Editorial: Unemployed, not lazy

Posted: July 14, 2010

Tom Corbett should see all the jobless people not sitting at home.

In April, the SugarHouse Casino held an informational job fair. At least 8,000 people showed up for 800 jobs. They began arriving at 6 a.m. By noon, the line stretched two blocks.

It's not just casinos attracting 10 times as many job applicants as positions available. When Wegmans opened a new grocery near Collegeville last October, about 6,000 people applied for 550 jobs.

The Philadelphia Unemployment Project (PUP) held a lightly advertised meeting several weeks ago about a limited number of temporary jobs available through government grants. More than 300 people showed up.

Yet Attorney General Corbett, the Republican nominee for governor, says some unemployed people aren't working because they don't want to give up jobless benefits. "The jobs are there," he said. "But if we keep extending unemployment, people are going to sit there." He apologized Tuesday for a poor choice of words.

The average unemployment check in Pennsylvania is $310 per week. When pressed to name companies hurt by this unfair competition, Corbett couldn't cite any.

That's the beauty of an ideological anecdote - the fewer facts, the better. But Corbett's clueless and inept comments serve a useful purpose. They're another reminder that the recession hasn't ended for many people, and that government needs to do more to help families get through these prolonged harsh economic times.

The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is 9.1 percent. In the city, it's 11 percent. "I've got people who have been out of work for two years," said PUP director John Dodds.

Since the recession began in December 2007, nearly eight million jobs have been lost nationally. In the last 50 years, extended federal jobless benefits had never been allowed to expire when the national unemployment rate was greater than 7.2 percent. Now the national rate stands at 9.5 percent. But the Senate failed to extend benefits for people who stopped receiving checks in early June.

Most Republican senators and one Democrat said they opposed adding to the debt. But offsetting the cost has never before been a requirement for unemployment benefits, and it shouldn't be now, with so many more families hurting for longer periods of time.

Unemployment benefits expire after 26 weeks, but the average unemployed worker now spends 35 weeks without a job.

Putting people back to work with the help of a growing economy is proving to be a painfully slow process. Helping those who can't find work in the meantime shouldn't get sidetracked by inane yarns from candidates who should know better.

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