Why Does Congress Hate Nebraska's Unemployed People?

Unemployed Americans running out of jobless benefits are about to get a 13-week extension from the government -- but only if they live in states with unemployment higher than 8.5 percent. Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska, who's low-unemployment blessing is now his state's curse, tweeted:

Why is an unemployed person in California more worthy of help than an unemployed person in Nebraska?

Good Tweet!


Barbara Kiviat, from TIME's Curious Capitalist blog, notes that this will lead to terribly sloppy allocation of unemployment benefits.

Under this bill, a person living in Wenatchee, Washington would get an extra 13 weeks of benefits. The unemployment rate in Wenatchee is 5.9%. Meanwhile, a person living in McAllen, Texas, where the unemployment rate is 11.6%, would not get any additional benefits. That's because 8.9% of workers in Washington are unemployed, while 8.1% of those in Texas are.


I have no idea why 8.5% is the magic number. Maybe someone else does and could fill me in. But what I don't understand more is why no one took the time to tie the these extra unemployment benefits to local unemployment rates, since they're pretty easy to find on the Department of Labor's web site.

That's all very true, but surely tying jobless benefits to local unemployment rates still runs afoul of the Kiviat's headline observation: Why are some unemployment people more equal than others? Why should states with high unemployment be rewarded with free cash while unemployed workers in states like Texas and Nebraska be punished for their ? The bill passed easily, 331 to 83, so it wasn't a straight party vote. It's probably just a matter of money -- Congress didn't have the stomach to extend benefits for all unemployed workers, even if it meant cutting down the length of the extension. But governors in low-unemployment states still have a right to be peeved.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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