Unemployment the Texas Way

Bill Neinast


Who?  Why?  When?  What?  Four short questions to answer before deciding whether to, once again, extend federal unemployment benefits. 

This is another federal benefits program, with a bit of a difference, in the war on poverty that President Lyndon Johnson declared a half century ago.  In the battles of that war, the only work some on the dole have ever done is to walk to the mail box to pick up their food stamps.  

Conversely, in the unemployment battle, checks go to those who have worked in gainful employment to support themselves or their families.  They are now unemployed through no fault of their own.

As in any group, there are different categories of job hunters.  Is the job hunter the only provider for himself or family, or was he employed to supplement what he was getting from other family members?   Were his or her wages just at or below the poverty line or were they at the 35% income tax rate?  Is she willing and capable to be employed in a different field of work?  How about relocating?  Would employment in a far away city or state be acceptable?  

These are just a few of the questions that should be asked about who gets unemployment benefits, why they will be made available, in what amounts, and for how long.

Here is a personal example of one approach to unemployment.  In the early 80s, our son Mark was a recent university graduate working in the oil patch.  Shortly after marriage, he was transferred from Houston to Midland.  Then shortly after his first son was born, the oil boom took one of its periodic corrections and he lost his job.

Fortunately, under the state unemployment system he was receiving assistance from the fund to which his employer had contributed but he knew they were not unlimited.  When he could not find another job in the Midland area, he went to Atlanta, GA, and stayed with a family friend.  After a fruitless week of looking for work in that area, he returned to Midland. 

A little later, he went to Washington, D.C., to stay with his brother while he looked for work in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.  Hitting dead ends there, he returned to Midland but continued looking for employment wherever he could find it.  Finally, he was employed by a debt collection agency in California.

He packed his wife and son in the car and headed for the sunny West Coast.  What a shock when they got there.  The only available apartment at a rental they could afford was an hour’s commute in heavy traffic from his office.   On a whim, and in total discouragement, he called his old boss in Midland.  There had been a reshuffling in that organization, and Mark was hired back in a different position.

Mark is still in the oil patch but in an executive role that requires him to commute weekly between his home in Midland and his office in Tulsa, OK.  

This illustrates what one who is out of work can do when driven by a need and desire to work under an unemployment assistance program with definite expiration deadlines.

Now turn to page 7 of the Jan 6, 2014, issue of this paper, The Banner Press, a small daily printed in Central Texas.  There are six want-ads on that page offering employment in North and South Dakota.  Farm workers are needed in those states for a wide variety of tasks from February through November at $18.00 an hour, more than double the national minimum wage.

Similarly, Mark reports that the residents of Midland are urging the HEB food chain to expand its local operation into one of its larger or mega stores. The answer they get is that the company would like to expand in Midland, but they are unable to find enough employees to adequately staff the operation they currently have there.

In a similar vein, recall the national news during the opening salvos of Johnson’s war on poverty.  Some of the coverage was of the widespread poverty in the Appalachian Mountains while there was a severe labor shortage in the agriculture industry in California.  There were reports of recruiters traveling from California to Appalachia with offers to relocate any families willing to work the fields.  They got very limited response, because the “poor unemployed” did not want “to leave home” even for a pay check.

Angela Allison also cannot be forgotten in this regard.  She is the young lady profiled on Page 1 of Sunday’s The Banner Press.  An unwed mother of two during and right after her senior year of high school, she decided that living in public housing on food stamps, Medicaid, and WIC was not the life she wanted for her children.  So, working seven nights a week delivering newspapers, she enrolled in Blinn College, earned her degree with a 4.0 grade point average, and is now an endowed scholarship doctoral candidate at Texas A&M .

These five vignettes are not answers to the question of why there is such persistent unemployment.  They do illustrate, however, that there are ways to reduce high unemployment rates other than a never ending supply of unemployment checks provided by other workers.

So here’s the perspective.

There is a need and moral obligation to provide temporary assistance for individuals who lose jobs through no fault of their own.  The best way to do that is the Texas way.  Under that system, unemployment benefits are part of an employer-paid program that provides temporary, partial income replacement to qualified individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own.

Although employees do not pay unemployment taxes and employers cannot deduct unemployment taxes from employees' paychecks, that cost is considered when an employer is deciding what he will pay to hire an employee.

There is a time limit on the payment of the Texas unemployment benefits and that alone is an incentive for most to find new employment.

Maybe the federal government should take a few pages from the state books?  Unfortunately, class warriors consider that the height of arrogance.  It would not be fair to divide the unemployment rolls into various categories of need, length of unemployment, employability, residence, and willingness to go where the work is and pay accordingly with a firm deadline.

Those class warriors are convinced that the federal government can and should make life fair.


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