Editorials

In NC legislature, the heartless pick on the jobless

hlynch@newsobserver.com

The war on the unemployed continues, with cruel irony, from the very place the unemployed should find their strongest defenders and advocates, the General Assembly. A proposal is breezing through the General Assembly to require the unemployed receiving unemployment compensation to document five contacts a week with possible employers. The current requirement is two contacts. This is little more than a gratuitous slap at people who’ve had their share of tough bumps riding through the recession.

A couple of years ago, Republican legislators cut unemployment benefits and the length of eligibility on the shaky logic that the state needed to pay back early the $2.5 billion it borrowed from the federal government to pay benefits after the 2007-08 Great Recession. North Carolina was in a pinch, thanks to a period in the 1990s when businesses got a break on unemployment taxes because the fund to pay unemployment benefits was flush.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and GOP legislators decided to accelerate the debt payment, but the unemployed suffered hurtful cuts in benefits in the name of giving businesses a break on unemployment taxes.

Republicans also threw in some graceless insults about the unemployed, saying if they didn’t get as many benefits they’d be “encouraged” to go back to work – as if the state’s average benefit of roughly $300 a week means people can kick back and live high on the hog.

Lost in the rhetoric was the fact that unemployment benefits from the beginning were supposed to help people find comparable work, at comparable pay, rather than take a lower-paying job in desperation. Having unemployed people get the kind of work they’d had, the logic went, would be good for the overall economy. Having them take jobs that paid much less would hamper the economy, with more underemployed people.

It didn’t matter to Republicans. They cut benefits, cut the length of time people could be eligible. And changing the rules eliminated the chance for North Carolinians to get extended benefits from the federal government. To which those such as Republican Rep. Julia Howard (who supports this latest foolishness) said, so what?

This is insulting to many unemployed people who have been scrambling hard to find work. It is just another slap at them, nothing more, from Republicans who have done quite enough damage to the families of the unemployed. North Carolina’s benefits, which have dropped in terms of national ranking, aren’t going to keep anyone in the chips, and this bill assumes the worst about those who are without work, a group that includes people from all walks of life.

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