Unemployment Benefits are Becoming a Dependence Problem

Imagine that you meet a young woman and after introductions, you ask, "What do you do?"

"I'm unemployed," she says.

"That's too bad.  I hope you find a job soon."

Nothing unusual so far, but the conversation is about to take an interesting turn.

"I'm not looking for a job.  Being unemployed is what I do."

The look on your face shows your bewilderment.  What on earth is she talking about?

Welcome to the new United States of America, the Obama model that you voted to give another chance even though he didn't earn it.  Yesterday, he said,

"So if we don't see an agreement between the two leaders in the Senate, I expect a bill to go on the floor-and I have asked Senator Reid to do this-put a bill on the floor that makes sure that taxes on middle class families don't go up, that unemployment insurance is still available for 2 million people, and that lays the groundwork then for additional deficit reduction and economic growth steps that we can take in the New Year."

I suppose that if you have never had to earn a living you wonder why anyone should have to.  That's the problem with freebees.  People who get them never learn to appreciate the importance of being able to take care of themselves.  They think that their mere existence is their contribution to society.

Several years ago, I read a study about unintentionally creating dependence, and one of its findings made a lasting impression on me.   The study concluded that when parents continue giving their children money after they should be taking care of themselves, it destroys their interest in ever becoming independent.  The most shocking finding to me was how little money it takes to destroy their initiative.  I can't remember exactly how much it was, but $100 per month rings a bell.

Unemployment insurance has a place in a mobile society, but taken too far, I suspect that it has the same effect on our populace.  People learn to live on less, and doing nothing to earn their way, they eventually lose interest in taking initiative to improve their condition.  As a nation, that's an outcome that we can't afford.

This type of problem isn't new to us.  The generational welfare dependence problem is very similar if not identical to the burgeoning problem we're creating with unemployment.  Simple logic and common sense are all that it should take to connect the dots, but as I used to tell my students, common sense isn't common.

President Obama says that he understands the connection between welfare and dependency:

I think we should acknowledge that some welfare programs in the past were not well designed and in some cases did encourage dependency.... As somebody who worked in low-income neighborhoods, I've seen it where people weren't encouraged to work, weren't encouraged to upgrade their skills, were just getting a check, and over time their motivation started to diminish. And I think even if you're progressive you've got to acknowledge that some of these things have not been well designed.

Why can't the president see beyond welfare dependence to unemployment dependence, for example?  I'm not a psychologist or a psychiatrist, but I suspect that his nearsightedness is a result of his reliance on others to do things for him that he should have done for himself and doing quite well, thank you. 

Problem is the president isn't ordinary.  He has other attributes that made and make him an attractive front man for others with something to gain from him doing well.  I won't delve into what their motives are, but I will say this: few people who are willing to become part of a permanent dependent class have those same qualities.

As a nation, we face many daunting challenges not the least of which is energizing our people so that they learn to achieve at a high level and begin to enjoy accomplishing things.  Failing to take this issue seriously and then taking steps to reverse the tide of mediocrity that has a tight grip on a large and growing number of our citizens will result in national suicide.

We can't afford to support the young and the old in this country at the same time.  No society can.  That's one of the lessons that we should have learned from Europe.  Make no mistake: this problem is already beginning to attract attention, and it will attract a lot more attention in the days ahead because no nation can survive and thrive while the majority of its citizens remain on the dole.  It's as simple as 1, 2, 3.

Neil Snyder is the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia.  His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.

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