Friday, December 9, 2011

How People Feel About the Unemployed

There is an interesting post written by digby talking about a systematic effort to stigmatize the unemployed by our political and financial betters.  The article is true, in so far as it is concerned, but I want to quibble with one of her conclusions. First the anecdote as recounted on her site:

One of his aides met with us in the lobby as well. When we asked him again about if Rep. Tipton would vote to extend the unemployment insurance, he told us he had to listen to both sides and then he told us a strange story. He heard about a disheveled guy going in for an interview and purposefully not getting hired just to get an unemployment check. We all sat there for a minute in disbelief. When I realized, that he was saying that my representative was considering not voting for unemployment insurance because he thinks there are lazy people milking the system, I was compelled to act.
Then her analysis:
 These stories have been circulating among our "representatives" for quite some time. Many of them now believe the unemployed are just refusing to take work and as long as we "subsidize" them, they'll never get off their lazy duffs and take one of the many open jobs available to them. That's a tale they are being told by their big money contributors when asked why they are sitting on their profits --- they assure their puppets that they'd love to hire, they just can't find anyone to work. The economic slump is the fault of lazy Americans who just want to milk the system and it's all Washington's fault for allowing it. 

The problem with digby's analysis is that she attribute these feelings entirely to the political, financial and social elites, but unfortunately that conclusion is just not true.  Americans of all stripes, Democratic AND Republican, feel this way.  I've already posted on this blog about how everyone thinks that the unemployed should be drug tested, even though its colossally a terrible idea. But the truth of the matter is that all Americans, (except for us bleeding heart liberals and the recently unemployed), believe that a substantial portion of the unemployed (60%, 80%?) are parasites intentionally gaming the system.  I'm talking people like your brothers, sisters, friends, and co-workers.  These are people who have never experienced sustained unemployment for any period in there lives.  They don't understand why these moochers won't work as greeters at Walmart or as stock boys at Costco.  They are utterly convinced that, were the shoe on the other foot, they would be eagerly waiting tables during the drunk shift at diners, working the greasers in McDonalds, or pumping gas in 12 degree weather at the local station.  I mean, in reality, they won't do any of these things (and doing them would severely impede their ability to find jobs in their chosen fields), but they believe they would.  So they have no sympathy or understanding for the people who want to extend unemployment insurance.  This system of belief, ingrained in the American ethos in ways you will not find in other western democracies, explains a lot of our policy failings in the last 5 years.

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