The moocher class is back. You’ll recall that the reviled demographic made its most dramatic public appearance during the 2012 campaign, when Mother Jones’ David Corn got that video of Mitt Romney telling some swells at a private fundraiser that 47 percent of voters were bound to vote for Barack Obama because they love all the free stuff the gummint gives ’em.
Today, no one is talking openly about the “moocher class” but hatred of these alleged teat swillers is entirely what’s behind the obscene Republican delay in re-upping on unemployment insurance.
And yes, I know Donald Trump bowed enough to political reality to sign an executive order over the weekend partially restoring the payments. But he lowered the amount to $400, which will adversely affect millions of people. And anyway, it’s just unconscionable that Congress let the payments expire in the first place. This is Congress’ job.
The impasse isn’t just about a few billion dollars, or the size of the deficit. It reveals the rancid core of conservative free-market economics. Republicans just can’t stand the idea that that $600 means that even one person is sitting at home instead of working.
Congress arrived at that number in the following fashion. The average full-time weekly wage in the United States is around $970 (that’s $48,500 a year, although by other measures the annual wage is lower because millions of people work part-time, either by choice or because that’s all they can find). The average state unemployment benefit is around $370 a week, although it varies widely from state to state, with the worst and best being about the states you’d expect (Mississippi and Massachusetts, respectively.) Well, 970 minus 370 is 600, so that’s how Congress settled on that number.
It’s quite imperfect, of course, but they had to move fast. And so yes, it does mean that people who were making less than $970 a week are making more staying at home than they were by going to work.
And yes, this has resulted in instances of people choosing to stay at home. Anecdotally from what I’ve seen and heard, this seems to be happening the most with respect to young people working at fast-food joints and the like. And sure, if I were 20 and could make $600 a week staying home and doing bong hits versus $400 having to drag my ass to work, in the middle of a pandemic no less, I’m guessing that the 20-year-old Tomasky would very much choose the former.
But do most real grown-up people do this? No. They do not. The existence of this multitudinous moocher class is a myth.
As Catherine Rampell noted in The Washington Post, there have been no fewer than five studies since Congress passed the $600 benefit looking at whether it has discouraged people from working, and all five found no evidence of large-scale moocheritis.
This is just stuff that conservatives assert. As I said, there are instances of it, but the overwhelming majority of people go back to work when they can, even if they are making less money doing so.
Why? For a lot of reasons. Because for most people, working feels better than not working. Sitting around the house drives most people nuts. Also, health insurance is tied to work for 80 percent of this country so that work means you have health coverage, no small matter in the country where the national response to the plague has been pretty much the worst in the entire developed world. Also, with millions of jobs vaporizing, most people who are offered the chance to get back to work will seize that chance to hold on to that job. Everybody understands that government assistance on this scale is temporary, while a job is a job.
Jesse Rothstein, an economist at Cal-Berkeley, was a co-author of one of the studies. As he explained to me, in addition to the above points, people worry that someone else may take their job. And yes, he said, no statistical evidence backs up the conservative assertion.
“If UI benefits were really slowing employment, we’d see that the states with more generous benefits, where larger shares of workers are getting greater than 100 percent wage replacement, would have had greater job losses in April, and slower rebounds in May, June, and July,” Rothstein told me. “That’s the opposite of what we actually see. In fact, states with more generous benefits had fewer job losses and faster rebounds. There’s just no indication in the data that generous UI has been a barrier to recovery.”
But that’s data, and for Republicans, data isn’t what really matters. What matters to them are ideology and morality. Their ideology holds that nothing good can come of government intervention, even if said intervention is helping people feed their children. And that’s another good thing these UI benefits have done, by the way: People are out there spending this money on food and other necessities, so it is serving as stimulus for a struggling economy.
But conservatives’ real horror here is moral. Millions and millions of people were being helped by these unemployment benefits, but that matters far less to conservatives than the few hundred thousand (or whatever) who might be gaming the system. They can’t bear it. Or at least they act like they can’t bear it. It’s another handy way to make Fox News viewers furious at libs, Black people, Latinos, the “shiftless.”
Well, my real horror is moral, too: at Steve Mnuchin and Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy and the rest of these gangsters for letting the payments lapse. And Trump too, despite these executive orders. A president who cared about actual substance would have forced Congress to do a deal long before the payments expired.
The Democrats would have been happy to make such a deal. Republicans, on the other hand, think $2,400 a month for a little bit longer is going to corrupt people. If that amount of money is corrupting, imagine how corrupt McConnell must be. He married $30 million. These people are barbarians.