Angle vs. Reid -- and Nevada -- on unemployment benefits
Whatever else Nevadans can say about their Senate race this year, they can't say they've been denied a clear choice. In the blue corner is Harry Reid, who took to the Senate floor last night to introduce yet another bill to extend unemployment benefits. One important thing to note: The measure varies unemployment insurance by state. The states with the highest levels of unemployment get up to 99 weeks of help. States with more modest unemployment levels get much less than that.
In the red corner, wearing the Ayn Rand trunks, is Reid's opponent, Sharron Angle. While Reid was introducing his bill last night, Angle was sitting for an interview in which she explained that that "what we need to do is make that unemployment benefit go down," as right now, "we're making [people] make a choice between unemployment benefits and going back to work and working up through the ranks of that job and actually building up a good wage again."
"There are jobs that do exist," concluded Angle. "That's what we're saying, is that there are jobs."
But there really aren't. At least not in her state. And that's the problem with Angle's statement: It's not that it's ideologically extreme. Excessively high unemployment benefits can stop people from going back to work. It's that her statement seems curiously distant from the labor market in Nevada.
In contrast, North Dakota's unemployment rate is 3.8 percent. If unemployment were being driven by personal initiative, as Angle implies, that would suggest that Nevadans were, well, quite a bit lazier than North Dakotans. But I don't think Angle believes that, and neither do I. Instead, unemployment is structurally related to factors specific to the economy. Nevada had a lot of workers tied up in construction, so it got hit really hard. North Dakota relies heavily on natural resources, and so it didn't.
The problem for Nevadans is not that they don't want jobs, but that they can't get them. And if Nevadans are suddenly cut off from unemployment checks and have to stop spending what little money they were getting, the businesses and landlords that were relying on money from those checks will find themselves in worse shape, and the state's economy will tumble further, and there will be even fewer jobs for Nevadans to get.
Moreover, Angle's specific point isn't true to the nature of the bill: Quite smartly, the legislation lets workers who get part-time, low-wage work continue getting benefits, so that joining the workforce in a marginal capacity won't end someone's unemployment benefits. The hope is that those part-time jobs eventually become full-time jobs. But without unemployment benefits, many of those jobs won't exist, and the ones that do will not pay employees enough to live on.
(On a slightly separate note, how come Sharron Angle doesn't have a full Web site up yet?)
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