Before this recession, most economists probably thought that some amount of unemployment benefits were just and compassionate, and offered a sense of security even to people who were lucky enough to retain their jobs, despite the fact that the program would raise unemployment rates and reduce both employment and economic output.
In other words, unemployment benefits shrink the economy to some degree, but shrinking the economy a bit may be a price worth paying.
Unemployment benefits were thought to reduce employment and output because, by definition, working people were ineligible for the benefits. In particular, an unemployed person who finds and starts a new job, or returns to working at his previous job, is supposed to give up his unemployment benefits. Economists had found that a large fraction of unemployed people delay going back to work solely because the unemployment insurance program was paying them for not working.
Fewer people working means a lower employment rate, and less output because unemployed people are not yet contributing to production.
The recession has seen a number of economists ignore prior findings on unemployment insurance, at least as long as this recession continues. For example, in evaluating the stimulus law economists at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office assumed that the law would raise gross domestic product, and took no account of the fact that the unemployment insurance and other provisions of the stimulus law give people incentives to work less.
Here’s a new study explaining how the “generosity” of the radical left actually encourages people to avoid working, and to remain dependent on the government for their income.
A study published by two labor economists, Stepan Jurajda and Frederick J. Tannery, looked at employment histories for unemployment insurance recipients in Pittsburgh in the early 1980s. Unemployment rates got quite high in Pittsburgh in those days, reaching 16 percent at one point, and staying over 10 percent for two and a half years.
The chart below summarizes their findings for Pittsburgh.
The chart displays the fraction of persons (in Pittsburgh) receiving unemployment benefits who began working again, as a function of the number of weeks until their unemployment benefits were scheduled to be exhausted. For example, a “hazard” value of “0.04″ for week “-14″ means that, among unemployed persons with 14 weeks remaining until their benefit exhaustion date, 4 percent of them either began working a new job or returned to their previous job.
That chart basically shows the breaking down of the American working spirit by the radical left – making large segments of the American population dependent on government. This isn’t good for the producers, and it isn’t good for unemployed people to be out of work by choice. (Although to be sure, many many unemployed people are not unemployed by choice).