Two years ago, President Obama and GOP Congressional hacks were locked in a struggle, with Obama aiming to renew unemployment benefits and middle class tax breaks, while Republicans lobbied to extend the Bush Tax Cuts for the wealthy.
Now, the same tired drama is playing out the same way, yet again.
Republicans have their trigger finger ready to “shoot the hostages” (the American middle class) in order to preserve tax breaks for the top 2 percent. One way the GOP excuses their selfishness is by implying that unemployed people are simply lazy, and killing their safety-net benefits will motivate these “victims” to find work.
However, a new study blows that Republican falsehood right out of the water.
Disproving the notion that Americans want a free ride, economists find that up to half of eligible people didn’t claim unemployment benefits, according to the report Unemployment Insurance: Payments, Overpayments and Unclaimed Benefits, which analyzed U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
During the recession’s worst year (2008-2009), roughly 11.4 million people were eligible to collect unemployment benefits, but only about 5.7 million filed claims, according to David Fuller, an economics professor who co-authored the report.
The eligible jobless people who declined unemployment benefits saved state and federal governments $108 billion — nearly equal to the $121 billion in total benefits paid, and 10 times greater than the estimated $11 billion lost to clerical errors and fraud, the study finds.
In 2011, the percentage of eligible people applying for benefits increased from 50 to 95 percent, a rise which correlates with the length of time people have been out of work.
Americans were jobless for an average of four months in 2008 and nearly six months in 2009 — the time period when only half of eligible people applied. When the average time to find work rose to almost eight months in 2010 and nine months in 2011, the percentage of people seeking benefits increased dramatically.
The data reflects the work ethic and self-pride held by Americans, so many of whom took government benefits only as a last resort after looking for work for longer than six months.
Even so, unemployment checks are not a “get-rich-quick scheme,” Mike Papantonio, host of Ring of Fire radio, reminds the Republican leadership. People draw only a fraction of their previous earnings, which they depend on to keep their families afloat until they find work.
Still, the long-term trend demonstrates that most Americans would rather work than depend on the government for undeserved handouts. From 1988 through 2011, on average, 37 percent of eligible people – 1 in 3 – chose not to draw benefits.
Those long-term unemployed Americans, the ones who saved the government money by skipping benefits, the ones who really need the assistance now as they approach one year out of work, those people will lose extended unemployment benefits this month, unless Republicans in Congress give up on the brinksmanship and vote now to renew them.