When Helping Hurts: Extending Unemployment Benefits

3 Minute Read

By Dan Miller, 48days.net

”I ask not for a lighter burden, but for broader shoulders. —Jewish Proverb

Drive into any national park and you’ll see the signs—“Don’t feed the bears.” Scientists tell us that bears will quickly become dependent on human food, and while they are not particularly fond of humans, they like the arrangement of free food. And once dependent on that food, they will attack the same providers if the supply disappears.

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Congress is now considering extending unemployment benefits for the fifth time since this recession began. In normal economic times, workers could receive up to 26 weeks of benefits with the possibility of a 13-week extension. With the benefits added by President George W. Bush and now Barack Obama, jobless benefits can run as long as 99 weeks—nearly two years.

Here’s the challenging news. Studies by University of Chicago economist Bruce Meyer and Harvard’s Lawrence Katz show that people are most likely to find a job just as their unemployment runs out—whether that’s two weeks, 26 weeks or 99 weeks. The benefits, even if meager, appear to fuel the belief that this is a poor labor market, the economy is in the tank, and no one is hiring. And yet when the benefits are exhausted, a job magically appears.

Not having a job is not just a lack of money. Not having a job very quickly becomes a psychological issue, unleashing humiliation, shame, vulnerability, hopelessness and entrapment. Money that is not “earned” may exacerbate rather than alleviate these emotions. The resulting low self-esteem cripples the boldness, confidence and enthusiasm required to come across as a desirable job candidate.

We’ve seen the crippling effects of welfare becoming not a crisis relief but a way of life from one generation to the next. We now have healthy, intelligent and capable young people who no longer anticipate hard work, struggle and the ultimate rewards of personal achievement but simply capitulate to the handouts of the government for housing and food. And thus they drift into the ravages of perpetual low self-esteem, shame and the violence that accompany relationships unaccompanied by mutual respect.

Here’s another observation. Yes, we are seeing people thrust into the ranks of the unemployed through no fault of their own. People who are competent, reliable, faithful and talented are losing their jobs. Yet for many of those, becoming “unemployed” simply serves as a wake-up call for dormant dreams. Check out 48Days.net, and you’ll read the stories of hundreds of “accidental entrepreneurs.” Others report they have found jobs that, for the first time, are allowing them to experience meaningful, purposeful and profitable work.

No parent, boss, pastor, missionary or politician wants to appear heartless. But we must recognize that bears hunt effectively when they are not “given” food, teenagers get creative when the allowance stops, people move out of the destructive cycle of poverty when the handouts cease, and our best and most creative talents are often released under the gentle pressure of necessity.

”If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere." —Frank A. Clark

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