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To Be Jobless In America
Being out of work in the old days usually brought shame and humiliation. How—and why—have we changed our feelings about unemployment?
December 1978 | Volume 30, Issue 1
This same tendency seems to characterize the behavior of workers in resort areas and others with seasonal occupations, many of whom make no serious effort to find jobs when the season ends, patiently (some would say complacently) collecting unemployment insurance until the new season begins. The humane tendency of Congress to adjust insurance payments upward when the cost of living rises, to extend benefit periods in prolonged depressions, and to eliminate waiting periods in “emergencies” may also increase the amount of unemployment, because it blunts that goad to effort, the knowledge that assistance is limited and will end at a predetermined date.
Despite the ironies of the present situation, few if any critics have proposed the abolition of unemployment insurance as a way out of the dilemma. It is in the general interest as well as that of the unemployed that persons who lose their jobs be maintained decently while they look for new ones, and that the payments be made and received as honestly earned and thus unaccompanied by shame or stigma. But cogent critics of the system suggest that insurance ought to be insurance, not the dole it has become. If benefits were based on the contributions of workers and their employers and the sums determined on actuarial principles, there probably would be fewer people collecting benefits (and for shorter periods), and more people working.