A Canard Comes Home to Roost

Vermont’s “business leaders” scored a rare double last week. Their complaints resulted in stories published on the same day by Seven Days and VTDigger. Congratulations.

The articles trod the same well-worn path: The Usual Suspects in the business community are raising fears that proposed state unemployment benefits will hurt their efforts to attract workers. Both stories are replete with quotes from worried business owners and their paid lobbyists.

Because, as we all know, workers are inherently lazy. And the lower they are on the totem pole, the lazier they become — all the way down to the mythical creature known as the Welfare Queen.

In these stories, you won’t read any quotes from actual workers. Nor will you see anything from business groups that aren’t cut from the Chamber cloth. It’d be nice to know how Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and the Main Street Alliance see things before deciding whether we should consider “business leaders” as united on the moral hazard of unemployment insurance.

It’s true that many unemployed people have gotten more in Covid-enhanced UI than they could expect to earn in their line of work, and that would again be the case under S.10. I’d argue this says more about the overabundance of low-paying jobs than about the excessive generosity of pandemic benefits. And there’s plenty of research that shows that the “business leaders'” fears are unfounded; that the effect of temporarily sweetened UI on the supply of available workers is negligible at most.

While some workers could earn more on UI than from a paycheck, that’s far from the only factor in their decision-making.

Sooner or later, the extra benefits will expire. Anyone who’s been out of work from March 2020 through whenever we get back to “normal” will have a big fat hole in their work history. That will make it harder for them to get a job. It’s a big risk for a small short-term gain.

Why else might people be reluctant to accept employment during a pandemic? Well, health concerns. All those jobs in retail and hospitality involve constant contact with other people, sometimes in situations you can’t control.

As long as schools and child care facilities aren’t operating as usual, many people have child-care responsibilities that keep them at home. If the worker is at high risk for Covid because of other medical conditions, staying home might be the better part of wisdom. If a member of the household is at high risk, there’s the chance of bringing coronavirus home from a workplace.

Expanded UI is meant to give people the means to make those choices, even if it keeps them from returning to the workforce as quickly as a business owner might like.

It’s also meant to keep the economy strong by giving people the resources to buy stuff like food and clothing and paying the light bill, and to get them over the hump of accrued debt. A little extra income isn’t going to go to waste, Welfare Queen stereotypes notwithstanding.

I also question the lazy-worker narrative itself. In my experience, most people draw a sense of self-worth from their employment in addition to the paychecks. While the prospect of sitting on the couch eating donuts might have hypothetical appeal, the reality would drive most people nuts. I think most would prefer earning a paycheck to drawing benefits, if they could get a fair deal and a place for their kids to go and a Covid-free workplace.

I hope our lawmakers can see beyond the fears of “business leaders” and do the right thing by Vermont workers. The pandemic is still on, and people are still hurting.


20 thoughts on “A Canard Comes Home to Roost

  1. Walter Carpenter

    “Both stories are replete with quotes from worried business owners and their paid lobbyists.”

    It makes me laugh as it is the customers who ultimately pay the unemployment insurance. Vermont’s job creators are the customers; they pay the unemployment. The big trouble is that many of the businesses “cut from the Chamber cloth,” as you say, do not make it worth our while to work for them as they treat us working people as if we are little better than nothing.

  2. H. Jay Eshelman

    Re: “Because, as we all know, workers are inherently lazy.”

    No. And they aren’t stupid either, given that they “have gotten more in Covid-enhanced UI than they could expect to earn in their line of work…”

    You continue misrepresent these circumstances and play the ‘disadvantaged’ card, degrading the sensibilities of all workers, and their employers, in your belief that the only alternatives to working the job from which they were laid off is ‘sitting on the couch eating donuts’.

    I wonder, Mr. Walters, for how long and for how many have you been an employer? – or how many donuts have you been eating?

    By the way, the only schools that were closed for the long term by the pandemic were the public schools. Independent schools have been open for in-person education since August. Unfortunately, only some parents (advantaged and disadvantaged) live in districts providing taxpayer funded tuition vouchers for their children to attend independent schools. Otherwise, those parents were beholden to those in the public schools who really did take advantage of the Covid-enhanced UI… because they weren’t deemed as ‘essential’ as ‘first responders’, or the folks who work at Walmart.

      1. H. Jay Eshelman

        Was it something I said? Or do you consider it a ‘purely personal attack’ simply because I disagree with you? On one hand, you claim my silence is a confession of one sin or another. On the other hand, when I protest your judgements, you classify my remarks as a personal attack… on you I suppose. How do you think I, as an employer, feel about the things written here? Or does that matter?

        If you establish the rules for my participation in this forum, I will abide by them.

      2. John S. Walters Post author

        I have always been very generous with comment posting. Obvious spam is the only thing I’ve blocked. But I have my limits, and you are getting close.

        As for rules, I don’t have to create any. This is my piece of Internet property. I can make decisions as I see fit, and you have no recourse. And please don’t spout “First Amendment” or “Cancel culture.” You have no inherent right to post your views on my site or expect me to engage with you. (I assume you believe in private property.)

      3. H. Jay Eshelman

        Never have I ‘spouted’ a 1st Amendment right to comment here, nor have I assigned a ‘Cancel Culture’ characterization to you. And yes, you have every right to make your own rules and censor my comments as you see fit. To be honest, my ulterior motive for commenting here in your ‘liberal viewpoint’ space was to try to figure out your logic. With one possible exception, you have never addressed any of the specific counterpoints I’ve presented to your self-described ‘liberal’ points of view. That being said, now I can only wonder why you are unwilling to address opposing points of view with specificity.

        By the way, if you and your readers are at all interested in the effect these enhanced unemployment benefits are having, check out this recent article; ‘Businesses Hurt by Labor Shortage Due to Rich Federal Benefits’ by Emel Akan, 3-25-21.

        And keep in mind, too, that most of the unemployment benefits workers receive are only temporarily funded by subsidized State Unemployment Insurance. And that those payouts raise the premium each employer must pay to fund the insurance. This is why I asked you if you had ever been an employer. But instead of answering, you characterize my questions as ‘personal attacks’.

        Ironically, it seems, this canard has, indeed, come home to roost.

      4. H. Jay Eshelman

        One of your citations includes this tidbit.

        “But new research from the Chicago Federal Reserve throws cold water on that argument. The report finds that those who have exhausted their benefits are actually less likely to search for work than those still receiving them. In fact, once benefits run out, “their search effort drops precipitously.”

        Having monitored unemployment and job searches locally for 40 years, as an employer, my anecdotal experience for this so-called ‘cold water’ has nothing to do with the Chicago Federal Reserve’s conclusion. In my experience, with literally hundreds of people applying for work, applicants seek work primarily because it’s a requirement for receiving the unemployment benefit in the first place. They have to show that they’ve applied to at least three new firms every week. Once the unemployment benefit runs out, there is no requirement for them to seek work. So they don’t.

        And, in Vermont, for example, these folks in some households can qualify for up to $40,000+- per year in social services subsidies, from EBT cards to rent support, when they don’t have any other income.

      5. Walter Carpenter

        “subsidized State Unemployment Insurance.”

        And who subsidizes this state unemployment insurance? It all gets passed to the customers in the private sphere and the taxpayers in the public sphere. I say this as someone who has been both an employer and an employee. We pay the unemployment and if we are unemployed, especially because of a pandemic, we should not be punished for it by having to live at subsistence levels in what someone else determines is our “eligibility.”

      6. H. Jay Eshelman

        While I suspect you have a policy of not publishing other URLs, would you at least acknowledge that I offerred articles, other than from the Epoch Times, on the adverse effects of extended and subsidized unemployment benefits on small businesses, from ABC News and NBC News sources as well?

    1. H. Jay Eshelman

      In the final analysis, Mr. Carpenter, all costs are born by all ‘productive’ workers – employers and employees. But the premise of this article concerns those who aren’t working, and whether or not paying those people to not work creates an incentive to not work, regardless of who pays them.

      The question we’ve been bouncing around, however, is this. Who is best positioned to make these management decisions? The worker who is being paid to not work? The politician who legislates that workers be paid for not working in exchange for votes? Or the working employer and employee who, through infinitely various free market interchanges, choose to make and purchase the best goods and services at the least expensive price?

      After all, once everyone is being paid to not work, only a fool would do so. Until, of course, the economy shuts down completely, and the State takes control of all production, and forces people to work when, where and how they are assigned.

      You see, the flaw in the Marx/Engels model, ‘from each according to his ability to each according to his need’, leaves out one profoundly critical feature. Who decides how able or needy a person is? And how do they make those decisions?

      1. Walter Carpenter

        “After all, once everyone is being paid to not work, only a fool would do so.”

        For the pay and the rewards that we workers get for our work, you are correct that it is foolish for us to go back to work. Why? Be treated like a wage slave? In general, we are valued as resources. Most of us get little or nothing for it and so much of the value of our labor is stolen from us by the system that does not value us as human beings. As for paying us not to work, don’t forget that it is our money that is paying us. I am one of those unemployed persons and making more than I would have if I were on the payroll of my job that did not want me to work because I am elder and a bigger danger and risk for the virus than the younger people. Yet, I’ve been working since 1968, and the unemployment I’m getting is the money of what I have deferred all those years that my employers have charged the customers for my labor and not paid me.

        Actually, Marx/Engels were right.

      2. H. Jay Eshelman

        So, it’s clear then. Whatever your rational (irrational as your sense of entitlement seems to me), you choose to be paid to not work because you earn more not working. This confirms the point being made in the first place. Mr. Walters, I hope you’re taking notes.

      3. Walter Carpenter

        “you choose to be paid to not work because you earn more not working.”

        🙂 LOL. Actually, I did not choose this. Covid-19 chose it for me. I was told to stay away this season because I am, like probably all or most of us here, of the age that is most vulnerable to this plague and the winter job I work at did not want to take a chance with me. I would have had to interact with hundreds of people a day. I am in the tourist business, which brings billions into Vermont and pays a hefty load of its taxes. Due to factors beyond my control, I could not get the vaccine until midway through the season that would have made it safe for me to return to work. Yet, I would have made much less and got nothing for it…. That is my point. We get nothing at all for our work so why should we go back? Without us, our capitalist system and would crash in ten minutes and those who make the profits off of us would go belly up.

      4. H. Jay Eshelman

        Please, Mr. Walters; in your original article you said “In these stories, you won’t read any quotes from actual workers.” I was merely pointing out Mr. Carpenter’s sentiment as an ‘actual worker’, an ‘actual example’ of why businesses are having a difficult time hiring back employees who qualify for the enhanced unemployment subsidies. Retirement has nothing to do with this discussion.

      5. Walter Carpenter

        “Retirement has nothing to do with this discussion.”

        In a way it does because that is another whole problem. I would love to have retired as I am of that age, but I cannot because the SS payments would be too low, 401ks are laughable, and there is no such thing as a pension for us so I have to keep working for as long as I can stand up.

      6. H. Jay Eshelman

        Points made and appreciated. In closing, I want to thank Mr. Walters for indulging my perspective, divergent from his and Mr. Carpenter’s as it may be. Again, I offered my perspective, not as a personal attack on anyone, but as an alternate point of view. It’s the discussion that’s important. So, thank you again for considering it.

  3. Kelly Cummings

    Oh here they come again, the crushers of hope, dreams and opportunity for the common folk. Same old story – different day.

    You’ve laid it out nicely here for the legislators. Question is, will the legislators listen? I suspect not. When will they ask the “business leaders” why they should succeed and their workers should not? Does one not depend on the other? Haven’t they said as much in their arguments to the legislators?

    The truth of the matter is probably closer to this – the (lazy) workers are there for the “business leaders” success, not the worker’s success and therefore do not deserve more money than the “business leaders” are willing to pay them. You know, those poverty wages they’ve managed, year after year, to get away with – because of legislators. I remember hearing Republican legislators and “business leaders” arguing, “It’s better to have a low paying job than no job at all.” Is it? Really? I’ve always thought – what a sly little play on words.

    Covid has pulled back the curtain, in the harshest of ways, and the “business leaders” need to get it closed as quickly as possible lest the workers get some high idea they are worth more than “business leaders” are wanting to pay. When someone is even a tiny bit closer to “a livable wage” on unemployment (even temporarily) than when they’re actually working for “business leaders”, the eye opening source of the real problem is, you guessed it, the “business leaders”. So they need to shut this shit down. Yesterday.

    So who’s lazy? The worker? The business leaders? The legislators? Always easiest to blame the worker isn’t it? Just the common folk trying to pay their rent or mortgage, feed their children, pay their utility bills, health insurance, you get it. And they always do. Blame the worker. But it doesn’t mean it’s true. Same old thing. Same old thing.

    The curtain’s been opened wide. Think maybe it’s time to rethink the window treatment. I’m thinking sheers would be nice.

    1. Walter Carpenter

      “Blame the worker. But it doesn’t mean it’s true.”

      It’s always easiest to blame the worker. They like to call it “personal responsibility,” as if we the workers are the only ones who should be personally responsible. Not them. It’s time to end that.


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