Georgia’s new economic development strategy: blame the jobless

Georgia is the only state in the country to have statistically significant job loss over the last year.

A new report from the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia predicts that it will be 2020 before Georgia recovers all the jobs lost during the recession and in the two years since the recession ended.

And now the Georgia state legislature, which did basically nothing in 2011 to deal with these catastrophic numbers, is planning for its 2012 session. Instead of substantive policies to boost business, it looks like we’re going to waste a lot of time beating up on workers who have been laid off through no fault of their own.

Six state senators have filed a bill, absurdly called “Dignity for the Unemployed Act,” that would make all those receiving unemployment benefits do 24 hours/week of volunteer work at a 501c3 nonprofit.

The blog Drifting Through the Grift has a great post about this, which reads in part:

Unemployment Insurance is no hand out. It is exactly what it is named – insurance. Employers pay a relatively modest premium, in the form of a payroll tax, in reality no different than the subsidy they pay on most other forms of insurance (health, disability, etc.), and if the employee is separated through no fault of their own, that employee receives a weekly payment (once again, think of disability plans) for a period of their unemployment.

In exchange, employers benefit from a more stable workforce and through the various human resources functions of the Department of Labor, easy access to that workforce.

In order for the recipient to receive the benefit, they must not only be available for employment but actively seek employment. Actively seeking employment means using the majority of the work week mailing resumes, interviewing and networking.

Let me add a few other points and questions:

  • Who pays for the added hours of case workers confirming these volunteer hours?
  • What about those who have worked 2nd and 3rd shifts because of family or educational demands?
  • What if a laid off employee wants to go back to school or do job retraining?
  • Child care costs?
  • Transportation costs?
  • What about mass layoffs in sparsely populated areas with few active 501c3s?
  • The MAXIMUM weekly unemployment payment is $330, but we’re expecting 24 hours of work, even for those with a benefit that’s far lower? The minimum benefit, by the way, is $44. The maximum length of time that benefits can be received under state law is 26 weeks. And unemployment benefits ARE taxable.

We are not talking here about people who have never worked, nor about those who have been fired for cause. We have a system to provide laid off workers with a bridge — a rickety bridge, but still a bridge — as they look for another job and try to keep their lives together. We do not need to make it harder for those workers to find new jobs. This bill would do just that — and it will contribute to the increasing hostility in the state toward struggling workers.

In other news, the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce supports “a measure that would require all state residents receiving unemployment benefits to pass a drug test before the Department of Labor issues any benefits.”

Again, we are not talking about workers who have been fired for cause. If someone violates a company’s drug policy and therefore loses a job, that worker is not eligible for jobless benefits. Again, points and questions:

  • There are half a million Georgians receiving unemployment benefits right now. Who pays for all those tests? How will those contracts be awarded? How many more state case workers will be needed?
  • If a family breadwinner smokes a joint (a misdemeanor), gets laid off the next day, and then fails a drug test the next week — that worker and his or her family are just out of luck? Too bad. Good luck on the streets!

Also, if we’re going to test for drugs, why not test for alcohol, which is a far more widespread problem?

I find it just stunning that ideas like these are coming from people who also argue for less government intrusion into Americans’ lives.

This overt animosity toward unemployed workers is not going to do anything to spur economic development in the state.

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