Across the country, it’s been a tough road out of recession, but North Carolina has had a tougher time than most: its unemployment rate is still nearly 9%, the fifth-highest in the country. Now the state is about to cripple its own economy further.
A new set of changes to unemployment benefits in North Carolina have just taken effect. With these deep cuts, the state legislature has also disqualified North Carolinians from extended federal benefits. So people who are facing long-term unemployment in North Carolina have just lost their entire income, without any corresponding increase in the number of jobs available. Indeed, cutting off benefits for so many people so abruptly is likely to slow down the state’s economy even more, as people will find it harder to buy the things they need, stay in their homes and support North Carolina businesses.
North Carolina’s state legislative majority was swept into the office in 2010 and 2012, thanks in part to clever redistricting and the investment of millions by Republican megadonor Art Pope. Now, Pope has been appointed to a key state economic office and the legislators he helped empower are going on a tear through public education, health care, voting rights and tax rates. These legislators’ attack on unemployment benefits is perhaps the clearest expression of a national agenda aimed at dismantling the safety net.
The silver lining is that people in North Carolina aren’t letting these attacks go unanswered. Weekly “Moral Monday” protests are drawing crowds of hundreds to the state capitol in Raleigh. Last week, 1,500 people came out to make their voices heard.
The changes to unemployment insurance, however, are taking place now, and that means families facing unemployment are losing hundreds of dollars every month—at a cost of millions to the state economy. It’s morally repugnant, but it’s also just stupid economics.