The Unintended Consequences of Generous Unemployment Benefits

The Unintended Consequences of Generous Unemployment Benefits

 

 The unintended consequences of generous unemployment benefits 

 

By David Bass

 

 

This year has seen some of the most generous unemployment benefit checks since the Great Recession in 2007-2009—and with good reason. As the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has put 20 million Americans out of work, and over half-a-million right here in Georgia, the need for robust help is pressing. 

Currently, the maximum weekly unemployment benefit available in Georgia is $665, a combination of $365 in state compensation and $300 in federal dollars (due to a recent executive order from President Trump). Earlier this year, the total package was even more generous at $965 due to $600 in federal unemployment checks (a benefit amount that expired on July 31).

This means that an unemployed individual could qualify for the equivalent of a $16.63 per-hour job right now. Not every worker will qualify for this maximum amount because unemployment insurance payments are based on recent earnings over a 52-week period. According to U.S. Department of Labor data, Georgia’s average unemployment is closer to $225 a week, for a combined value of $525 per week when mixed with federal dollars.

What’s more, the federal $300 per-week payments are only guaranteed for three weeks, although it is likely unemployed individuals will receive them for a longer period of time. Also, workers who are receiving less than $100 per week in state unemployment payments are ineligible for the $300 federal payments, meaning that many low-income, part-time, or seasonal workers will likely not qualify.

 

Do higher unemployment payments have unintended impacts?

These more generous unemployment payments raise an important question: Are there unintended consequences? The answer is clearly yes.

As scholars with the American Enterprise Institute have documented, generous unemployment checks contribute to both delays in workers re-entering the economy and ultimately the economic rebound itself. Workers are not to blame—if your only job options pay less than unemployment compensation, it makes sense to delay joining the workforce again. In many situations, this is the case: One analysis from the University of Chicago concluded that two-thirds of workers eligible for unemployment benefits would receive a benefit amount that exceeds their previous pay.

These unintended impacts are another example of a welfare cliff, the idea that welfare programs often punish efforts to work—due to dramatic drops or “cliffs” in benefits as a recipient’s income increases, even by just cents per hour. For more information on welfare cliffs, visit WelfareCliff.org.

 

Georgia employers are feeling the crunch

If our goal with unemployment insurance is to serve as a bridge for workers during hard times to propel them back into employment, then our current response is not working properly.

Buffalo Rock Pepsi in Columbus, Georgia, shared with the Georgia Center for Opportunity team that it has had a challenging time this year filling positions for warehouse workers and warehouse coordinators. The resulting shortage of workers has put a strain on existing staff.

Ankerpak—a third-party packaging, fulfillment, and storage facility also based in Columbus—is experiencing similar roadblocks. The company has struggled to fill assembly line positions, and it identifies the high value of unemployment benefits as a primary reason. “Due to challenges presented by lack of staffing, we are nearly 20 people short on a regular basis. We are unable to meet our customers’ demands and/or deadlines, putting us at risk of losing business during these trying times,” the Ankerpak team shared with us.

 

A way forward

We are not advocating against unemployment insurance or proposing cuts, but it’s clear the existing system has unintended negative impacts. Ultimately, the right question to ask is this: What is the purpose of a public service like unemployment insurance? If it is to truly be a safety net, we must address the problem of when a safety net becomes a snare to keep hard-hit populations trapped in cycles of poverty.

Any true solution to this problem must be local and homegrown. This is where Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) comes in. HWDG connects local job seekers with the training and support needed to not just find a job, but a job that leads to a sustainable wage and a meaningful career. Cooperating on a local level, HWDG brings together individuals, companies, nonprofits, and other service providers to solve unemployment and help people achieve a flourishing life.

Ultimately, the goal of unemployment insurance should be as a bridge to return to the workforce. Local initiatives like HWDG are a catalyst for that return reentry into the labor force in a better job with an upward trajectory.

 

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.

Welfare Without Dignity Doesn’t Work

Welfare Without Dignity Doesn’t Work

Welfare Without Dignity Doesn’t Work 

 

 

By Corey Burres

 

 

I drove through my neighborhood and saw dozens of tents lining the wooded area near my home. I realized there were families and single mothers living in these tents. My heart broke. How did we get here? When did we start to accept this for those in our communities?

I know from our work at Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) there are local and governmental services available. I know there are many community groups and philanthropic organizations working to address the basic needs of shelter, food, and health. But I question if these systems address the issue of dignity.

Dignity is a word we throw around a lot at GCO. It’s a core value for our team, but it is also a core component of how we choose to view others. It is a driver, yes, but more importantly, it is a goal. We can address needs and make some headway, but until we restore dignity to individuals we will continue to fight an endless battle. Government safety-net programs are not designed to restore dignity. That is a problem.

Without finding self-worth and dignity in what we do, we continue to seek “just enough.” If we truly want those around us to thrive, we must create systems that seek to do more than simply appease a need. We must create systems that see the value of peoples’ humanity and desire for them to move into a vibrant and thriving future.

The fact of the matter is that systems like Medicaid, food stamps, and other programs are not designed to move people into a better life. Instead, they are a stop-gap that simply meets an immediate or temporary need.

If we truly want those around us to thrive, we must create systems that seek to do more than simply appease a need. We must create systems that see the value of peoples’ humanity and desire for them to move into a vibrant and thriving future.

In the case of temporary unemployment or hard times, this is sufficient and works as intended. It’s why many people tout the effectiveness of these programs. They do work—for some.

However, in the case of intergenerational or long-term poverty, the result is marginalized groups systemically stuck—trapped in dependency and without hope.

And that is what I see when I pass these tent cities. These are our neighbors who have surrendered to a way of life, one that we desperately hope our own loved ones will never experience. The tragedy is that our political leaders have done just enough to appease them.

True compassion says we should hope for them to move off government assistance programs and feel the sense of dignity and belonging we want for everyone.

Over the next month, we are going to highlight changes to assistance programs that will remove the traps in our safety-net systems. We will highlight local support networks that view the individual through the lens of the dignity that they deserve. And we will bring together the business and community leaders leading the charge at Breakthrough.

Will you join us?

 

Welfare Cliffs Exist—Concludes Team of Economists

Welfare Cliffs Exist—Concludes Team of Economists

 

 

 

Welfare Cliffs Exist—Concludes Team of Economists 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Erik Randolph

 

 

Since 2016, the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) has demonstrated the existence of welfare cliffs. Now a team of five economists has come to the same conclusion.

Welfare cliffs are an unfortunate feature of the American welfare system. They occur when a family’s breadwinner, or an individual, discovers that his or her family will become worse off economically by earning more money. It sounds paradoxical, but it happens whenever the loss in welfare benefits exceeds the additional take-home pay.

Exactly when the cliffs occur, and how bad they are, depends on many factors, including the characteristics of the family, how much they earn, and where they live. And because of the haphazard way the welfare system is constructed, it turns out that there isn’t a single cliff but multiple cliffs that a family can encounter over the range of potential earnings.

For more information on GCO’s work on the cliffs, check out this website that shows cliffs in eight states by common family types.

New Study

Authored by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Boston University, and the University of California, Berkeley, a newly published study takes a sophisticated approach to identify disincentives in the U.S. tax and welfare structure. Published as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the authors fed the results of the most recent Survey of Consumer Finances through a fiscal analyzer.

The Economic Team

David Altig, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Alan J. Auerbach, University of California, Berkeley and NBER

Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Boston University and NBER

Elias Ilin, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and Boston University

Victor Ye, Boston University

 

 

The Survey of Consumer Finances is a project of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. It is the most comprehensive survey examining the personal finances of American individuals and families. Thus, the input data for their study represent a statistical picture of how families are faring economically.

In other words, the financial situations of a representative cross-section of families in America was fed through a fiscal analyzer. This particular fiscal analyzer was based on a personal financial planning tool developed by the software company of Laurence Kotlikoff, one of the study’s authors.

The fiscal analyzer estimates the likely future financial path that individuals or families will take over their remaining lifetime, along with the future taxes and benefits they will pay or receive. The study uses standard mortality rates to predict lifespans and gives a unique calculation on the degree and magnitude that incentives or disincentives exist over that likely path.

The study defined the future fiscal burdens, consisting as taxes and benefits, as marginal tax rates. If a person’s remaining marginal tax rate increases, then so does the tax burden. The greater the magnitude of the marginal tax rate, the greater the disincentive.

Study Results

Given our own work, the conclusion of the authors was not surprising. To quote from their study:

“Our findings are striking. One in four low-wage workers face marginal net tax rates above 70 percent, effectively locking them into poverty.”

“… one in four bottom-quintile households, regardless of age, face marginal tax rates above 65 percent. Thus, a major share of poor households are effectively locked into poverty by America’s fiscal system.”

The authors were careful to point out that this study looks at the structure of America’s fiscal system, meaning these disincentives are hardwired into the laws and rules of the system. This corroborates exactly with our research. The very rules themselves are what create the disincentives and the cliffs. The silver lining here is that rules can be changed.

This study did not attempt to measure how people react to the disincentives. Some might bite the bullet, take the hit, and still advance their earnings anyway. On the other hand, others may take a defeatist tact, backing off from earning more to draw down more government assistance. This is a ripe area for future research, to determine the proportion of people who forge ahead anyway versus those who give up and retreat.

In the meantime, we shouldn’t wait for future research on how many people accept defeat and remain poor. It makes more sense to fix the rules now so the question becomes moot.

Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

 

 

 

 

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.

Georgia groups push Kemp for virtual-learning microgrants | WALKER COUNTY MESSENGER

Georgia groups push Kemp for virtual-learning microgrants | WALKER COUNTY MESSENGER

Georgia groups push Kemp for virtual-learning microgrants | WALKER COUNTY MESSENGER

ATLANTA – Several groups are pressing Gov. Brian Kemp to start divvying out small federal grant funds aimed at helping families pay for school supplies, child care and other expenses while their children are taking online classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

In a letter sent Tuesday, Sept. 15, groups including the American Federation for Children, the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta and GeorgiaCAN urged Kemp to reserve more than $20 million in federal COVID-19 funds for microgrants, which cover small one-time expenses.

 

Along with several educational and disability-advocacy groups, the letter was also signed by a handful of conservative-leaning organizations including the Americans for Prosperity’s Georgia chapter and the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Georgia.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation and the Georgia Center for Opportunity also signed the letter.

Read the full article here