Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Down With The Unemployed!

It was a fabulous discussion (video below, from Crooks and Liars) Chris Matthews had on Monday with Tom Sherk (to rhyme is tempting) of the Heritage Foundation and Mark Green, who was largely along for the ride. Green is almost always right, and was here, but kept trying to talk about extending unemployment compensation while Matthews and Sherk were arguing about whether American workers are lazy. (Sherk obviously thinks they are, but with an IQ well into the double digits, wasn't about to admit to it.) In italics are the excerpts about these American men and women who don't want to provide for their families but love to just sit around collecting unemployment compensation.

Tom (sic) Sherk is with the Heritage Foundation. He‘s a senior analyst of labor economics. Mark Green of course is former New York City public advocate. And he‘s host of the syndicated radio show “Both Sides Now With Huffington & Matalin.”
Gentlemen, this is one of the issues. Again, we‘re going back to the high school debates I had, like whether we should have the civil rights bill under interstate commerce. Here we go with this baby.
You‘re saying—well, let me ask you Mr. Sherk, do you believe that people are shirking work to take unemployment compensation? They would rather get $300, if you‘re making it, the absolute top of unemployment, rather than take a job for $30,000 or $40,000 a year? You‘re saying that?

JAMES SHERK, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Well, no, no, that‘s not what I‘m saying.
What unemployment insurance does—and this is the finding of the science. It‘s not just me saying this as a conservative. Alan Krueger—he‘s the assistant secretary of the treasury for Obama—put out papers finding exactly this in his role as an academic economist.
It‘s not a left/right thing. It‘s the finding of the science. It‘s that when you extend the length of unemployment insurance benefits, that workers spend more time unemployed and take longer to find work. But it‘s not because they‘re lazy. It‘s not because they‘re sitting on the dole.
What it does is, it changes the types of jobs they look for. If you‘re unemployed, you would like to find a job near your city in the same type of work and preferably paying close to what you had before. And so when you have got, say, two years of benefits, so those are the jobs you spend the first year or so looking for.
The problem in this downturn is that a lot of the jobs that have been lost, particularly in construction and finance, simply aren‘t coming back. And so you‘re encouraging workers to spend a lot of time looking for jobs that don‘t exist and aren‘t going to exist.

I‘m going to have Mark respond to that.
He makes an intellectual argument there. Let‘s hear your response.

MARK GREEN, FORMER NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC ADVOCATE: This is as much science as Terri Schiavo was alive.
Chris, this is a good debate a century ago. And from Andrew Mellon to Herbert Hoover to Mr. Burns on “The Simpsons,” there have been people who say, don‘t give unemployed benefits because they won‘t work.
The science is that most economists agree some people getting unemployment benefits—they may be very young, they may be professionals with some options—may not seek work because they‘re getting a little benefit.
The overwhelmed percentage are panicked, desperate, can‘t meet mortgage payments, can‘t meet health care payments, can‘t pay for their drugs.
I don‘t know how often Mrs. Angle or Senator Kyl or the economists have been unemployed. People all over the country are putting out feelers for jobs. And there are 20 applicants for every job. And in this desperate situation, unemployment benefit extension does two things.
And it has ever since Keynes and Hoover. It‘s moral, because it gives to people who are largely desperate. And, second, it‘s perfect economics. It‘s countercyclical. The federal government spends money exactly when the economy needs a stimulation because business and consumers aren‘t spending. If there‘s not an overwhelming consensus for this, I don‘t think we should depend on free market, abstract people who say the free market will stop Toyota‘s...


GREEN: ... stop...

GREEN: ... collapsing, and stop oil—oil spills in the Gulf.

MATTHEWS: You know, it‘s interesting, Mr. Sherk. My son is an actor. And, of course, actors have to get jobs when they‘re not acting. And my son, he goes—shows up for jobs as busboy and things like that, an actor in New York.
By the way, Thomas Matthews. He looks like a movie star, he should be working more often.
And he shows up—and, Mark, you live in New York, you know what it‘s like. They announced a job like at a restaurant for busboys, which is a fairly an entry level job. Not waiter which could be pretty professional obviously, a busboy. The lines go around the corner. They‘re like trying to get an acting job.
How you can say that there aren‘t people looking for work at pretty much at the entry level job? Not the perfect job, the highly or semi-skilled job, but basic work. And these jobs have lines around the corner. Every time a hotel opens, the lines are around the corner for two or three blocks.
Why do you say there aren‘t unemployed people that really want to work out there, who don‘t really want to work? Why do you make that case when every single time you open up a job—


MATTHEWS: -- the lines are incredibly long and they don‘t get the jobs, because there‘s only a few jobs open.

SHERK: I‘m not saying that they don‘t want to work. And I‘m certainly not saying we should get rid of unemployment benefits. It‘s simply a question of how much is appropriate. I think two years—

MATTHEWS: But who are these people in the lines every time a job opens in New York that seems to be reasonably OK? Not even attractive, just OK—a job that exists, and the lines are around the corner. What do you think that is? That phenomenon we‘re looking at?

SHERK: Well, part of that is from the unemployment benefits. The New York economy has been hammered. The financial industry has, you know, taken a heavy toll. A lot of investment banks have gone down. With those investment banks, a lot of the New York economy.
And so, if you want to find a job, a lot of the workers now in New York or unemployed are going to have to move to different state. They‘re going to have to move to, say, Nebraska, or to Texas, or one of the states where the economy isn‘t doing as poorly.
But when you got the two years of benefits, it encourages the workers to look for the jobs in New York instead of looking for the jobs, say, in another state.

MATTHEWS: Do you live in the ivory tower of the universe?


MATTHEWS: You‘re talking about a guy who‘s got a house, barely able to pay his rent, and you‘re saying take the family and put them on a Graham bus and drive to where? Alaska. Where were you saying they should go to get this busboy job?

GREEN: Chris, appreciate this.

MATTHEWS: Nebraska. You are serious. I got nothing against theory. But that is theory. That‘s not reality.
Go ahead.

GREEN: Here‘s the theory. People in Ohio and Michigan should move to Nebraska because that‘s where the new jobs are. Now, follow this abstract theory. According to him --

MATTHEWS: There‘s a new restaurant in Omaha. Get on the bus.

GREEN: -- we should cut the oil depletion allowance, because that‘s making oil men lazy and they‘re not investing in technology on spills. We should end Medicaid because then the poor will take care of themselves. They‘ll be motivated to be more healthy.
This is insane. Unemployment benefits work in every country and in this country, except for a fringe right-wing who don‘t want it, exactly the economy needs it.

SHERK: I‘m not calling for getting rid of them. I‘m not calling for getting rid of them.

GREEN: You‘re complaining about two years. First, you know that two years is the absolute maximum. Half the people—half the people on unemployment now have been unemployed six months or more.
Bush lost 8 million jobs. He created 2 million in eight years. Clinton created 22 million. Republican economics dug this hole, and now, you don‘t want to help the victims out of it.

MATTHEWS: OK. Let him answer.

GREEN: That‘s very convenient.

MATTHEWS: Mr. Sherk, go ahead. Mr. Sherk, your chance.

SHERK: I was going to say, look, all this government spending from the stimulus hasn‘t worked. What we need to do is—

GREEN: Two to 3 million jobs, say the CBO. Who‘s right, you or the

MATTHEWS: Let‘s take the unemployment comp, Mark. And, Mr. Sherk, let‘s take the unemployment comp. Is unemployment compensation overused, underused? Is it a necessity in a modern workplace where you have 10 percent unemployment in the country or not?
This is a real unemployment rate by the way. It‘s an objective fact. It‘s not about how busy or willing you are to take a lower level job. Why do you think, sir, there is almost 10 percent unemployment rate right now? Is it because people won‘t take the lower jobs?

SHERK: That‘s part of it. And that‘s not simply my saying it. The Brookings‘ paper on—the Brookings Institution recently released a paper on economy activity that found that the current unemployment extensions have increased the unemployment rate by about one percentage point. It‘s not most of what‘s going on, but it‘s contributing to it.
And, again, that‘s the Brookings Institution, by no means a conservative institution. That‘s what the science shows.


MATTHEWS: Mr. Sherk, do you know anybody who‘s out of work?

SHERK: I have several friends who are out of work.

MATTHEWS: OK. See, with some familiarity with that, are they lazy?

SHERK: No, not at all. I‘m not saying that people are lazy.

MATTHEWS: Do they refuse to take jobs below their cut, below their self-esteem? What‘s their problem for being unemployed, as you know them? Because you know them personally. So, tell me, are they the kinds of people that won‘t take jobs that are available because they insist on getting jobs appropriate to their ego?

SHERK: They‘re looking for jobs that match their skills. And they have in mind something in terms of what they‘re looking for. Most people do.

MATTHEWS: Have you told them they‘re living off—they‘re living off the country too much, and to get off unemployment? Have you told that person yet?

SHERK: I am not arguing for getting rid of unemployment benefits.
No one is arguing for that

MATTHEWS: No, you‘re saying people have too much self-esteem for the lower level jobs. That‘s why they won‘t—they‘re exploiting unemployment compensation too long.

SHERK: What I‘m saying—

MATTHEWS: That‘s what you just said for five to 10 minutes now.

SHERK: What I‘m saying is it changes the type of jobs you look for something near your home.

MATTHEWS: Again, have you told your friends to take lower level jobs?

SHERK: No, if they‘ve been unemployed for a year and a half, yes, I would tell them that.

MATTHEWS: But you haven‘t gotten around to it yet.

SHERK: If those jobs are in New York, I‘m coming back.

MATTHEWS: It‘s kind of hard to do this. I‘m having some fun with you because it‘s a sad story. It‘s easy to tell a guy to go flip hamburgers who‘s been a nuclear scientist. I‘m sorry, it‘s hard.
Anyway, but thank for this.
And, by the way, to get unemployment compensation, you have to prove that you‘ve gone looking for a job. You have to fill out the forms. Every time you go in for another check, you have to go through all this stuff. It‘s not like that they‘re not just writing checks.
Anyway, thank you, James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation. And, Mark Green, thanks for having you on.

GREEN: Thank you.

Sherk, like any good conservative, never has a doubt. Those jobs, he assures us, "in construction and finance, simply aren‘t coming back." There is no explanation of why they aren't coming back, only that they're not. And Sherk is almost giddy about it.

After Sherk claims that he knows people who are unemployed, Matthews asks him "Have you told them they‘re living off—they‘re living off the country too much, and to get off unemployment? Have you told that person yet?"

Sherk hasn't gotten around to it yet, probably because it's easier to describe strangers, rather than people you know, as lazy. He's critical of the long-term unemployed because "they‘re looking for jobs that match their skills" rather than taking a part-time job at minimum wage with few if any benefits.

He's not the only one, of course. That paragon of virtue, former House Speaker Tom DeLay, stated in March "there is an argument to be made that these extensions, the unemployment benefits keeps people from going and finding jobs." Tom Corbett, the Republican running for govenor of Pennsylvania, remarked at a campaign stop on July 9 "People don't want to come back to work while they still have unemployment. They're literally telling him, 'I'll come back to work when unemployment runs out.' That's becoming a problem."

Pennsylvania was the state to whose residents Senator Barack Obama was referring in the infamous "bitter" comment, which won for him widespread criticism for being "elitist." Now, several Republicans (including a prominent Pennsylvanian) have come out of the woodwork, inferring that most Americans who have been employed for a long time are lazy. Democrats should call them on that and make the argument that the GOP has little respect for American workers, refusing even to agree to extend unemployment benefits to them, which would have the added benefit of stimulating the econmy.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the argument would be undercut by the support of the accusers for increased migration to the United States by Mexicans, who would perform the jobs which we are assured Americans are unwilling to do. Embracing the American worker is an obvious electoral strategy. Look for Democrats to avoid it.

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