“Dropping Out Of The Labor Force” Doesn’t Mean People Are Dropping Dead

Digby

AEI (yes, AEI) offers up some evidence that austerity policies are bunk. Not kidding:

Earlier this year, as The New York Times reported, the North Carolina legislature cut unemployment benefits, reducing (a) the maximum payout by a third and (b) the number of weeks residents can receive jobless aid. As a result, starting in July the state lost its eligibility for the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. (This is the extended benefits program scheduled to expire nationally at year-end.)

So how’s that worked out in the Tar Heel State?

Well, if you listen to Republicans, it’s worked out pretty well. The state’s unemployment rate has dropped to 8.0% in October from 8.8% in June. So clearly cutting jobless benefits creates jobs and gets residents back in the workforce, right?

When you dig a bit deeper, things look less bright.

1.) In June, the month before benefits were cut, there were 416,314 residents classified as unemployed. In October, there were 371,756. That’s a decline in unemployment of 44,558.

2.) Over that same period, the number of employed residents only rose by 1,902 from 4,292,251 to 4,294,153. So what happened to those 42,656 residents who left unemployment but did not move to employment?

3.) The state’s labor force participation rate tells the story. It plunged from 62.2% in June, before the benefits cut, to 61.4% in October. If that rate had merely stayed steady, the state’s jobless rate would have increased to 9.1% rather than sharply declining.

In other words, it looks like the cut in unemployment benefits moved people out of the labor force rather than into employment. Likewise, the state employment rate — the share of adults with jobs — declined from 56.7% in June to 56.5% in October. Did reducing the number of North Carolina residents eligible for federal extended unemployment benefits boost employment? These data suggest it did not, a reality Washington policymakers might want to consider.

Uhm, yes they might want to consider reality. Good idea. But get a load of this:

Update: Bloomberg’s Evan Soltas has noticed the same impact. His conclusion: “Cutting unemployment insurance apparently hasn’t encouraged the unemployed to look harder for work: It has caused them to drop out of the labor force altogether.”

Did you see that little sleight of hand there? I knew that you could.

We have hard evidence that forcing people off of unemployment insurance does not result in these people becoming employed, as all the Republicans insist will happen. Instead, they simply fall off the grid and have no discernible income at all. But that update tells exactly how this is going to be rationalized. It’s not the obvious fact that there are no jobs for these people. It’s that even with this “tough love” these lazy sods refuse to look harder for work.

I was being facetious when I wrote that these austerians were encouraging crime and prostitution, but there is more than a grain of truth in all this. If there are no jobs for people who are losing their unemployment benefits, then it stands to reason that they will have to do something to keep a roof over their heads. Some will undoubtedly survive on the underground economy. Some will find some generous charity or family member from whom to supplicate. Some will just become homeless and live on the very edge of society. But there will be people who become thieves and prostitutes. What choice are we giving them?

If it weren’t such an insufferable movie, I’d suggest we send every Republican a copy of the recent remake of Les Miserables. (The book doesn’t have any of the adolescent bodice ripping they love so much in Atlas Shrugged, so I doubt they’d read it.) Is there a Classic Comic version by any chance?

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