This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It has been said that one should never attribute to malevolence that which can be explained by stupidity.
But the decision by the state of Utah to ignore the offer of some $100 million in federal assistance that would have extended unemployment benefits to more than 20,000 of our neighbors, at a minimal cost to state taxpayers, is such a massive wrong that explaining it fully may require both evil intent and willful ignorance.
The latest numbers indicate that the rash of long-term unemployment caused by the Wall Street implosion of 2008 may be bottoming out. New claims for jobless benefits in Utah are declining.
But there are still many people who have been out of work for more than a year. Such chronic unemployment doesn't just hurt the individuals who are out of work and their families. The lack of an income ripples through the economy, as the jobless spend less and businesses of all types lose sales. Those losses can be enough to push other people out of work, or out of business, continuing the spiral.
Utah, though, was one of only eight states that has turned down the federal offer of another 13 weeks of unemployment benefits for those who have long since exhausted their 26 weeks of state-provided benefits and even the previous round of federal funds that provided up to 47 weeks of benefits.
Senate President Michael Waddoups said that losing their unemployment checks might be just the thing to prod people to stop lying around and go get a job. It is a sentiment that would be cruel even if it did have any substance behind it, and is all the more so because it follows from fuzzy thinking.
By law, unemployment benefits in Utah are 40 percent of what the recipient was making at their last job, with a maximum weekly payout of $452. The average weekly benefit for someone on Utah Workforce Services unemployment is $315.
For Waddoups to assume that those paltry sums would be incentive enough for a significant number of people to choose couch-potatoing over job-seeking is not only irrational, it is also a grievous insult to the work ethic of all Utahns, a group whose industriousness is legend.
The only cost to the state would have been a small amount to maintain some benefits for former public-sector workers who were receiving the benefits. The additional time on unemployment isn't even counted in setting the unemployment insurance premiums of former employers, so there is no reason that business owners should be against the extension.
Our penny-wise, pound-foolish Legislature has struck again. It is just a question of whether you are among those who will be hurt a little, or a lot.