New numbers last Friday showed an estimated 157,000 jobs were added to the economy in January, returning the unemployment rate to 7.9 percent. As more and more Americans remain mired in long-term unemployment, let’s take a look at the misconceptions that often arise about the unemployed.
1. People who receive unemployment benefits are slow to search for work.
This oft-repeated statement might have a chance of being true if benefits were unduly generous. They aren’t. Weekly unemployment insurance payment averaged $300 in 2010 and 2011, federal statistics show.
It’s important to understand that unemployment benefits aren’t intended to replace a worker’s income. They provide support so financial hardship doesn’t interfere with a newly unemployed worker’s job search. Think of these payments not as handouts but as investments; warding off long-term unemployment saves money in the long run, or so the theory goes.
A Election Day nears, and the media is full of polls and predictions, let’s judge the country on a simple, but poignant, metric. Are people who want to work getting back to work? The sad answer is no. Four-and-a-half years after the Great Recession began and more than two years since the official recovery started in March 2009, between 19 and 25 million Americans (the range depends on how you count) who want a job cannot find one.
Teresa Ghilarducci is the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Chair of Economic Policy Analysis at the New School for Social Research and Director of the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. Her most recent book is When I’m 64: The Plot against Pensions and the Plan to Save Them. Her current research project is “Beyond the 401(k): Guaranteeing Retirement Security.” From 1997-2002, Teresa was a Trustee for the Public Employee Retirement Fund in Indiana. See also served on the Federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s Advisory Board from 1996 to 2001.