Common Sense Conservatism: Unemployment

New unemployment numbers are in, and the national rate held firm at 9.5% while the state with the worst rate broke its own record. Nevada, the hardest hit state in the nation when it comes to foreclosures and per capita bankruptcies, has led the nation in unemployment since it overtook Michigan in May. Unemployment in Nevada rose to 14.3% in July, while unemployment in Nevada’s largest city, Las Vegas, rose to 14.8%. July marks the 16th consecutive month Nevada’s unemployment rate has increased. Ignored in all of this is underemployment, which includes those who are working part-time due to a lack of full-time jobs, and is estimated at 18.4% nationally, and 21.5% in Nevada. Unemployment among teens is at 26.1%, while underemployment for African-Americans is estimated at 25% and unemployment for Black teens hit 40.6% in July.

In light of these facts, different people have different views on how to solve the problem. Democrats in Washington, along with President Obama, are committed to a strategy that includes stimulus packages and federal spending to boost the economy. Republicans in Washington disagree, and prefer options that include keeping taxes low and creating incentives for businesses to hire. These differences have turned into an ideological battle where Republicans call Democrats “socialists,” and “Marxists,” while Democrats call Republicans “obstructionists,” and “for the rich.” Name-calling may be an effective way to damage your opponent politically, but it doesn’t do much to educate Americans on the issues, or explain why there is such disagreement.

One of those points of disagreement is the extension of unemployment benefits. Every time Democrats try to pass bills to extend unemployment benefits, Republicans say “No.” And every time Republicans say “No,” they are labeled “insensitive,” “cold-hearted,” etc. So what’s wrong with Republicans? Why do they “hate the unemployed,” as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow claims?

Two things are important to consider here. First, Democrats passed H.R. 2920, the Pay-As-You-Go-Act of 2010 (PAYGO), in February. Under PAYGO, any new spending or tax cuts must be budget-neutral, or offset by cuts elsewhere (Read: New spending must be paid for before it is passed). Democrats in the House passed the unemployment extension without paying for it with an equivalent amount of cuts, ignoring their own statute, and blaming Republicans for wanting to follow it.

Second, many Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits today are doing so based on wages they were earning when the economy was much better. The result is that their unemployment earnings are often higher than jobs are currently paying. As an example, let’s say Mary was laid off in Nevada while making $700/week. She is currently receiving roughly $350 per week in unemployment benefits, just under the $362/week cap. Looking for work today, Mary may not accept a job unless it comes with a paycheck higher than her unemployment check. Currently in Nevada, minimum wage is $8.25/hr. for jobs that do not offer health insurance, and $7.25 for those that do. This means Mary needs to find a job that pays $8.75 in order to make more than unemployment pays her to stay home. That doesn’t factor in the cost to get to work, like gas for the car. Employers simply aren’t able to pay employees today the same wages as they did one or two years ago, and unemployed workers have no real incentive to take a job that doesn’t pay more than unemployment.

Now, when Democrats extend unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 99 weeks, which they have done, it enables people to remain on unemployment for close to two years. There’s no doubt that unemployment is needed, especially at a time when jobs are hard to find. However, I’ve seen many examples of people turning down jobs because they don’t pay as much as their unemployment benefits. To make matters worse, all you need to do to collect unemployment here in Nevada is visit a website weekly to file your claim. You have to answer some questions, but you never have to meet with anyone to prove you’re actually out looking for a job, let alone not turning them down. Nevada is practically bankrupt, and there’s virtually no accountability in the unemployment system.

So do Republicans “hate the unemployed,” as Rachel Maddow suggests? Or rather, do Republicans see the financial strain caused by indefinite unemployment benefits? Perhaps Republicans understand that revenues won’t return to state governments and profits won’t return to businesses until people start returning to work – and a 99-week safety net isn’t exactly motivation. Now unemployment is hardly a vacation. It’s demoralizing, and extremely challenging to make ends meet on such a meager income. However, there are jobs out there, and we need to make sure we are not rewarding people who pass them up to remain on unemployment. That part is not cold-hearted. It’s fiscally responsible.

Republicans are often hit hardest for favoring tax cuts and incentives for businesses. Democrats have convinced people that any benefits for businesses, small or large, only help rich people. However, the opposite is true. Small businesses in America represent 99.7% of all employers, and have generated 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs over the last decade. If these businesses are not hiring today, it is because they are afraid to spend the money, not knowing what the future holds. Every tax we add to the shoulders of job creators in this country will result in more lay-offs, less new jobs, and higher costs passed on to consumers, all at the worst possible time.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the unemployment issue is how Democrats have politicized it. Let’s be clear: Democrats have a super-majority in the House of Representatives. They can pass ANYTHING they want, as the Republicans do not have the votes to stop them. That means if Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats wanted to pass Polish as the official language of America, they COULD! PERIOD! In fact, the only reasons Democrats CAN’T pass everything they want is that conservative Democrats who won in the 2008 Obama wave now represent traditionally Republican districts, and don’t want to lose in November. So let’s get off this narrative that Republicans are obstructionists. The truth is that Democrats prefer to have Republicans support their unpopular bills like Health Care Reform, Cap and Trade, and others, so they’re not alone in receiving heat from voters come November. If listening to the American people is considered obstructionism, we have a problem.

I talked to a voter today who told me the Republican Party was “The Party of ‘No’,” and that they oppose everything President Obama tries to do because he’s black. Earlier this week, the following statistics were featured in a National Republican Senatorial Committee ad:

* 57% think Democrat Agenda is “extreme.” (Rasmussen Poll, 8/11/10)
* 60% favor repeal of ObamaCare. (Rasmussen Poll, 8/16/10)
* 56% disapprove of Obama’s job performance. (Rasmussen Poll, 8/16/10)
* 61% favor Arizona-like law in their state. (Rasmussen Poll, 7/8/10)
* 68% oppose Ground Zero Mosque. (CNN Poll, 8/11/10)
* 65% angry at Federal Government policies. (Rasmussen Poll, 8/16/10)
* 65% say America is on the wrong track. (Rasmussen Poll, 8/11/10)

With these numbers, why shouldn’t Republicans be “The Party of ‘No’?” This clearly illustrates that President Obama and the Democrats currently controlling Washington are in direct opposition to the American people, regardless of skin color.

But it’s not this voter’s fault she feels that way. It’s what the media has been telling her for two years, every chance they get. It’s the standard attack from the Democrat Party. Whether it’s the Mosque at Ground Zero, unemployment benefit extensions, terrorism, immigration, gay marriage, health care, energy issues, education issues – if a Republican has an opinion on it, he or she is labeled a:

Choose One: [racist, homophobe, xenophobe, elitist, bigot, Islamophobe, fearmonger, hatemonger, warmonger]

…who hates…

Choose One: [Blacks, Hispanics, Gays, Muslims, the poor, children, women, the elderly, the middle-class]

Pay attention next time, and you’ll see it for yourself. The attack is always the same, and it is never based on the actual issue. That needs to change. We have to talk about the issues and work together to do what is best for our country. We need to educate voters on the issues, so Americans can make the right decisions based on accurate information. And we must start using logic, and not emotion, to determine the direction our country takes as we move forward.

As for unemployment, remember: The government has no money. The only money it has comes from taxpayers. When a private company creates a job it is paid for with profits. When the government creates one, it is paid for by YOU.