Yes, the Unemployment System Is Intentionally Designed to Not Help People

A while ago, some asshole with a blog noted:

There are several reasons why it’s so hard to get unemployment benefits easily and quickly:

  1. Updating these systems for the 21st century is expensive. That’s why many systems are still optimized for Internet Explorer. State governments don’t want to or can’t afford to update these systems. Many of the systems are still written in COBOL; others require faxed information.
  2. Because politicians don’t file for unemployment, most don’t have any experience using the system. When politicians have to use a system, it usually improves, but when they don’t, it usually decays.
  3. Forty years of crappy ideology don’t help either. Most Republicans and too many Democrats just don’t like unemployment benefits. Moreover, even when they recognize there are circumstances that require unemployment benefits, they are overly concerned with ensuring that the undeserving don’t get benefits. On top of that, there is usually a ton of paternalism added as well, in the form of requirements (have you spent a certain amount of time looking for work–which is a nonsensical requirement in this economy).

The point is none of these ‘features’ are accidental or unexpected. The system, both by structure and design, is supposed to be hard to access–because the ‘undeserving’ are the ones accessing it. Now, millions of Americans, who never thought they would be in this position, get to see what our system is really like.

Even radical rightwing Republican governors sort of admit this (boldface mine):

[Republican Florida Governor] DeSantis: From the end of the third week, third, fourth week of March through most of April, you know, we were in really dire straits with that system. So I do think we should get the results of the IG. And then, if there needs to be some type of suit or some type of accountability, we absolutely need to do it. I mean, my thing is like a lot of these unemployment systems throughout the country, you know, weren’t very good, but a lot of them were like 40, 50 years old. Ours wasn’t really old. I mean, ours was really five, six years ago. And it should have been done better for that price tag to produce better results.

DeFede: Do you believe that the system was in part put together the way it was to discourage people from being able to collect unemployment?

DeSantis: I think that was the animating philosophy. I mean having studied how it was internally constructed, I think the goal was for whoever designed, it was, ‘Let’s put as many kind of pointless roadblocks along the way, so people just say, oh, the hell with it, I’m not going to do that.’ And, you know, for me, let’s decide on what the benefit is and let’s get it out as efficiently as possible. You know, we shouldn’t necessarily do these roadblocks to do it. So we have cleared a lot of those. And I waived a lot of the letter requirements through executive order. But I think going forward, I want all our systems, including unemployment, to be user friendly. And it was not user friendly.

DeFede: Well, that system was designed and implemented during the Rick Scott administration. Do you think that was Rick Scott’s intention, was to discourage people from applying for benefits?

DeSantis: I’m not sure if it was his, but I think definitely in terms of how it was internally constructed, you know. It was definitely done in a way to lead to the least number of claims being paid out.

DeFede: Now, there was an audit that came out in 2019, I believe, that pointed out many of the flaws. Should you be held responsible for not having acted on that audit and corrected the system?

DeSantis: Well, so that was an audit that was given to the agency head. Nothing ever reached my desk. I was not asked to do anything. I wasn’t asked to seek more funding from the legislature. If I was, I probably would have done it. But I looked at that audit and, honestly, that that does not answer really the systemic flaws that was advanced with this saying. And so even if those things were done and they should have been done by the agency, we still would have had the same problems.

Admittedly, the passive tense is doing a ton of work here. But it should be obvious: Republicans, along with too many Democrats, don’t like people getting unemployment insurance, because they believe people out of work are undeserving. This was intentional, but, like many policies that affect the politically dispossessed, no one cared until it affected ‘good people.’ (jus’ folks…).

We see a similar phenomenon in Republican concerns that $600/week of unemployment benefits, which works out to $15/hour, is too high and could discourage people to not work (of course, employers could pay them more…).

I think if “COVID-19 changes things” (I think most of those claims will turn out to be overblown), it might be in cases like this where a hidden flaw, one that affects people other than the ‘usual suspects’, gets exposed.

Anyway, I know we’re supposed to assume incompetence instead of malevolence, but when you’ve been watching these conservative and neo-liberal assholes for forty years, they’ve been explicit, if you’re willing to listen, about what they’re trying to accomplish. There’s a lot more malevolence than decent people think.

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