Notes from a bitch…on unemployment and motivation…

Let’s jump right on in, shall we?
Congress has been at odds (surprise, surprise) over whether or not to extend benefits to unemployed workers. Democrats want to pass the extension while Republicans don’t. A lot in the media have reported on this as a typical partisan staring contest…Democrats are glaring and Republicans aren’t blinking while out-of-work Americans at the end of their current unemployment benefits brace themselves for the fallout.
But something said by some Republicans during this stand-off caught my attention…something about how extending unemployment benefits removes a key motivation to find work.
Yeah, that argument just sits there like a stinky fart in a humid room.
It reminds me of a variation of that theme issued forth by Missouri State Representative Cynthia Davis, who opposed funding school lunch programs through the summer because she feels hunger is a motivator for folks (in this case, children too young to legally work) to find jobs.
I’ve been unemployed before…and, even though I didn’t put in a claim for unemployment benefits, the stress of bills and debt and looking but not finding was the very definition of misery. I was highly motivated to find a job…
…but that’s not what conservative politicians are talking about.

No, these politicians are giving voice to their belief that people receiving unemployment checks are lazy bums who don’t find work because they are living the life of Riley on the government dime.
Reality, however, is another thing altogether.
In reality, unemployment checks barely cover the basics and certainly do not stretch to cover luxuries.
In reality, many of the jobs lost to the recession have not been replaced.
In reality, being out of work isn’t fun or easy or enjoyable for workers who face losing their homes and cars and ability to survive much less thrive.
In reality, the economy is a feminist issue and the lack of recovery seriously impacts the lives of working-women, women trying to enter the workforce and their families.
In reality, we the people deserve some respect from those elected to serve us…the same elected officials who are getting paid on our dime.
And ’tis the lack of respect that bothers me most…that lack of respect that is displayed when politicians say that unemployed Americans need to experience the desperation of being unable to feed and house ourselves and our families in order to be properly motivated to find a job that isn’t there.
Mmmhmm, this is one of the public displays of traditional values I wish the masses would remember when they vote.
The extension of unemployment benefits is expected to come to a vote this week.

Join the Conversation

  • daveNYC

    This is just a variation on the ‘strapping young bucks buying T-bone steaks with welfare checks’ meme. The only difference is that they’re talking about ‘people needing motivation to find jobs’ (because obviously it’s lack of motivation that is why we’re at 10% unemployment).

  • stellarose

    And for many of us women (and men) with children out there, even if the job is there and we are qualified, the lack of affordable childcare and flexible working arrangements in this country may make it impossible for us to take the job.
    If these people really wanted to encourage working-class people to get jobs, they would implement the sort of programs that make life livable for working parents, instead of suggesting making kids go hungry is the answer to our social problems (!!!) Since they repeatedly refuse to put in place the sorts of things that exist in the rest of the developed world, its pretty clear all they care about is entrenching the current class and gender system and keeping as much money as possible in their own pockets.

  • arxacies

    The problem that I’ve always had with Republican arguments on this matter is that they don’t acknowledge the concept of a “living wage” and the difficulty one gets into when they take a job that is far below what they were making.
    I agree with them that it is, in theory, possible for someone to find A job doing SOMETHING(although considering that there are six people applying for every job, even that is a statement that is VERY much debatable).
    However, these jobs can very easily become a sort of “poison pill” and make it more difficult to get a job that is closer to giving the person a living wage.
    The Republican response, of course, would be that the person employed should be grateful for any job at all and that they should live frugally and without luxury. You know, like a place with a low-ish crime rate, ok food, day care, a car to get back and forth to work, etc. Total luxuries.

  • DeafBrownTrash

    the GOP have also insultied disabled people (Deaf, Blind, crippled, etc…) who cannot find jobs because of our disabilities. So we’re all “lazy bums,” huh, Republicans? I’ve had a hard time finding a job elsewhere because some employers do not want to hire a Deaf person. I cannnot believe how the GOP Party is so hateful and classist toward the un-employed people.

  • Comrade Kevin

    Someone who has never had to worry about much of anything can easily make glib decisions like this.

  • L.K. Louise

    A-freaking men to this post! I’m sick of people saying “oh, Republicans are trying to push people to succeed, democrats are just coddling them” (Quote from my radio co-host last week, a conservative Republican). I’m sorry, but treating people with basic dignity and justice is not the same as “coddling”.

  • lovefromgirl

    Motivation has been harder to come by lately, but that’s mostly due to the lack of jobs in my area! I’m making a living wage on unemployment; there’s nothing else out there that I can really do for the same money. (Stupid pain issues. Stupid brain.) What little there is now requires a Bachelor’s Degree — yes, even administrative assisting — which I haven’t been able to achieve thanks to, well, the same things that keep me from working more vigorous jobs!
    A little humanity from the government would be nice. — Oh, who am I kidding?

  • Suzann

    Here is the question to ask yourself – and you will prove their argument false.
    If someone promised to pay you whatever you earned now in exchange for you being forced to do NOTHING -would you take the offer?
    I think you would not. Most people want to be productive and actually enjoy work. (Provided it is real productive work and not, you know, drudgery.)
    Money is not the only reason people work, so money alone could not prevent people from working. (Especially not the tiny amounts doled out these days… but I think any amount would not change the reality._

  • Athenia

    Question–is there any sort of consensus on how long unemployment benefits should be offered?
    I feel a little torn–I think unemployment benefits should be offered, but at some point, I’d rather use that money towards job training or something.

  • Naama

    Many, many, many public assistance programs offer job training as part of their services, or enable unemployment recipients to get job training indirectly. For example, MFIP (Minnesota family welfare) has a supported work program where you work full-time at a company, like a regular employee, and they train you, and your paycheck is paid by the government for 12 weeks. Many times, the company hires you on after the 12 week training/trial, and it’s got a huge success rate…too bad it’s falling victim to budget cuts. In Minnesota, MFIP supports you and your family for 5 years, which is a whole lot compared to other states (it’s 2 for most, over your entire life), but during those five years, you have to pretty much be job searching 35 hours a week and be able to prove it.
    So not only is welfare/unemployment money a TINY amount compared to what people actually need to be stable, but to get it, you have to be in total compliance with all sorts of rules designed to stop you from just being “unmotivated” and deciding not to work.
    Anti-assistance conservatives clearly know very little about public assistance.

  • bartelbe

    You motivate the rich by paying them more and the poor by paying them less. Cutting unemployment benefit to encourage work, what a load of crap. It is passing the buck, blaming the poor for a mess created by the wealthy. The reason why there is unemployment in the West, is the failure of the rich to provide enough jobs. A combination of out sourcing, unfair free trade, and free market fundamentalism has left many western economies hollowed out. The jobs do not exist. In my country Britain, unemployment benefit was relatively speaking, much higher in the 60’s, than it is now. If people are refusing to find work, so they can live on benefits, the unemployment rate in the 60s should be higher than it is now. The reverse is the case, lower benefits have led to more unemployment.
    Unemployment is due to economic circumstances beyond most people’s control. It is the responsibilty of our rulers to run the economy in a way which creates jobs, and protects the most vunerable in times of economic hardship. Least we forget the current crisis started on wall street, not in the neighborhoods of the poor. The fact that your politicians are blaming the poor for the politicians own failure is pathetic. If your leaders can’t create jobs, they should be unemployed themselves.

  • arxacies

    Short Answer
    Well, the answer is primarily divided by ideological lines. Conservatives don’t like unemployment benefits, liberals do.
    Longer more geeky answer
    More “liberal” economists, like Paul Krugman, believe that unemployment benefits are a very good form of stimulus. The idea is that you give money to people who can’t find jobs. Those people spend the money immediately(on pointless luxuries like food and shelter) which goes into circulation and generates economic activity which translates into jobs.
    More “conservative” economists, such as the Chicago school of economics(for example, Milton Friedman) believe that unemployment benfits, in a nutshell do not do any of the above and therefore shouldn’t really be given at all.
    If you would like I can give you a Painfully Geeky Long Response which includes cited sources. On a side note, I’m more of the Paul Krugman school.

  • Surfin3rdWave

    Honestly, I’m ready to see the unemployment rug pulled out from under the feet of everyone I know. I live in MS, and I know at least a dozen white, college-educated men who are repeatedly turning town job offers because they’re getting unemployment. Or, alternatively, they’re working under the table.
    One guy who I know got ticked off that he lost his food stamps when someone reported him for working under-the-table at $3000/month, WHILE he was getting unemployment.
    He says he lost his food stamps because he’s white. I say he lost them because he was making way too much to qualify, and he needs to get over his exaggerated sense of white-person-with-a-dick entitlement. (If you can’t tell, I don’t have good feelings for this guy.)
    As someone who has been desperately poor at times, I know how hard it is to struggle to make ends meet. I’ve lived in the projects and I’ve gotten food stamps for three years running. But I’m not seeing struggling people getting unemployment right now; I’m seeing lazy, privileged people who think that they’re entitled to a bigger piece of the pie.
    I know that not EVERYONE getting unemployment is like the people I know, but I’m infuriated by the amount of privilege I see handed out to already-privileged people in my own area.

  • Surfin3rdWave

    The problem with this is that almost everyone working in childcare is female. If we institute cheaper childcare, that means lower wages for daycare workers and babysitters. Then the wage gap widens even more.
    I know what you’re saying and I empathize with you. Unfortunately, there’s really no simple solution to the problem. =(

  • Synj

    The arguments indicate many politicians do not understand how unemployment works…
    As someone who has been on and off unemployment for a few years, let me explain a few things, at least in Texas (and it’s my understanding most states work similarly)… You must apply and be approved for unemployment, and you must have been employed for (usually) at least 6 months out of the last 12 to be approved. Your payment rate is a percentage of your lowest earnings (assuming a 40-hr workweek) in the first 3 quarters of the last 4 quarters (so that shitty job you took b/c unemployment ran out before getting a high paying stimulus job that lasted under a year? *it* determines your unemployment benefit amount)… of course, if you had a stimulus job and are now unemployed b/c the stimulus was not renewed, you can qualify for an extra $50/month!). So, basic unemployment, before the federal extensions kick in, is based on what you, as a person bringing in a paycheck, have paid into the state system (hence you must have worked to qualify). Now, to get your payments, you must apply for at least 3 jobs a week (which, admittedly, can leave to some hail-mary apps), and if reviewed by the unemployment office, you must justify that you are at least remotely qualified; you must accept any job offer making 85% of your most recent job, after about two months 75%, and depending on what you made up to 65% of your last wage… if you do not accept, you must justify to the unemployment office why you did not… you must also attend required meetings/appointments with your unemployment office. Most offices also have programs, funded by grants, that will pay for people that have gone “X” amount of time without employment to retrain for a high demand job, all while still completing their unemployment duties.
    Looking for work is a full-time job, and unemployment only barely covers your expenses if you were living well below your means in the first place and have built up savings that can cover emergencies and annual expenses (yeah, today I turned in a bunch of copper i ripped from old air conditioners at a friend’s house to the recycling yard to get cash to go to planned parenthood for my yearly exam & script).
    I’ve thus far managed to find some kind of temp/contract position that doesn’t pay too horribly just before my state benefits (that I paid myself) ran out, sometimes literally the same day… but that’s only b/c my field relies heavily on well-educated, poorly-paid temporary workers that get called into work for infrastructure & gvmt projects. I’m lucky that I don’t have to worry about childcare and i get a non-taxable food allowance and transportation when I work, or I couldn’t afford to work.
    Considering it is taking people a couple years to find work, this could prove problematic, as most benefits will expire in 6-12months– the federal extension gives a little leeway.
    How long of an extension? I don’t know. As a tax-payer I prefer a shorter extension, though as a potential recipient of the extension I would be more comfortable if it would double my time to find a job. Not only b/c I’m a bit selfish, but in my employment history I have had to settle for “what pays the bills,” which at one point translated to an extremely abusive boss who knew full and well he had me by the financial short-hairs, where I filed several OSHA complaints and still ended up injured (and fighting for two years to receive workers compensation), and I’d like to avoid that situation if at all possible!

  • stellarose

    Cheaper childcare does not mean lower wages for childcare workers. What it means is that the government subsidizes childcare with tax dollars. This is the system they have in almost every other developed country (in almost every other developed country, childcare workers make MORE but parents pay LESS).
    The idea that the rest of the developed world has is that childcare is the responsibility of society as a whole, not just parents. In order for corporations to function, people must work at them and while those people work, someone must care for their children. Ergo, it makes sense to tax them to cover part of the cost of childcare.
    Incidentally, we almost did get universal childcare here in America in the 1970s…a bill implementing sliding-scale fees to guarantee affordable care to all passed both houses of congress…but alas, it was vetoed by Nixon acting at the behest of anti-feminist forces.


    I don’t really understand how funding school lunch programs would help feed hungry kids. Not that many kids go to summer school. I was on the school lunch program in MO but I couldn’t go to summer school if I wanted cause the bus didn’t pick up for it and we didn’t have a car :/
    Not to mention school lunches are usually barely edible and certainly not enough to be one’s main source of food.

    • Caitlin

      Lunch programs held at schools during the summer generally give free meals to all kids, not just the ones enrolled in summer school.

  • scarlett

    hello from germany.:)
    i think the republicans in the us-congress (here: senate) are reacting extremly irresponsible not extending unemployment fees.
    to me it seems as they are going to oppose anything that comes from the democratic party just to damage their successes.
    it shows their lack of ability to acknowledge the reality of so many people they are supposed to represent!

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