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The Jobless Are Not Lazy

Updated on August 18, 2010

A.F. Branco draws funny politcal cartoons

There is a new A.F. Branco poltical cartoon that depicts a guy walking into the unemployment office right next to a Joe's Burgers with a 'help wanted' sign in the window. "Yeah, right!" the man says with a big grin on his face. It's a funny cartoon, even if I disagree with this convoluted idea by some, that the unemployed are lazy people looking for a handout. The economy goes into a tailspin, and companies start slashing jobs by the hundreds of thousands, and suddenly the people left in the quagmire are the bad guys?

Look, I'm not going to play the blame game here. I've said it so many times that I'm quite literally now red in the face that everyone had a role in this entire economic situation that we are unfortunate enough to happen to be in right now. All the way down to the homeowner who took on too much house, on up to the guy who gave the loans out, and then sold the paper on those loans, and even further on up the line to the government officials who created Freddie Mac and Fannie May and the laws that allowed people with no money to buy houses in the first place.

The fact is that we are in this mess. And let's face it. Who is hiring? Companies are hording cash right now to the tune of nearly $2 trillion. That's a lot of money. That's twice the size of the stimulus. And if you're in the camp of those who believe the stimulus saved the world, then $2 trillion could certainly be universally beneficial. Especially if that $2 trillion went into job creation.

It's not going into job creation at all. So, the question becomes, what is a guy to do in the meantime? The bills still must be paid. Letting the bills go and perhaps even letting the rest of America fail will do no good for an already beleaguered economy. Things are what they are, whether we like that or not, and so we simply have to do what we have to do.

A.F. Branco is not totally wrong

We all know that so long as there is money to be handed out there will be those individuals who will take full advantage of that opportunity. Without a doubt there are many people currently on the unemployment rolls who are not actively seeking work, who are simply collecting their benefits and getting by until they reach that critical 99th week. I get all that.

Hey. The bankers did it too. They paid themselves exorbitant bonuses—after the government sent checks. What exactly were those bonuses for? Who knows? It certainly could not have been for a job well done. They nearly imploded the entire world economy. Perhaps they should have been jailed, not paid. But that's another story. Some of those guys aren't bankers anymore. You could say that they are unemployed. How actively might those guys be seeking work with those multi-million dollar bonuses sitting idle in their bank accounts, I wonder? Government money, by the way, that was provided by the bailouts...just so we're clear where that money came from that we're talking about here.

I'm not suggesting that bad behavior ought to be justified by bad behavior. But I'm also—and let me be very clear here as well—not suggesting that all of the bankers and politicians were engaged in bad behavior. Some of these guys simply found themselves locked into a terrible situation just like everyone else, and when the help came they took it legitimately, and put it to work legitimately. The same logic applies to, what I think adds up to the bulk of, the people who are currently collecting unemployment benefits.

Not everyone is simply taking the money and running with it.

How long is too long?

The question is, for how long do you help these people? 99 weeks is certainly a long way away from the traditional 26 weeks that unemployment is usually provided for. But, bear in mind that we are also a long way away from the good economic times we were enjoying before the bottom fell out. I simply go back to what I said earlier about the question of, "Who is hiring?" The answer is not too many companies. The question of how long you continue to pay the benefits for me is, until you have jobs creation numbers every month that are at a rate that replaces old economy jobs numbers and adds new ones.

And by the way. Let's talk about something else that we sort of have to factor in here. It's not just the question of who is hiring. Of who is hiring, what are they paying? And as we add and create jobs, what real benefit do they provide if they essentially represent a step backwards?

Pay is an important question

I get very frustrated when I think back to how badly we wanted to be a service economy. This is progess folks, we were all told. We don't have to make things in America. That is for those countries that are still developing. Here in America we have come of age.

But what of that? What happened is that we did shift primarily to a service economy. What we didn't shift to was a service economy that paid the good wages and benefits of the industrial economy. Even service jobs now are being shipped to India. Where does it end? This current economy has scraped away at an already eroding industrial base. More industrial jobs have gone away during this stretch. And as I said, even the few of the higher paid service jobs have gone away, or at least are in erosion.

So, I ask. What's left? McDonald's? Burger King? Walmart?

Not that there is anything wrong with those kinds of jobs. At least, there's nothing wrong with those kinds of jobs from my perspective. But how do most people feel about them? We look down on them. We look down on the jobs, and we look down at the people performing them. We look at them as unskilled, unmotivated lower end class people who are more dregs of society than productive. Never mind that the jobs they hold are pretty much the bulk of what's left. Never mind that they are hard working people for the most part just trying to do what they can to keep going. Never mind that some of them just may be a former banker, or a former factory worker who cannot find any other type of work at the moment.

But this leads me to my original thought that pay is important in considering whether coming off of the unemployment rolls is even worth it to take a job that will pay the same as, if not less than, what the unemployed are receiving in benefits. The stimulus was sold as being able to right the economy. Create jobs. Make things better. People who worked to get fired to get on those unemployment rolls in the first place expected more bang for their buck. They expected results. And why do I say bang for their buck? Because before they were the unemployed, they were the working American taxpayer. And because when all is said and done and they are back to work they will return to that status. It was their money then. It's their money now. It will be their money tomorrow. We're not talking about welfare recipients here.

And by the way, the thought crosses one's mind that if Walmart and McDonald's and Burger King are such large employers these days, why aren't they paying more? Why are these jobs still considered the bottom of the rung of the ladder? Who else will do these jobs? Someone has to do them.

The thought also crosses one's mind from a logical perspective that if I were to take a job that would pay less than my former job that would also pay the same as, or less than what I'm currently receiving in benefits, what does that ultimately mean to me?

Very simply put, if I stay on the unemployment I will not get ahead. If I work a lesser paying job in a lesser field, I will not get ahead. If the end result is exactly the same, why would I choose the path that I have to work for? Yes. I'm a hard worker, right? Yes. I'd very much rather be working than sitting at home.

But why do I work? Why do you work? Do we work because we have nothing else better to do with our time? Logic says to me that we work because we have to. And we work because we want to continuously improve our lives. If we work hard we'll get promoted. We may get a pay raise. We'll get ahead.

I think its a very real question now and going forward what we must do to get the service economy on the same middle class building track that the industrial economy put us on. It will not work any other way. If the idea of progress is that we put the middle class back onto the poverty line and take good paying jobs away and replace them with lower paying jobs, it will not work. The economy will not work.

We're over the hill, but not through the woods

The whole point here is that the economy is getting better, a little bit at a time. But we still do have a very long road ahead. There are things we will have to do very differently now once we are out of this mess that I wrote more extensively about in my two-part hub series, "After The Great Recession." We'll have to save more, for example. We'll have to spend less. We'll have to change our attitude about free trade and capitalism. We'll have to make more of an effort to buy American whenever we can.

In the meantime, we have to take care of the worker who got caught up in this mess. And we have to stop so quickly referring to him as nothing more than a worthless, lazy bottom feeder looking for a handout. It's simply not the case. And until companies start hiring again, here's a newsflash, there will be unemployed people.

Do you feel that allowing 99 weeks of unemployment benefits is...?

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