A helping hand, or handcuffed to the system?


The other day I took a quick drive to Cumberland Farms in Augusta for a Red Bull to get me through an evening cookout with friends.  While waiting in line, I couldn’t help but overhear part of a conversation between two friends behind me.  The exchange went like this:

Girl #1:  She fired me!

Girl #2: Why?

Girl #1: She was [expletive deleted] screaming at me so I told her to stop.  She said I have an attitude problem.

Girl #2: Oh no.

Girl #1: That’s OK, I’m making more on unemployment than I was with her.

This casual conversation raises some questions.  Is unemployment really more lucrative than a hard day’s work?  Are our tax dollars being used to get people through tough times, or are they pumped into a system that perpetuates government dependency?

I did a little digging…

On the Maine Department of Labor Web site, there is a nifty guide to “How the Unemployment Insurance Program Works.”  To be eligible, a claimant must meet the following requirements:

1)      The separation from employment must not be the claimant’s fault.

2)      The claimant must be able to work and actively seeking employment.

3)      The claimant must submit a weekly claim form for each week of unemployment benefits.

Fair enough, perhaps, but scrolling through the entries under the “What’s New” portion of the site paint a different picture.

Unemployment claimants will get their very own debit card. Soon, a debit card will be issued to every new Maine unemployment recipient.  Benefits will automatically be deposited onto the card, making it unnecessary to leave the house to cash a check.

Another hassle-free unemployment perk: direct deposit. The marketing for unemployment direct deposit on the Department of Labor’s Web site is stellar—“Save Time & Get Your Unemployment Benefits Faster!”

Don’t want to wait on hold?  There are a series of online services that make a phone call to Unemployment Claims Centers unnecessary.  With just a few mouse clicks, you can: file a new unemployment claim, file a weekly unemployment claim, check the status of an unemployment claim, appeal a decision on your unemployment claim, and more.  Who wants to stay on the phone with human resources or a temp agency when you can resolve all your unemployment issues online?

There’s even some helpful hints in case your unemployment benefits are running out.

Unemployment was created with the noble goal of offering a helping hand to our vulnerable neighbors who need it most.  It seems clear, however, that the system has been reformed to the point that it is often easier, and more profitable, to continue collecting taxpayer-funded unemployment benefits rather than seeking work.

Yes, there are individuals who use their time to identify ways to beat the system and continue collecting unemployment without doing much else.  But can we really blame other people who take advantage of an entitlement program that seems specifically designed to create additional dependency on state government?

Until the systems are reformed—both unemployment and other entitlements—we cannot expect a shift in attitude or culture.  We need to change the way we help people so more will realize that a job with hard earned wages is preferable to a government hand out.