MINOT, N.D. — It shouldn't be a particularly controversial argument that expanded payments from the government to unemployed people might result in a higher rate and longer duration of unemployed people. But we live in the age of election truthers, anti-vaxxers, and flat-earthers, and so, of course, it is.
When the pandemic lowered the boom on our national economy, one of the prudent measures the federal government took was to expand some of the social safety nets, including unemployment benefits. People, through no fault of their own, were losing their jobs. It only made sense that we helped them.
Earlier this year, as the pandemic subsided (or, at least, we learned better how to cope with it) and our economy rebounded, the leaders of 26 states, including North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, opted to end participation in the expanded benefits.
This led to a lot of performative gnashing-of-teeth and rending-of-garments from our friends on the left who argued that employers, competing with the more generous benefits, should pay more and finance that added expense, not through higher prices for goods and services, but rather withdrawals from the magical, bottomless pot of money our liberal friends think every business owner or CEO has in a desk drawer somewhere.
Patrick Hart, the chairman of the Democratic-NPL, described the move as "kicking people when they are down and treating them viciously," a sentiment that, to the extent it's representative of what Democrats in North Dakota really believe, might explain why they can't win elections here.
When it wasn't immediately clear that this early retreat back to pre-pandemic levels of unemployment benefits had resulted in benefits for the states that did it, there was a lot of I-told-you-so crowing from the left-wing pundits.
The thing is, economic trends take time to develop, all the more so when you remember that our economy is hugely complex and influenced by an almost uncountable number of variables. Expanded unemployment benefits, after all, weren't the only expansion of the safety net in the pandemic era. We had eviction moratoriums, direct payments from the government, and other state-level policies too.
More time has passed, though, and a trend seems to be developing that favors the decision to end expanded unemployment benefits early (it ended for all states on Sept. 6).
The most recent jobs report from the Department of Labor shows the national economy beating expectations in terms of new unemployment claims. It dropped to 310,000 claims in the week before the expanded benefits ended, beating a forecast of 344,000 new claims, which would have been an increase.
The four-week moving average was 339,500, a decrease of 16,750 from the previous week’s revised average.
Zooming into the state level, the highest insured unemployed rates in the nation were all in states that didn't end benefits early: New Jersey (3.6%), California (3.4), Illinois (3.3), New York (3.0), Rhode Island (3.0), Connecticut (2.9), and Hawaii (2.6).
Using data from the jobs report, I put together this cart ranking states by their insured unemployed rates. The states that ended the expanded benefits early are marked in red.
See if you can spot a trend:
The distribution of "red" states is toward the bottom of the chart; the "blue" states are toward the top.
Again, many variables influence economic metrics. Government benefits for unemployed people are just one. Still, I don't think the order of this chart is a coincidence.
Some believe the termination of these expanded benefits — again, the states are just returning to pre-pandemic levels of insurance — is somehow cruel. That argument has its roots in the fundamentally different ways people on the left and the right view employment.
Our liberal friends tend to take a very static view. Minimum wage workers will always be minimum wage workers, they believe, so the only way to help them is to use government policies to increase their take-home pay, either by mandating higher wages or expanding safety net benefits. Because they believe this, it follows that opposing these policies is mean.
People who tend to lean more to the right see employment as a ladder. You start at the bottom and develop your skills and knowledge, and thus your value, so that you move up the ladder.
Does it work that way for everyone? Of course not.
Does it work that way in the aggregate? Absolutely.
The mistake liberals make is believing that making Americans dependent on government policies for economic advancement is helping them. The mistake conservatives make is believing that those who struggle to climb the economic ladder are lazy malingerers who don't want to work.
Each of these is a deeply flawed point of view.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.