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Getting Serious About Unemployment

September 27, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

This Wall Street Journal report illustrates why the Democrats are losing the support of the unemployed even though it’s the Republicans who have continually stood in the way of extending unemployment benefits:

The Senate will consider a bill this week aimed at discouraging U.S. businesses from outsourcing jobs overseas, a plan that Democrats describe as an effort to fight unemployment but which Republicans deride as a pre-election political maneuver.

Democrats admit they don’t have enough votes to defeat a possible attempt by Republicans to block the bill. But they hope that bringing the issue to the Senate floor will underscore their concern about unemployment, now at 9.6%.

[…]

[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid is facing a tight re-election bid in Nevada, which has the highest unemployment rate in the country. He plans to hold a vote Tuesday to test whether the measure has the support to pass—and to try to force the GOP to register aloud its opposition before lawmakers head home to campaign ahead of the Nov. 2 midterm elections. Both parties have used such symbolic votes to score political points in the past.

Rather than try to do something to improve the unemployment situation, the Democrats are spending their last week before the midterms on symbolic votes. Even putting the politics of this week’s vote aside, nobody really believes that the anti-offshoring bill (S.3816) is a serious job-creation measure. As Derek Thompson at The Atlantic puts it, it’s “a jobs bill that seems most focused on jobs created and saved in the first week of November.”

The Democratic leadership has not even started to work on a serious fix for long-term unemployment. Sure, there are bills in the House and the Senate to provide additional benefit weeks for 99ers and exhaustees, and they may be voted on in the lame-duck session, but these don’t address the underlying problems. What’s needed now is some innovative thinking from Congress on how to get people who have been unemployed for more than six months to reenter the work force. With the unemployment rate stuck above 9%, long-term unemployment higher than it’s been since the government started collecting the data, and the average unemployed person now dropping out of the work force instead of finding a job, it’s time to look at other options — direct government job creation programs, reemployment training, reemployment bonuses, etc. Obviously none of this is easy. It may be the case that reemployment programs would be ineffective because there just aren’t enough jobs available, at which point we’d be looking at direct government jobs programs that would be highly divisive and maybe impossible to pass through Congress any time soon. But at least we’d be having the right debate.

The unemployed are becoming very politically savvy. Spend any time on OpenCongress and you’ll appreciate that. Either the Democrats are underestimating folks’ ability to unravel the kabuki dance or they’ve determined that the electoral benefits of making a big show out of trying to do something while actually doing nothing are greater than making an honest attempt at legislating a solution.

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