Commentary, Legislature

Seven years later, the GOP’s unemployment reforms still haunt NC

When North Carolina lawmakers meet Tuesday morning to consider the state’s sickly unemployment insurance system, even though there is no publicly available agenda yet (what else is new?) you should expect a few things.

Expect them to talk about the benefits of cutting employers’ taxes. Expect them to regale you with fantastical stories about the “Carolina Comeback,” Pat McCrory and the GOP’s miserly plan for a top-heavy economy that continues to offer arguably the worst unemployment benefits in the nation. Expect them to laud their ingenuity in penny-pinching for the next recession while many thousands of impoverished North Carolinians never really emerged from the last one.

But don’t expect them to call their 2013 reforms to unemployment insurance a failure. And, to their credit, it’s not a failure if you are of the mind that reducing the tax burden for businesses should come at the cost of any sort of functioning safety net for blue-collar workers. Indeed, the wan and cruel system that NC deploys today, one of the least effective in the nation at returning job-seekers to the market, would seem to be precisely what McCrory and company sought way back in 2013.

“I think where we are is a good thing. What is the point of your presentation?” Rep. Dana Bumgardner, a Republican from Gaston County, reportedly groused in 2018, when Wayne Vroman of the D.C.-based Urban Institute explained how lawmakers had only socked away more than $3 billion in the unemployment trust fund by slashing the amount and duration of benefits at a prodigious rate.

Rep. Dana Bumgardner, R-Gaston

In other words, lawmakers padded the trust fund at the great expense of those it was intended to benefit.

Congratulations, we’ve saved your hand, but, condolences, the fingers had to go.

Those NC residents that were so severely chastened by a callous unemployment system were not lent speed back into gainful employment, as legislative leaders would suggest. Instead, they failed to find work or were driven from the job market altogether, a seriously suppressing outcome for any economy.

That is the point, Rep. Bumgardner.

It is, it seems, ever the point with this legislative majority which glorifies tax cuts and vilifies welfare programs above all others.

Bumgardner and the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance, which is composed entirely of Republicans save for the Wake County Democrat Wiley Nickel, will be back in in action Tuesday morning.

It is time, past time, to reconsider NC’s unemployment insurance.

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