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Economy Gains 155,000 Jobs in November; Unemployment Unchanged at 3.7%

Friday, December 7th, 2018

The U.S. economy gained 155,000 jobs in November, and unemployment was unchanged at 3.7%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The labor market can be a leading indicator for the economy. Soft wage growth has been accompanied by weaker auto sales than typical for this low level of unemployment, leading General Motors to plan plant closings, and slowing home sales point to stresses for workers and the household sector of the economy. The Federal Reserve needs to move with great caution and hold off on more rate increases.

Last month’s biggest job gains were in health care (32,000), professional and business services (32,000), manufacturing (27,000), transportation and warehousing (25,000) and retail trade (18,000). Employment in other major industries—including mining, construction, wholesale trade, information, financial activities, leisure and hospitality, and government—showed little change over the month.  

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for teenagers (12%), blacks (5.9%), Hispanics (4.5%), adult women (3.4%), whites (3.4%), adult men (3.3%) and Asians (2.7%) showed little or no change in November.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) declined slightly in November and accounted for 20.8% of the unemployed.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on December 7, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Black workers are still not sharing in the bounty of nation-wide employment gains

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

Embedded in the nation’s increasingly favorable unemployment statistics — the country is currently in the midst of a record decline in the number of out-of-work Americans — is the persistent fact that black workers aren’t sharing equitably in this rampant job growth.

In September, the most recent period when figures are available, approximately 134,000 jobs were created and the national unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s fantastic news for the nation at large.

But if you drill down into the bureau’s figures, you’ll find that black workers are not celebrating on par with their white colleagues. At 6 percent, the black unemployment rate is nearly twice that of white workers, at 3.3 percent. By way of comparison, Latino workers posted a 4.5 percent unemployment rate, and the Asian rate was nearly equal to whites’ at 3.5 percent.

(October’s unemployment figures are scheduled to be released on Friday. Analysts expect a continuation of these trends with little-to-no narrowing of the gap between white and black employment.)

In a recently released state-by-state review of unemployment rates by race and ethnicity for the third quarter of 2018, Janelle Jones, an analyst at the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, found that 12 states have a black unemployment rate that is at least twice as large as the white unemployment rate. What’s more, in each of the 21 states and the District of Columbia, for which figures were available, the black unemployment rate was higher in each of them than it was for white Americans.

Jones’ findings further underscore the fact that even as the nation climbs back from its pre-recession unemployment level, the bounty isn’t filling the pocketbooks of black Americans. For instance, she found the nation’s highest black unemployment rate was in the District of Columbia at 12.4 percent, producing a 6.2-to-1 disparity with white workers in the Nation’s Capitol. Worse, the District has the dubious distinction of having the highest black unemployment rate during the previous eight quarters — this despite the fact that Washington, DC and its surroundings are the third-richest metropolitan area in the country and home to the most affluent population on the East Coast.

Other high unemployment states for black workers included Illinois (9.3 percent), Louisiana (8.5 percent), Alabama (7.1 percent, and New York (7 percent). The lowest unemployment rate for black Americans were Massachusetts and Virginia, both with (3.8 percent).

Among Latino workers, the highest state unemployment rate is in Nebraska (5.9 percent), followed by Connecticut (5.7 percent), Arizona (5.6 percent), Pennsylvania (5.6 percent), and Washington (5.6 percent).

In two states — Colorado and Georgia — the Hispanic unemployment rate was lower than the white unemployment rate. In Colorado, Latino workers’ 2.3 percent unemployment rate was lower than the 2.9 percent rate for white workers, and in Georgia, Latino unemployment rate was 2.8 percent, compared to 3 percent for white workers.

“As the economy continues to recover, all racial and ethnic groups are making employment gains,” Jones said in a statement released with her report earlier this week. “But policymakers should make sure that the recovery reaches everyone before taking their foot off the gas.”

Bloomberg columnist Justin Fox agreed, writing recently that “[b]lack Americans really have been making employment gains in recent years – and they’ll probably keep making them as long as this expansion continues. Which is one more reason to root for it to keep going.”

As Fox described it the falling unemployment rate is, on the whole, a positive development for all Americans, especially black workers in their “prime working” ages between 25 and 54. At present, he said the gap between black and white workers in that realm is at an “all-time low” (noting that such figures can only be compared since 1994 when the federal government began reporting “prime working age” economic figures).

But Andre Perry, a Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program Fellow, cautioned against celebrating too soon. In a recent U.S. News & World Report interview he argued it’s way too early to cheer the economy’s recovery so long as a racial gap exists in employment.

“We need to start talking about prosperity and not whether people have a job. We need to start looking more deeply at equality,” said Perry, who focuses his research on majority-black populated cities in the U.S. “Because when black folks are doing well, that really means America is doing well.”

In other words, Perry says the celebratory narrative on the economy is almost exclusively the story of impressive gains for white workers and tolerance for black workers who continually lag behind.

“Right now, when we’re looking at full employment, what we’re really saying is this is a state of white employment,” Perry said. “We’re willing to base our monetary policy upon that stage and not really cater to the black unemployment rate that is still wanting. You can be at full employment in one population and be in a recession in another. . . . We need to start recognizing these disparities, or we’re going to become more comfortable with them.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sam Fulwood is a columnist for ThinkProgress who analyzes the influence of national politics and domestic policies on communities of color across the United States.

New Arizona law pushes unemployed people to work at poverty wages or else

Thursday, May 17th, 2018

Arizona Republicans have hit on a way to make life worse for unemployed people. Currently, to collect unemployment insurance, people have to be looking for work and to accept “suitable” work if it’s offered. Under a new law, scratch that “suitable” part. People will have to accept any job they’re offered as long as it pays more than 20 percent more than their unemployment check—which means any job paying $288 a week or more.

You could be an engineer or a graphic designer or a skilled carpenter, but if McDonald’s or Walmart says they’ll have you, you have to take it or lose your benefits. Forget about looking for a job in your field that will pay you a living wage. You also don’t get to consider what’s suitable in terms of the “risk involved to the individual’s health, safety and morals.”

[Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s] press aide Daniel Scarpinato called it “common-sense reform.”

“It’s a job that the individual’s been offered, and it pays,” he noted, adding that Ducey supports the idea of people finding employment “who are getting off of benefits and finding value in work.”

Bear in mind that people don’t get unemployment insurance automatically: anyone collecting unemployment in Arizona was laid off or fired for reasons that weren’t their fault. No one just walked off the job to collect that sweet $240-a-week check. No one was fired for dealing drugs at work.

These are people who had jobs within the last few months and lost them without doing anything wrong. To keep getting UI, they are spending four days a week looking for work. They should be the poster children for the Republican obsession with the value of work. But instead, they’re being devalued and treated as shirkers whose professional skills do not matter—because in fact, Republicans just hate anyone who’s struggling. And they’d rather sentence people to low-wage jobs that don’t make use of their specific skills than pay for a few extra weeks or months of unemployment insurance to make sure that people’s skills are maximized in the economy.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on May 17, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

98,000 Jobs Added to the Economy in March, Unemployment Is 4.5%

Tuesday, April 11th, 2017

The U.S. economy added 98,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate declined to 4.5%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While the job growth was tepid in March, and the revisions for the numbers for January and February are weaker than earlier reported, the economy is continuing close to the trend of job growth that started under President Barack Obama. If we continue the trend of job growth over the past seven years he established, the economy will add another 25 million jobs in eight years. Oddly, the claim President Donald Trump has made is that he will create 25 million jobs.

Still, wage growth needs time to recover as does the share of workers employed so household incomes can recover to their 1999 peak. With modest job gains in March, the Federal Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy needs to pause ahead of its proposed interest rate hike in June. The higher interest rates are meant to signal a return to normal, but we are not there, yet.

The biggest gains were in professional and business services (+56,000) and in mining (+11,000), while retail trade lost jobs (-30,000). Other sectors of note include health care (+14,000) and financial services (+9,000). According to BLS, construction employment saw little change in March (+6,000).

Employment in other major industries, including manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, leisure and hospitality, and government, showed little or no change over the month.

Among the demographic groups of working people, the unemployment rates for adult women (4.0%), white people (3.9%) and Hispanic people (5.1%) declined in March. The jobless rates for adult men (4.3%), teenagers (13.7%), black people (8.0%) and Asian people (3.3%) showed little or no change.

This blog was originally posted on aflcio.org on April 7, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

The Economy Adds 227,000 Jobs in January, and Unemployment Little Changed at 4.8%

Monday, February 6th, 2017
The U.S. economy added 227,000 jobs in January in the last employment report of the the Barack Obama administration. Unemployment was little changed at 4.8%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. President Donald Trump is inheriting a relatively strong economy based on years of work that Barack Obama and his administration did to bring us out of the horrible recession brought on, in part, because of George W. Bush-era deregulation and weak enforcement. Obama inherited a failing economy, with 589,000 jobs lost in January 2009 and an unemployment rate in February 2009 of 7.6%. Trump, on the other hand, is inheriting a much stronger jobs market, with 227,000 jobs added in January 2017 and an unemployment rate of 4.8%. Trump’s challenge is to continue the pattern of job growth and rising wages. The administration needs to create policies benefiting working people so the recovery continues.
The Economy Adds 227,000 Jobs in January, and Unemployment Little Changed at 4.8%

In response to the January jobs numbers, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs tweeted:

 

Last month’s biggest job gains were in retail trade (46,000), construction (36,000), financial activities (32,000), food services and drinking places (30,000), professional and technical services (23,000), health care (18,000), transportation and warehousing (15,000), professional and business (15,000), and financial activities (13,000). Employment in other major industries, including mining and logging, manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, and government, showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for Asians (3.7%) increased in January. The jobless rates for adult men (4.4%), adult women (4.4%), teenagers (15.0%), whites (4.3%), blacks (7.7%) and Hispanics (5.9%) showed little or no change over the month.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed in January and accounted for 24.4% of the unemployed.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 3, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell: I am a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, I worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  My writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.  I am the proud father of three future progressive activists, an accomplished rapper and karaoke enthusiast.

Trump’s Treasury secretary pick claims the unemployment rate is ‘not real’

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s nominee for Treasury Secretary, claimed during his confirmation hearing on Thursday that the unemployment rate is “not real” and that “the average American worker has gone nowhere.”

In response to a line of questioning by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) about what he would do to protect voters from another recession, Mnuchin claimed that he has traveled with the president and understands why Trump was elected.

“The unemployment rate is not real,” he said. “The average American worker has gone nowhere, and president-elect is committed, as am I, as his economic adviser, to work for the American people and grow the American economy so that the average American worker does better.”

On the campaign trail, Trump also repeatedly claimed that the unemployment rate is a “phony number,” and that the real rate could actually be close to 42 percent.

But Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker and the co-founder of a major lending bank, should know better. Calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the unemployment rate is the percentage of the total labor force that is unemployed but actively seeking employment. The number is a critical indicator of how the economy is doing and is widely used by economists. The number is respected by both Democrats and Republicans as a valid indicator of job growth. The BLS has calculated the rate the same way since the 1940s, and its methods do not change from one administration to the next.

The rate has also fallen by more than one-third since President Obama took office, dropping last month to just 4.6 percent?—?the lowest level since August 2007.

Despite the (real) numbers, a recent poll found that 53 percent of Republicans believe that the unemployment rate has risen under Obama. More than a third of all Americans think its worse now than when Obama took office.

Some believe that there’s a better measure to track unemployment. That statistic, called the U-6, tracks everyone who is out of work, people not looking but who want work, and those unable to find full-time employment. That number is higher?—?currently it hovers over 9 percent. But Mnuchin made no mention of this statistic being a better indicator of job growth, and it’s not clear he would give any credence to any labor statistic as Treasury Secretary.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on January 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Kira Lerner is a Political Reporter at ThinkProgress. Contact her: klerner@thinkprogress.org

Enormous, Humongous August Trade Deficit Prompts Trade Deficit Bill

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

dave.johnsonThe U.S. Census Bureau reported Wednesday that the August trade deficit rose 3 percent to $40.73 billion from July’s $39.5 (slightly revised). Both exports and imports rose, with imports rising more than exports. August exports were $187.9 billion up $1.5 billion from July. August imports were $228.6 billion up $2.6 billion.

The goods deficit was $60.3 billion, offset by a services surplus of $19.6 billion.

Imports from China increased 9.5 percent.

Is Increased “Trade” Good If It Really Means Increased Trade Deficits?

“Trade” is generally considered a good thing. But consider this: closing an American factory and firing its workers (not to mention the managers, supply chain, truck drivers, etc affected) and instead producing the same goods in a country with low wages and few environmental protections, then bringing the same goods back to sell in the same stores increases “trade” because now those goods cross a border. This is how “trade” results in a structural trade deficit. Goods once made here are made there, the economic gains move from here to there.

Offshoring production can be a good thing, but only in a full-employment economy. This is because with everyone employed companies can’t find people to do things that need to be done. Meanwhile workers in other countries need the jobs. The people there can afford things made here, and trade balances. Everyone benefits.

But since the 1970s the US has used “trade” and other policies to intentionally drive unemployment up and wages down, to the benefit of “investors” (Wall Street) and executives, who then pocket the wage differential. This pushes the economy’s gains to a few at the top, increasing inequality, which increases the power of plutocrats to further influence policy in their favor.

The US has run a trade deficit since the 1970s. Coincidentally, see this chart:

The stagnation of wages for working people just happens to correspond with the introduction of the intentional “trade” deficit. Again, “trade” in this case means deindustrialization: closing factories here, opening them there and bringing the same goods across a border to sell in the same stores.

Trade Deficit Reduction Act

This week Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced a bill designed to identify and reduce our enormous, humongous trade deficits. RochesterFirst.com has the story, in Slaughter introduces legislation to reduce trade deficits,

On Monday, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter unveiled the Trade Deficit Reduction Act, which calls for a change in how we approach international trade in order to benefit our workers.

The legislation would put a government-wide focus on addressing the most significant trade deficits that exist between the United States and other countries. The U.S. has run trade deficits since the 1970s.

… “The last thing our community needs as we work to reignite our manufacturing base with advanced technologies like optics and photonics is to undo this progress by enacting another NAFTA-style trade deal. We need a whole new direction in our trade policy, which is why I am standing with workers from PGM Corp. today to unveil the Trade Deficit Reduction Act. This legislation will change how we approach international trade and make it benefit our workers and manufacturers,” said Slaughter.

The bill would require the administration to identify the countries with which the U.S. has the worst trade deficits.

The bill also directs the administration to develop plans of action to address the trade deficits with those countries, with strict deadlines and oversight from Congress.

The intentional trade deficit and other policies to drive up unemployment and drive down wages greatly enrich a few, but history tells us the consequences are dangerous to society. For example, the rising support for Trump and other far-right populists like him around the world.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on October 6, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

Trying to Teach Old Dogs New Tricks

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Last December, after a long period of keeping the Fed funds rate near zero, the FOMC voted unanimouslyto raise the Fed funds rate by one-quarter to one-half points. It was anticipated that would be the first in a series of increases of similar small amounts. But, over the course of this year, the economy has run rather flat. Employment in the areas sensitive to interest rates like construction and manufacturing, after employment gains during 2015, ran flat. Durable goods manufacturing, which had been declining during 2015, continued to fall. In 2015, the unemployment rate fell from 5.7% in January to 5.0% in October. It has since remained stuck at about that level.

Ideally, when the Federal Reserve gets things right, the economy runs neither too hot or too cold. Eight months of flat unemployment rates and tepid GDP growth would suggest the Fed has clearly succeeded in finding a landing that, so far hasn’t meant crashing the economy. At least, on Wednesday, the evidence from modest GDP growth, flat unemployment and very low inflation convinced the six Board of Governors and the president of the New York Federal Reserve Regional Bank to hold steady; a tribute to Janet Yellen’s leadership to stay focused on the data and the real economy.

But, the other three regional bank presidents, Esther George of Kansas City, Loretta Mester of Cleveland and Eric Rosengren of Boston, all voted to raise the rate now. Another point of context is understanding the global economy is growing slower. The other major world economies, Europe, Japan and China, are struggling with slow growth. Their central banks are operating with either zero or negative interest rates. America’s modest growth looks very good next to their anemic performance. So this is making the dollar very strong. And that helps to explain the weakness of U.S. manufacturing because a strong dollar hurts U.S. exports. So even modest increases in U.S. interest rates are big by global standards and could further disadvantage U.S. manufacturing.

A second context is that the excess level of savings, globally, is chasing down projections of interest rate levels. Currently, the consensus at the Fed is that in the midterm, the Fed funds rate is likely to be around 1.9% at the end of 2018, and in the long run the normal rate is expected to be about 2.9%. On the eve of the Great Recession, the Fed funds rate was 5.25%. Compared to 2.9%, a raise to between one-half and three-quarters is not small. It isn’t like when the “normal” rate was above 5%.

The current tension in the FOMC between the Board of Governors and the regional bank presidents continues the controversy whether banks have too much say. Independence of the Fed from the political process is important. But, so too is Fed independence from the banks they need to regulate and oversee to make sure we have economic stability. The vote from Wall Street was positive. The stock market gains show a consensus the Fed is doing it right.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on September 23, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

William E. Spriggs serves as Chief Economist to the AFL-CIO, and is a professor in, and former Chair of, the Department of Economics at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

The Federal Reserve and Black Unemployment

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) that determines U.S. monetary policy met in July.  Its job is to weigh the state of the American economy, both the labor market and inflationary pressures to set policy.  In an interesting note, its discussion of the labor market explicitly noted the condition of the African American and Hispanic unemployment rates.  More than just an aside, reflecting on the status of June’s labor market the minutes of the meeting show the following note:

“The unemployment rates for African Americans and for Hispanics stayed above the rate for whites, al­though the differentials in jobless rates across the different groups were similar to those before the most recent recession.”

While it is good the FOMC notes the damage its policies may be doing to the African American community, it unfortunately appears too simplistic in understanding the dynamics of the market and how the growth in labor demand affects the African American community.  It is simplistic because it appears to say that nothing has changed; that while the African American unemployment rate of 8.6% was on par with its pre-recession level of 8.4% in March 2007, when the white unemployment rate was 3.8%, little different than June’s 4.3%.  This suggests, the relative position of African Americans is fixed, immutable by macro-economic dynamics, so this lamentable gap corresponds to the best level of African American unemployment that can be reached.  In short, we must be near full employment.

Here is what the June report showed in detail.  The unemployment rate for adult African Americans (older than 25) with Associates Degrees was 3.0%, well below the unemployment rate for white high school graduates 4.2% rate.  This was a first since the recession began, for better educated African Americans to have unemployment rates lower than less educated whites.  In July 2015, African Americans with Associate Degrees had a 4.8% unemployment rate compared to white high school graduates lower 4.4% rate.

Further unnoticed, is that at the depths of the labor market downturn, the employment-to-population ratio for African Americans (the share of people with jobs) fell to 51.0% in July 2011, but had grown by June to 56.1%, a five percentage point gain, but a 10% increase.  For whites, on the other hand, the EPOP had grown only from 59.3% to 60.2%, less than one percentage point.

So, the change in unemployment rates is deceptive.  The African American unemployment rate is improving on a strong growth in employment and in the relative improvement resulting from less discrimination in hiring.  That success has further encouraged the rise in labor force participation for African Americans; which has the perverse effect of fighting against a lower unemployment rate, because it increases the number looking unsuccessfully.

The problem for African Americans is that they face much higher probabilities of enduring long spells of unemployment.  African Americans, of the same educational attainment and with the same cognitive skill levels (the so-called test score gap often mistakenly attributed as a measure of inferior schooling) as whites, face a fifty percent greater chance of being thrown into a long spell of unemployment.  And, once having fallen into that labor market quicksand, face about a third less chance of escaping.  The result is that massive levels of unemployment, like the Great Recession spawned, result in a very long queue of unemployed African Americans.  That long line can only clear by a similarly long and sustained recovery to pluck the unemployed back among the employed.

Put it simply, the unemployment rate is a snapshot composed of the probability of becoming unemployed plus the inability to escape unemployment; so it is a much more complex picture when large numbers of people are unemployed for long periods, as they are more likely to be captured by the snapshot.  When unemployment spells are very short, people move out of the frame before the snapshot can be taken.

The unemployment gap is not one of skill, it is the very real and present discrimination prevalent in a labor market where demand for workers is low and the power and caprice of employers is high.  The relative size of the gap can change, if policies push beyond conventional measures of unemployment and underutilization of workers; it is possible to see another answer is possible.

So, it is good that the FOMC at least is aware that macro-economic policies can have a good or bad effect on African Americans.  The next step is for the FOMC to further understand how much a difference it can make.

This is not just important for African Americans.  It is important for the health of the national economy.  First, everyone benefits if we push the labor market to its true and full level of maximum employment; it means more jobs and opportunities for everyone.

Second, because the African American community has such little wealth, when the economy expands, it is a community very sensitive to the interest rate movements and credit availability to catch-up on purchases like cars and making home improvements.  These purchases are fueled by rising employment opportunities and the easing of credit when the FOMC acts to lower interest rates and stimulate economic growth.  But, in such a leveraged position, it means that a slowing economy and the loss of jobs quickly turns auto loans and home borrowing into severe household balance sheet nightmares.  Those bad effects spill over to the broader the economy.

Since African American employment is more sensitive to a slowing economy, it means the FOMC has to get it right about understanding when African Americans have reached full employment.  So far, they have consistently guessed at a number that is too high, ending labor market recoveries too soon—and economic expansions too soon for everyone.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on August 22, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

William E. Spriggs serves as Chief Economist to the AFL-CIO, and is a professor in, and former Chair of, the Department of Economics at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

Scott Walker Implements Backdoor Way To Drug Test People For Unemployment Benefits

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Bryce CovertUnder current law, states aren’t allowed to institute drug tests for unemployment benefits. But that hasn’t kept Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) from trying.

In July, Walker approved legislation that would implement drug tests for both unemployment benefits and food stamps, neither of which are currently permissible. To get his way, he’s suing the government to allow him to move forward with implementation, arguing that these programs are “welfare” just the same as the welfare cash assistance program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, that does in fact allow states to implement drug tests.

But in the meantime, he took steps this week to do as much as he can under his limited authority. On Wednesday he authorized new rules that allow employers to voluntarily submit information about drug tests they made people take as a condition of employment. If any of those employees end up seeking unemployment benefits but failed the employers’ drug tests or declined to take one, they can be denied benefits unless they agree to get taxpayer-funded drug treatment.

“This new rule brings us one step closer to moving Wisconsinites from government dependence to true independence,” Walker said. “We frequently hear from employers that they have good paying jobs, but they need their workers to be drug-free. This rule is a common-sense reform which strengthens our workforce by helping people find and keep a family supporting job.”

But past experience from states that drug test welfare recipients shows they are anything but common sense. The positive test result rates are far lower than the drug use rate for the American population as a whole — last year, some states didn’t turn up any positive tests at all. Meanwhile, they are quite costly: states collectively spent nearly $2 million administering the programs over the last two years.

Walker’s plans to spread drug tests to other programs are mostly on hold. In the meantime, beyond suing the government, he’s asking Congress to give him permission. He’s reached at least one sympathetic ear in Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), who chairs the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee that administers food stamps. He’s put forward a measure that would allowing testing for that program.

This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on May 6, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

 

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