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Some conservatives want the unemployed to submit to regular drug tests

You stay classy, South Carolina:

South Carolina’s more than 236,000 unemployed workers could have to take a drug test in order to receive jobless benefits, according to a proposal by Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley on Tuesday. [...] Haley said testing the unemployed was one of several steps in ensuring the newly restructured Department of Employment and Workforce — now a cabinet agency — pays benefits only to those who have earned them. “We will make sure, above all, that there will be no … benefits if they do not pass a drug test,” Haley said.

This isn't an original idea, as it happens. Sen. Orrin Hatch proposed the same thing earlier this summer. Note that both Nikki Haley and Orrin Hatch would describe themselves as small-government conservatives. "Government is never the answer," Haley likes to say. "Government usually messes up more than it fixes."

In this case, government wouldn't even be trying to fix anything. There's no known epidemic of cocaine use among the unemployed. And even if there were, the point of unemployment insurance isn't to reward people for good behavior. As Annie Lowrey* notes, it's insurance. Our employers pay into it, and none of us agreed to drug tests as part of the contract. Moreover, it's not just the workers themselves who depend on it, but their spouses, and their children, and their communities. You may not like pot, but is there a reason kids should suffer because their depressed father smoked a joint?

By Ezra Klein  | October 7, 2010; 11:58 AM ET
 
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Comments

My dad was unemployed in the 1980s recession for two years. That's a long time. But we lived in the Rust Belt and all of the jobs were far away. My mom worked part-time as a nurse and so we made ends meet, but it changed things in my family permanently. The first time we went on a summer vacation was my junior year in high school and I was the youngest of five, so my older siblings literally never went on a summer vacation. The decision to remain in the Rust Belt through all of this came down to the sense that the family needed stability more than it needed money. My dad wasn't about to move my oldest sisters, who were going through the predictable hell that teenagers go through. And my mother was pretty well set against moving. So instead of splitting the family and causing decades of bad blood, he decided to wait it out. Putting his family first, thinking about his children's well-being, losing a job through no fault of his own, putting his own ego aside. I wonder what would've happened if someone asked him to submit to a drug test.

Posted by: klautsack | October 7, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

agreed. Just another example of the pendulum swinging too far the other way. that being said the real quandry is when CA legalizes pot (is it for only medicinal purposes or recreational as well, I'm not sure as i haven't been following it that closely) how do you rectify that? If you're visiting Aunt May out in California who smokes pot and you get second hand smoke from her would you be kicked off the unemployment rolls? Yes, sheer idiocy but you can certainly understand in these tough fiscal times for states and cities why you would want to make sure no resource is being wasted.

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 7, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

I'm totally down for this. I can't wait for Republicans to demand the same thing of millionaire "farmers" who get subsidies from the feds, and businesses who get loans, grants, and infrastructure improvements just for them. Let every one of them line up to, as Mike Royko used to write, "make wee wee in a cup."

Posted by: ciocia1 | October 7, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Drug testing is expensive. According to a Dept of Ed. study, the average cost of a drug test is about $42 per person tested. So SC has 236,000 unemployed. That is close to $10M just to test all the unemployed once.

Posted by: joe_in_ledroit | October 7, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised no one has suggested the people should stop receiving unemployment benefits if they turn down job offers. It's all anecdotal, but I've heard of people not taking job offers (lower than their previous wage) because they'd lose their unemployment check.

Posted by: will12 | October 7, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

Ok, let's start with Joe Miller's wife.

Posted by: JRM2 | October 7, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Seeing how:
1. In order to qualify for unemployment benefits you had to have had a job previously

2. You must have lost your job through no fault of your own (eg: quit or fired) to qualify for benefits

3. While you were employed a portion of your paycheck was deducted to help pay for unemployment benefits

I'd say that kind of blows a hole in the "lazy, addict, alcoholic" meme being pushed by the conservatives.

Hey, let's start with Rush Limbaugh, he was probably high on the job.

Posted by: JRM2 | October 7, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

will12 -

But you can't separate people's needs from reality. If a person who is 50+ and has a few kids of college age loses their job and can "find work" as a part-time greeter at Wal-Mart, I wouldn't blame them one bit for waiting. And I'd happily pay the taxes necessary to keep that person from going totally off the rails.

Posted by: klautsack | October 7, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

On the subject of using the purse strings to deter behavior we don't like, would it be too terribly reactionary of me to give a cheer to Michael Bloomberg for trying to prohibit the use of food stamps to buy sugared drinks?

Posted by: bgmma50 | October 7, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Does he have any idea how much that will cost? And let's be for real, the drugs that he's looking to test for is not likely to be the one that is most heavily abused, and legal. Alcohol.

Posted by: Skowronek | October 7, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

klautsack-- Someone who is 50+ never should have applied to be a part-time greeter. I am making the assumption people only apply to jobs that somehow reflect their skills.

Of course, I am well aware that there simply aren't enough jobs available to make any appreciable dent in unemployment. I don't think unemployment will decrease if people risked losing unemployment benefits if they didn't take a job that payed them at least xx% of their previous job.

Posted by: will12 | October 7, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

I think it'll all work out. Seems likely and R won't want to increase taxes to pay for the testing.

Posted by: ideallydc | October 7, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

"In this case, government wouldn't even be trying to fix anything. There's no known epidemic of cocaine use among the unemployed."

Ah, but it would be trying to fix something, at least if you're a Republican. The thought of people buying drugs with public dollars - quite possibly extending the unemployment term to boot - is infuriating to the values crowd.

It's the governments money after all, and so the government can attach conditions to it.

Remember Jonathan Cohn's brilliant line from this morning?

"Does that make me a little paternalistic? You bet. And I'm ok with that."

Right back at you. More stupid paternalism. Mommy gives you a check, and daddy makes sure you aren't doping with the money.

One of the problems with big government schemes is that the other team gets to run the show half the time, and you might not like the job they do.

It may be ridiculuous, but that's government for you. You aren't always going to be in charge. Many of your favored policy ideas sound ridiculous to conservatives.

"Our employers pay into it, and none of us agreed to drug tests as part of the contract."

For real? Contracts? What about the people who see their Social Security retirement age raised from 67 to 70? What contract did they sign in order to agree to that? What contract did anyone sign in order to pay into that system?

Contracts are for the private sector. Governments do whatever they want.

"Moreover, it's not just the workers themselves who depend on it, but their spouses, and their children, and their communities. You may not like pot, but is there a reason kids should suffer because their depressed father smoked a joint?"

It's always about the kiddies, ain't it? A conservative can turn this right back around and say that you're right, all those people do depend on you - and if you're getting high all the time, you're letting them down. Tying unemployment insurance to keeping clean provides a... oh what's the word... ah yes, *incentive* to keep clean and remain dependable!

I say let the people who want to smoke do so unmolested, but they can do it on their own dime (and it will be far closer to a dime if you don't put people in prison over it too).

Posted by: justin84 | October 7, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

heh. Seems unlikely an R will want to increase taxes to pay for the testing.

Posted by: ideallydc | October 7, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

"Drug testing is expensive. According to a Dept of Ed. study, the average cost of a drug test is about $42 per person tested. So SC has 236,000 unemployed. That is close to $10M just to test all the unemployed once."

Republicans, like Democrats, aren't concerned too much about spending as long as it is done on their priorities.

Unemployment insurance extensions to help those out of work? Democrats are on board!

Drug tests to make sure that no one is "abusing" those payments? Republicans are on board!

Posted by: justin84 | October 7, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Haley’s reasoning is that those receiving state-paid benefits (actually, in terms UC, they’re ultimately employer-paid benefits) who test positive will squander (or have squandered) that money on illicit activities, all presumption of innocence aside.

To be logical (as if), Nikki’s periodic drug testing proposal should be extended to those members of the legislature and executive branch who are to receive, or are receiving, state pensions, vesting be damned. How about it, Nikz?

Also, SC’s jaywalkers should be excluded from receiving UC. They might use their UC benefits to pay their jaywalking fines, thus encouraging further jaywalking.

Fat people, too.

Posted by: NoelOContendere | October 7, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

"Small government", hah! These people are always culture warriors first.

Posted by: henderstock | October 7, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

This is absurd. Is there any evidence that the unemployed and those who collect unemployment use drugs more then the rest of the population? The $10 mil could create plenty of jobs in the state or fix the "corridor of shame"

Do we extend that to testing Haley, Sanford, DeMint, Graham or Greene for STD's

Posted by: MerrillFrank | October 7, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Additionally if you are collecting unemployment and have bills to pay do you really have the extra cash for drugs?

Posted by: MerrillFrank | October 7, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

"The $10 mil could create plenty of jobs in the state or fix the "corridor of shame"

Oh but it will creating jobs! Someone will have do actually do all that drug testing!

Er, unless of course that money would also create jobs if we didn't spend it on drug testing. Foiled by Bastiat again...

Posted by: justin84 | October 7, 2010 5:42 PM | Report abuse

"To be logical (as if), Nikki’s periodic drug testing proposal should be extended to those members of the legislature and executive branch who are to receive, or are receiving, state pensions, vesting be damned. How about it, Nikz?"

This is a great idea. We need to be dumping pension liabilities.

Posted by: krazen1211 | October 7, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Who is going to pay for it? The unemployed who probably don't have the extra funds or the state who doesn't have the money either

Posted by: teach1 | October 8, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

"That is close to $10M just to test all the unemployed once."

And it'd presumably be done through the same private facilities that currently offer workplace drug tests. A nice little earner for them, and once again proof that James Petigru was right about South Carolina.

Posted by: pseudonymousinnc | October 8, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

"On the subject of using the purse strings to deter behavior we don't like, would it be too terribly reactionary of me to give a cheer to Michael Bloomberg for trying to prohibit the use of food stamps to buy sugared drinks?"

Yes, it would. Nobody seems to want to address the fact that a gallon of milk is almost $4 and milk hardly, if ever, goes on sale. You can find 2 liters of soda on sale for .99 every day of the week. Those sugared drinks are always on sale somewhere. If you only have a small amount of money, and you need to stretch it as far as possible, which would you buy?

Don't set it up so that eating crap is cheap but eating well is expensive and then penalize poor people for buying the foods that they can afford.

Posted by: onlytheshadowknows1 | October 10, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

A nutty idea from a bunch of people who claim to want less government intervention in our lives!

I say NO WAY -- unless they also test for alcohol. That's a drug that causes more grief than illegal drugs.

Posted by: RedBird27 | October 10, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

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