Jobless benefits not a 'disservice'

About 18,000 Kentuckians will lose long-term unemployment benefits on Jan. 1 and another 18,000 by summer unless Congress reauthorizes the emergency program before breaking for the holidays.

In Sen. Rand Paul's world, those 18,000 Kentuckians would hustle out and find jobs.

Extending their benefits would be a "disservice" to them, Paul recently told Fox News, citing research that shows the longer someone is out of work the less likely an employer is to hire that person.

In the real world, most of the 18,000 Kentuckians would drop out of the job search and become discouraged workers. The unemployment rate might decline but the disability rolls would swell.

The unemployed must document that they are searching for work to keep receiving benefits. Cut off the benefits and there's little incentive to keep up the job search, especially when there are three job seekers for every job opening.

That's better than the 6.5 job seekers per opening at the height of the recession, but still not very favorable odds.

The emergency benefits were enacted by Congress in 2008 to begin when the 26 weeks of state benefits end. Emergency benefits keep the unemployed attached to the job market and the world of work. In Kentucky, the emergency benefits last up to 37 weeks for a total of 63 weeks, not the 99 weeks cited by Paul.

Nationally, only about a third of workers who have been unemployed for more than six months — or about 2.1 million people — are receiving emergency benefits.

The average $260 a week is spent on necessities like food and mortgages. The loss of that money to local economies would cost more jobs and inflict more suffering, especially in places hard hit by layoffs in the coal industry.

The Congressional Budget Office and JPMorgan predict that the gross domestic product would decline by 0.2 to 0.4 percentage points in 2014 if the emergency benefits end.

That would cost the economy 240,000 jobs, say the White House Council of Economic Advisers and Labor Department.

The price tag for a one-year reauthorization is $25.2 billion — about what the government shutdown cost the economy.

It is troubling that employers are biased against hiring the unemployed, no matter how qualified or experienced. It's troubling that the economy is still struggling to replace jobs lost in the recession.

Congress should be working on returning experienced workers to productivity and creating jobs for new and veteran workers alike, not punishing the economic victims.

President Barack Obama and Democrats are pushing to continue the emergency unemployment program while Republicans like Paul insist that jobs will magically appear once the loafers and shirkers are cut off. It would be for their own good, just as hunger will improve the children whose families are losing food stamps.