The debate over extending unemployment benefits has dragged on, and will continue to threaten the couple of million Americans for whom these modest checks make the difference between food on the table and hunger. The Democrats insist that Congress needs to adopt the legislation continuing these payments until the end of the year. The Republicans have never been enthused about unemployment compensation, and hold that continuing to prop up the unemployed with a government handout only encourages a harmful dependency.
The answer, they affirm, is not a government check but a job. In my opinion the Republican’s alternative solution is on target. These jobless folks need to go out and find gainful employment. A regular paycheck is far superior to a government check.
What does this solution assume? Why these people who rely on federal charity are sitting around idle when there are jobs which pay a living wage just waiting for them to sign up. The problem is laziness, indolence, a lack of motivation.
Obviously the Republican solution is right, even if their analysis of the problem’s causes is not. But just a minute. Where are the available jobs? Many of these people have been looking for work for two years. The problem may not be laziness, but the dismal lack of available opportunities. Where are these new jobs to come from? The American system puts that basic responsibility in the hands of our entrepreneurs. It is the task of business to create employment. But look at what has been happening. The stock market has gone out of sight and the job market is almost stagnant. Why? There are at least four reasons which flow directly from either the action or inaction of the American business community.
First, it is more profitable for companies to reduce the number of employees thus cutting costs and protecting the bottom line.
Second, it is more profitable to continue to move production overseas where labor is much cheaper. It is not true that American industry is failing to create jobs. For a very long time it has just been creating them elsewhere.
Third, American corporations are flush with cash. It is estimated that they have a surplus of over three trillion dollars, and the most lucrative place to put it is not in industrial expansion but in buying back the company’s own stock. The market makes more money than anything most corporations can produce.
Fourth, there has been a concerted effort by the political right to destroy organized labor. It is America’s’ unions that have generated our middle-class culture, guaranteeing jobs that pay enough for people to live decently and to buy the products others create. When Wal-Mart has to have food drives because they underpay their enormous non-union staff, you may have a sneaking suspicion that something is wrong. What is more, where unions are strong there is no argument about the need to raise the minimum wage. Organized labor sees to it that workers are fairly compensated. Union busting has made raising the minimum wage an essential federal mandate.
The aim of the conservatives in Congress should be redirected. It is not the unemployed who ought to be the target, but the United States Chamber of Commerce and its corporate units. America’s business community has been adept at manipulating the economy so that wealth continues to flow upward. The well to do already own most of the prime stocks, so the higher the market goes the better off they are. And if clever accountants and lawyers can figure out ways to call these profits, “capital gains” so much the better. It is the great majority of our citizens, however, who are left behind. Among the most deprived of that number are the chronically unemployed.
So when the Republicans say that the answer is not a government check but a good job, they have targeted the bull’s eye. What the unemployed are waiting for is exactly what the GOP suggests. I wonder, when will they make good on their own proposed solution? I’m not holding my breath.