Monday, April 30, 2012

Are We Really Interested in "Taking Care of Our Own"?

A significant number of American voters seem to believe that the unemployed don’t really want jobs because they would prefer to live off unemployment insurance, food stamps or other social benefits.

Many of these same voters are also drawn to a particular austerity strategy: cutting taxes for higher-income individuals and cutting unemployment insurance and other social benefits for low wage earners and the unemployed.  This strategy makes perfect sense if you believe that most people who are struggling to pay their bills aren’t trying hard enough.

But, the social safety net is not a hammock that unemployed workers can luxuriate in.   A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last fall found two-thirds of those receiving benefits said the amounts received were not enough to pay for basics like housing and food.  Contrary to the apparent belief of some American voters, the unemployed aren't getting rich off unemployment insurance and food stamps.

The argument that most people who are unemployed and struggling to pay their bills aren’t trying hard enough appeals for various reasons.   It absolves believers of any responsibility for other people’s hardships.   It lends credence to the assertion that the labor market would work just fine if it weren’t jammed up by a social safety net.   And this argument does contain a partial truth: some people probably do shirk their responsibility.   They do let access to unemployment benefits, food stamps or disability insurance reduce their job search efforts.   But the number who fall into this category is minuscule compared to those who really want to work and can’t find a job.

The unemployed want jobs badly enough.  But some Americans don’t seem sensitive to the problem and don't seem to care much about helping the unemployed in the process of getting back to work.

Bruce Springsteen’s recent album, “Wrecking Ball” includes the song “We Take Care of Our Own.”  The problem is, it’s not clear that some American voters really believe that philosophy.

"Where are the hearts that run over with mercy…”

“Where’s the work that’ll set my hands, my soul free…”