That's the topic of this week's column with Ben Boychuk for Scripps Howard News Service -- inspired by Sharron Angle's comments in Nevada. My take:
Let's forget political philosophy for a moment and focus only on math: At the moment, there is exactly one open job in America for every five people trying to find work. Even if every available spot were filled, 80 percent of the unemployed -- millions of Americans -- would still be unemployed. That's not because they're spoiled or lazy or intentionally unproductive. They're just unlucky.I wasn't thrilled to disclose my job status in the column -- the thing gets printed around the nation and even, on occasion, internationally -- but I felt duty-bound to share that I have a personal stake in this debate. I assure you, though, that my opinions would've been the same either way.
Today's critics of unemployment insurance suggest the system takes money from productive citizens and gives it to the unproductive.
Perhaps. But those "productive" citizens should understand that they're not just throwing money down a rat hole -- they're buying civilization.
Look back at the origins of unemployment insurance. The Great Depression hit America in 1929, and unemployment rates soared far beyond the current crisis. In 1932, a "Bonus Army" of 17,000 unemployed World War I veterans marched on Washington D.C. -- and were dispersed with deadly force. Capitalism and the American system stood at the brink.
The Social Security Act of 1935 -- which created our modern unemployment insurance system -- helped change that. Workers and their families suddenly had breathing room when work disappeared. They were able to pay their mortgages, buy food and keep participating in the economy. That made them less inclined to act desperately -- and the "trickle up" effect helped keep other merchants in business.
Capitalism survived and thrived.
Our 21st-century economy isn't quite as dire, but the lessons from that era are still true. And it's reprehensible that Republicans like Sharron Angle treat hard-luck Americans like they're parasites.
Full disclosure: I've been collecting unemployment benefits while seeking a full-time job. I've also found part-time work and freelance writing gigs to supplement that income. So I certainly don't feel spoiled or lazy. I have, however, learned the value of a strong safety net.