Unemployment expansion a tough sell

Application for unemployment benefits

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: State governors might want to clue in to that mass-layoff number I mentioned earlier. Unemployment claims are still going up. Several states are going to have to pass legislation soon to extend benefits to keep checks going to a half-a-million laid-off workers.

And meanwhile the feds also want to give states money to modernize their unemployment systems so more people might be eligible in the future. Today Alaska Republican Sarah Palin became the latest in a string of governors to say they don't want that money. Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports.


MITCHELL HARTMAN: Governor Palin says she's leaving around $300 million on the table because it doesn't create private-sector jobs or invigorate the economy. One thing Alaska won't do as a result: expand unemployment insurance to reach more people.

WAYNE STEVENS: We applaud her for that stance.

That's Alaska Chamber of Commerce President Wayne Stevens. Even though Alaska's unemployment rate is nearly 8 percent, he says the state's unemployment trust fund is flush.

Some states, though, are running out of money. And all they have to do to get hundreds of millions of federal dollars to pay benefits is expand eligibility.

MAURICE EMSELLEM: Right now, less than 4 in 10 unemployed workers collect state unemployment benefits.

Maurice Emsellem is policy director at the National Employment Law Project.

EMSELLEM: They're types of workers who are a big part of the labor market right now: low-wage workers, part-time workers, women workers, the long-term unemployed.

Maybe they didn't work enough hours, or make enough in the last quarter, or left to care for a family member. The stimulus money requires making more of these workers eligible.

Which seems like a bad idea to Rene Baker of the National Federation of Independent Business in Louisiana. She says more people on the rolls could mean higher payroll taxes for businesses.

RENE BAKER: And expanding it for part-time workers, it's very concerning, because how do you even know who all's going to qualify?

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal shares Baker's concern. He's turned down $100 million so far. Republican governors in Texas and South Carolina have also said "no thanks."

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...