after 29 years with the same company and looked for work for a year before finally landing a job. Unemployment benefits made the difference between an adjusted, more cautious, conservative family budget and the loss of all of my savings and perhaps even my home. Were it not for unemployment, my depression would have been chronic instead of fleeting, and my anger might have overwhelmed my self-control.

North Carolina faces a difficult task to repay all the money it had borrowed to pay unemployment benefits as the state slipped deeper into recession than most states. But to expect the sacrifice for that repayment to be made primarily by those who are already suffering and who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own is surely not the best alternative.

Maybe Republicans assume they don't need the votes of the unemployed, the poor, those living on the financial edge. But they will regret their insensitivity if the more desperate jobless drag the economy further into the abyss.

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