Commentary

The best op-ed of the weekend

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the essay that ran in Saturday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by Andrew Stettner of the Century Foundation highlighting North Carolina’s unemployment insurance system that was gutted by conservatives in response to the Great Recession. Here are some excerpts from “NC should restore unemployment cuts”:

“A report this week by The Century Foundation, a national public policy think tank, details how North Carolina has one of the least generous and most restrictive unemployment insurance programs of any state in the U.S., despite a dramatic turnaround in the state’s unemployment trust fund, which has gone from more than $2.5 billion in debt to a $3 billion surplus.

North Carolina has kept in place its 12-week limit on receiving assistance – currently the lowest in the country. The maximum benefit amount has remained frozen, too. As a result, only one in 10 jobless workers in North Carolina receive an unemployment payment in 2017, the third-lowest in the country. That’s down from 43 percent in 2009.

Employers, on the other hand, are benefiting greatly from the turnaround. According to the Century Foundation report, business owners paid only 0.42 percent in unemployment taxes in 2017, down from the 1-plus percent rate they paid in 2012. That amounts to an average savings of $282 per employee. What’s more, North Carolina businesses are expected to enjoy a second-straight 0.5 percent reduction in unemployment taxes in 2018.

In other words, employers are benefiting from a recovered unemployment trust fund and growing economy. For workers, however, it still feels like 2013.

North Carolina has a responsibility to fix this imbalance, take a fresh look at the system, and restore unemployment benefits to their pre-recession levels. The money is there to do so: North Carolina is one of 29 states that now meets the Department of Labor’s standards for having enough money in the trust fund to withstand the next recession. By federal standards, the state now has nearly five times as much in reserves than it had in 2007….

Before the recession, someone who was laid off because their company closed or department downsized could count on up to six months of help with keeping their family fed and rent paid. In turn, those people continued to participate in the economy, doing their part to pay taxes and support local businesses. Since the 2013 rollback in benefits, however, these North Carolinians have been less capable of supporting their family, in turn giving less back into the economy as a whole.

This holiday season, even though the economy is growing, many of us will think of friends, family members or neighbors who recently lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Consider the 100 workers at Avery Dennison in Greensboro, whose jobs making labels were outsourced overseas this September.

It’s a story repeated in communities across the state, especially rural ones, who are not enjoying the full fruit of the current economic expansion. It is our obligation to fulfill the government’s promise to support these workers as they find their next job, especially when we have the means to do it.

Right now, we can and must offer greater support for the unemployed. The North Carolina legislature should act to restore these benefits, strengthen the economy and guard against the next downturn.”

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