Peter S. Goodman has written a wonderful essay on the disconnect between the campaign rhetoric about the unemployed versus the reality on the ground.
Quoted from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/18/south-carolina-candidates-citizens_n_1214275.html:
The former House speaker long ago mastered the art of tapping into revulsion for what he and fellow conservatives portray as the American welfare state. At this candidate forum sponsored by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday afternoon, he goes right to the well, assailing people who have been collecting unemployment benefits for many months. In a Gingrich administration, he promises, they would be forced to enroll in job training or forfeit their checks.
“We never again pay anybody for 99 weeks of doing nothing,” Gingrich says, provoking cheers. “It is profoundly wrong to pay people for doing nothing.”
Blaming the victim. It’s like saying that people who get their house blown away by a hurricane shouldn’t live so close to the coast. Beside that, what Newt Gingrich just said is a lie.
First of all most states require that you must have worked a certain amount of hours during the months preceding the claim for benefits, called your “base year”. In my state it is 680 hours minimum. That is certainly not “doing nothing”. Also, I don’t know how it works in South Carolina, but in my state you have to be physically able to work and actively seeking employment as a requirement of eligibility. That is certainly not “doing nothing”.
Newt says that in his administration the unemployed would be forced to enroll in job training or forfiet their checks. So he’s saying, for example, that an unemployed 55 year old heavy equipment mechanic who has 30 years experience and who can’t find work in his or a similar field would have to go to job training to learn something new. Like what? He could learn auto body work but no one is hiring body work. He could learn the principles of accounting, but who’s going to hire a 55 year old grease monkey who took a 4 week course in payroll accounting? Besides, no one is hiring entry level bookkeepers.
If you think about it for a second, that rule would wind up costing the taxpayers much more than just unemployment. States would have to pay unemployment benefits plus the cost of retraining.
Newt says this kind of nonsense to groups like the Chamber of Commerce who go into poor-labor-union-hating nirvana. He is pandering to them, they know he is pandering to them, and both parties are ecstatic about it. Goodman says it best:
In the runup to Saturday’s state Republican presidential primary, a vast disconnect separates the narrative of the stump from the struggles consuming millions of households. Two conversations seem to occupy two discrete spaces, a divide that is emblematic of many cleavages in American life, from the income inequality capturing headlines to the gap between black and white unemployment.
Goodman interviews Diane Paytner:
Paynter works for a nonprofit that runs programs for at-risk middle school students in one of the poorest ZIP codes in the state. She pours her heart into her work, she says, yet she is cognizant that she is straining against forces larger than any one program can ever address — a long-term crisis of unemployment and its attendant problems, from substance abuse to violence. It is a difficult place for young people to grapple with adolescence.
(snip) From Paynter’s perspective, the candidates are pandering to interest groups that revel in depicting poverty as moral failure. But they are also reflecting their remove from the sorts of people she encounters daily.
“I don’t know that there’s any incentive for the candidates to connect with the real world,” she says. “I doubt they even know anybody who has been unemployed or the scariness of knowing your check’s going to run out and not knowing what you’re going to do.”