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Census Workers Could Be Hosed By Unemployment Rules

This spring and summer there was a bit of a employment boost due to our once a decade counting of the nation. For many it came at just the right time as the benefits available from unemployment are fairly minimal and the census paid the enumerators (the folks doing the actual door-to-door work) $16.95 an hour. A couple of months on the census also was long enough that many of these folks will be able to file new claims and restart the clock on benefits.

This is all to the good, that is until State unemployment rules kick in. You see, many states don’t look at your last job to calculate what you will receive in benefits. Places like Colorado look at the last year of wages to determine your benefits. One formula takes the highest wages from two consecutive quarters and divides that by 26 then multiplies it by .6. This gives a benefit of 60% of wages, capped at $445. Or they look at the whole year, divide by 52 then divide that by 2 to get the weekly benefit.

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This is not a bad method, when the economy does not have millions of people who have been unemployed for more than six months and many of that group being unemployed for a year or longer. For those who had been out of work for a year or more, the census job while good money and an important boost also has put them out of the running for a good benefits check.

The two months of work they all put in will not be eligible to be considered as income to base their benefits on until at least October. If they choose to file before then they will get benefits, but it will be extremely low as they will not have worked in 6 months or a year and there is nothing to serve as base income. They will have lost the previous claim (and the higher benefits) when they started working at the census.

It actually is worse than you might think. If these employees make a claim now (as someone who has been unemployed a long time almost certainly will) they will not be able to make the a claim in October or later when their benefits would be higher. To get that income included they would have to find and leave a new job.

Let me give you are real world example. My wife was out of work for a year before she got the census job. She did what she always does, she went in and busted her ass. She was promoted to Assistant Crew Leader, then Crew Leader. No raise in pay for either of the promotions but lots of hours which was a good thing. Then the census ended. She went to file for her unemployment, but when she did she found out that her benefits would be only $70 a week. Prior to the census job she was receiving $200 a week.

The choice is not a good one. If she files for the benefits she will be taking a 60% cut in what was a very meager but needed benefit. There is also the issue that if she files now, she will be able to file for benefits that include the good paying census job until after she has taken another job.

It varies by state but many of them have calculations like the ones in Colorado to determine the amount of benefits. Any state that looks back more than six months is going to catch a huge number of the census workers in this trap. They did what they were supposed to do, they went and found work that would allow them to leave the rolls of the unemployed, but the job was temporary in the extreme and because of that they may very well have screwed themselves by getting a little more money for two months and now a lot less for the foreseeable future.

All of this highlights the need for a jobs bill that is not based solely on trying to incentivize businesses large and small to hire more. The base fact of this recession is that we do not have enough demand to get the economy going on its own. The engine of our economy over the last couple of decades has been consumer demand. No matter what economist you like they are all saying that consumer demand is way down and not likely to return to anything like recent levels for a long time. When there is no or little consumer demand there is no reason for businesses to hire or expand.

Since this is the case there is only one place we can look to generate demand in the economy, the public sector. It is time to stop screwing around and get a full blown works project going in this country. We know that this kind of project can be enormously beneficial. It is a twofer, in the first instance the government directly employing workers gets puts money in the hands of the people who need it the most and will spend it right away. The second benefit is the things that they are put to work doing. The first WPA built roads, electrified rural America, built the lodges and trails of our national parks. A new one can focus on reviving our infrastructure or building high speed rail on a national scale.

Work is important, it helps us define ourselves as people, it gives our lives shape and purpose. When we are looking at the somewhere between 10% to 18% of the working populace (depending if you count those on unemployment benefits or count all of those who are out of work) out of work there is an emergency that is not going to go away by itself.

A Work Projects Administration style program is in the interest of the nation. There are only so many ways to get out of a problem like this, and they all start with more jobs. There is nothing we can do that will have a bigger impact on the economy than spend money directly on jobs. The tragedy here is that our radical Republicans will do everything they can to block any program. They do not want the economy to get better because they think it will help them at the ballot box. They are willing to try for short term political gain by gambling the future of the nation.

This would be scary enough if they were merely playing chicken. The problem is that there are no adults left in the radical Republican Party. Their leaders and leading candidates think it is more important to talk about 14th Amendment than it is to put real programs in place to help the people of their nation. If there is any justice in the world, the 8 million or so voters and workers will make it clear at the ballot box that this kind of nihilistic win at any cost politics is not acceptable.

For those without a job, I will say it flatly; Republicans will not help you. They do not think you deserve any help. The only place where you will find those willing to help you and the nation get back on its feet is the Democratic Party. They (we) are a messy and sometimes ineffectual lot, but they do have the best interest of the nation in heart. The radical Republicans only care about wealthy and big business. If you want to get back to work the best way is to work for Democratic candidates and get all the unemployed people you know to vote for the Democrats this fall.

The floor is yours.

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Bill Egnor

Bill Egnor

I am a life long Democrat from a political family. Work wise I am a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and Freelance reporter for