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Monday, January 13, 2014

Where are the unemployed? A response to Robert Romano, The Heartland Institute and Human Events

The burning smell and the billow of smoke tell you everything you need to know. You can hear the blare of sirens and the flash of lights. Firemen are on the scene, hooking up their hoses and getting ready to extinguish the blaze.

But there's someone there you don't recognize. A man standing at the hydrant, wrench in one hand, stopwatch in the other. While everyone else is fighting the fire, tending to the folks that were in the building, or keeping the reporters back a safe distance, this fellow is looking down. Waiting. Until his hand tightens around the wrench, the fire hoses deflate, and the water shuts off.

"But the fire's not out!" someone shouts.

"You're only treating the symptoms!" he shouts right back. "Besides, those are my tax dollars paying for that water. When is enough, enough?"

And the fire keeps burning, while the firemen stand helpless.

Robert Romano is the latest writer to make the argument that it's time to end long-term unemployment benefits. Among the reasons? It's going to cost the taxpayers $6.4 billion dollars to extend benefits for three months. He quotes a statement from Nathan Mehrens of Americans for Limited Government, who says that a vote to extend UI benefits is "doing nothing to lift the economy out of its continued doldrums," merely "treating the symptoms." Mehrens' statement claims that, since 2008, "the government has done nothing to get out of the way of the economy and let it grow." Romano suggests that perhaps it's time to end extended unemployment benefits, and return to the pre-emergency level of 26 weeks: benefits have been repeatedly extended, and individuals are collecting more than was paid in. Romano asks: "when is enough, enough?"

Neither Romano nor Mehrens mention one critical detail: the long-term unemployed, whose benefits have been terminated. 1.3 million men and women in December, and almost 5 million by the end of 2014.

Neither Romano nor Mehrens mention why these men and women need emergency benefits. They don't mention the long and worsening odds these men and women face as they still keep competing for the jobs that are out there. They don't mention the bias against the unemployed, and they definitely don't mention the extra bias the long-term unemployed face.

They don't mention that there are nowhere near enough jobs out there: one job for every three job seekers. They don't mention it takes an average of 35 weeks to find work, which means that a 26-week maximum leaves even the average job seeker out in the cold.

They don't mention the many arguments, made by economists from every side of the political spectrum, that make the case that these benefits need to be extended; that doing so benefits not just the recipients, but the entire economy.

They don't mention a lot of things, but mainly, they don't mention the people, and how the loss of this thin lifeline will throw them overboard and leave them, not to sink or to swim, but just to sink.

So, to Robert Romano, and Nathan Mehrens, and everyone who has published your article, I have a question: where are the unemployed? Why did you choose to ignore them, and why do you want us to do the same?

When is enough, enough? When the fire has been put out. For the long-term unemployed, it's still a seven-alarm blaze. Put down your stopwatch, and take your hand off the wrench. We could use your help.

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