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Do benefits discourage the unemployed from job searching?

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Steve Chiotakis: Right now we’re going to ask today’s Big Question: Does getting an unemployment check make someone less likely to look for a job? Well the Senate is expected to vote later today on the extension of unemployment benefits. Up to now, there haven’t been enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. But they’re going to try again today with a new Democratic senator from West Virginia being sworn in. Diane Lim Rogers is an economist with the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan think tank, and she writes the blog She’s with us live from northern Virginia. Good morning Diane.

Diane Lim Rogers: Hi Steve, thanks for having me.

Chiotakis: You got it. So before we get to the matter of the big question, there’s the small matter — is this extension measure going to pass?

Rogers: Well, it sounds like it, it sounds like they’ve convinced a couple of the Republican senators to come on board. So yeah, I think it is going to pass today.

Chiotakis: All right. So the debate has been mostly fiscal conservatives asking about whether jobless benefits discourage the unemployed from getting jobs. They get a check, they don’t have to go
to work. What do you say?

Rogers: I think that might be a legitimate argument to make if the economy were in much better shape than it is. I mean the simple fact is there’s just not enough jobs out there, the jobs aren’t there to turn down. So I think the worry that benefits prevent people from looking is way overblown right now.

Chiotakis: These extension benefits, the extending of unemployment benefits, have happened in the past, right? Over and over and over again. Why did this one get such a look-through?

Rogers: Oh, well I think that this one, just because this recession has been very severe and we’ve had to spend a lot of money to help the recovery, and I think that some of the politicians are getting legitimately concerned about the level of deficit spending that’s going on. The problem is that most of our deficit spending and the longer-term outlook has nothing to do with unemployment benefits. So I think it’s just the level of the deficit has gotten so high that it’s become a convenient thing to complain about when you really just don’t like the idea of extending unemployment benefits.

Chiotakis: And so how do we pay for this? If it’s not going to be paid for — if that’s the argument, that we’re not going to be able to pay for this — I mean what’s the best way to make this move?

Rogers: Well, even though the Concord Coalition is for fiscal responsibility and we like small deficits or no deficits where possible, this is one area where I don’t think it’s necessary to actually pay for the benefits for this program. Because it’s actually a very small amount of money, it’s intended to be temporary, it is not what we’re concerned about. And it would be much better to look for ways to pay for more permanent programs that we continue to deficit-finance.

Chiotakis: All right, economist Diane Lim Rogers with the Concord Coalition and We thank you.

Rogers: Thanks.

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