When Do You Stop Extending Unemployment Benefits?

More
Unemloyment2011.png

With the swearing in of Carte Goodwin to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd, Democrats have the 60 votes they need to extend unemployment insurance for more than two million Americans who have lost their benefits since June.

But the debate about UI won't end this week. It won't end this year, and it might not end one year from today. With some projections -- like the one above from the IMF -- seeing unemployment staying over 9 percent through much of 2011, politicians will have to ask themselves: at what point do we stop?

There are no obvious cut-off points. It doesn't make a lot of sense to say, for example, that once the job-openings/unemployed ratio sinks below 4.5 (now it's at 5) we immediately cancel the extended benefits program. At some point, however, unemployment benefits will discourage workers from seeking real job openings. For now, the San Francisco Fed estimates that UI artificially inflates the unemployment rate by about 0.4%. But in a healthy economy, Paul Krugman has acknowledged that especially generous or long benefits are a disincentive to work, as we've seen in Europe.

Over time, this very real stimulus will become a very real drag. Reining in the extended benefits program, necessary as it may be, will be a very real drag, too.
Jump to comments
Presented by

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

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

It's the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In