How About the Philosophical Questions?
Part of our problem, in Rhode Island, is that our political class likes to treat each issue separately. It focuses on whether policy A is good or bad, but rarely considers whether funding A ought to have implications of the funding of B, C, and D. In other words, our elected officials don’t like to answer large, self-definitional questions, which is to say that they aren’t too keen on leading.
So, we get concerns about the solvency of our unemployment benefit system:
Even before the recession struck, Rhode Island employers had to pay a comparatively high tax to provide benefits to the unemployed.
Now, with the state’s 12.7-percent unemployment rate the second-highest in the nation (behind Michigan), and as thousands of out-of-work Rhode Islanders keep drawing benefits, the tax is higher — and could increase further.
The result could be a blow to businesses at a time when many are struggling just to survive, said state Rep. Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, chairman of the House Finance Committee.
“There’s a potential that business, under these very difficult times, will be incurring an additional tax,” he said.
And we learn that (as usual) our public services are generous in this area:
Rhode Island’s maximum weekly unemployment benefit is set each year at an amount that equals 60 percent or so of the statewide average wage.
As the average statewide wage rises, so does the maximum amount of benefits.
This puts Rhode Island among the top states for benefits, according to a recent report prepared by the Department of Labor and Training for a state advisory board.
The first link describes various mechanisms that will force taxes on RI businesses up with continuing high unemployment, but nobody asks or offers opinion on whether the money necessary to assist down-on-their-luck Rhode Islanders who are generally productive should come from somewhere else. Government revenue is fungible, meaning that the unemployed and the businesses that would like to employ them are not the only sources of revenue. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for our state to begin considering whether civic survival might have to come at the expense of benefits to which certain of its residents have come to rely on a long-term basis.
Perhaps it’s possible to defend, on moral grounds, the proposition that the government should not allow maintenance of the lifestyles of working and middle class unemployed to eat into the resources allocated for the less fortunate, and maybe it’s defensible, on political grounds, to argue that the government should protect against erosion of what it provides as an employer. Unfortunately, the practical reality is that not everybody can (or wants to) work for the government, and those who wish to work and prosper are not going to assent to descent onto the welfare rolls. They’re going to leave.