These unbelievable comments from Representative Steve King come to you courtesy of KTIV in Sioux City, who asked the congressman about the upcoming closure of the John Morrell plant in April:
King doesn’t support a suggestion, by Iowa governor Chet Culver, to extend federal unemployment benefits to 39-weeks after a worker loses his, or her, job.
The republican worries some Morrell workers won’t start looking for a new job until that 39th week when benefits are about to run out.
King says the 26-weeks workers get, right now, is enough. Rep. Steve King, (R) Iowa says “We shouldn’t turn the ‘safety net’ into a hammock. It should actually be a ‘safety net’.”
The John Morrell plant currently employs about 1,450 workers. The unemployment rate in Woodbury County is above 6 percent, so it won’t be easy for all of the displaced workers to find new jobs quickly. The Iowa Democratic Party slammed King’s “absurd” comments:
“Calling the extension to unemployment benefits a ‘hammock’ is insulting. Sioux City is suffering with the blow of the Morrell plant closing. This is the worst recession in 80 years. But, Congressman King believes that we should be worried about these workers being too lazy,” said Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Michael Kiernan. […]
“Iowans believe in working hard and playing by the rules, and I know that many affected by the Morrell plant closing are already looking for work to provide for their families after the plant closes. Steve King should stop insulting his constituents and get to work helping them get through this difficult time.”
Not only is King insensitive, he appears to be ignorant about how unemployment benefits relate to the broader economy. Last year Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moodys.com, calculated the stimulus “bang for the buck” of various forms of tax cuts and government spending. The table he created is on page 9 of this pdf document, or you can view it here. Of everything Zandi examined, extending unemployment benefits had the second-highest bang for the buck, generating $1.63 in economic activity for every $1 spent by the federal government. That was more than three times the bang for the buck of any permanent tax cut. Even the best tax cut for economic stimulus (a temporary payroll tax holiday) generates only an estimated $1.28 in economic activity for every $1 in revenue the federal government doesn’t collect.
In other words, extending unemployment benefits to former John Morrell workers wouldn’t just give them a safety net, it would produce more revenue for businesses in the Sioux City area. Last year’s stimulus bill extended federal unemployment benefits, but that provision may expire at the end of this month. Meanwhile, long-term unemployment has reached its highest level in decades. According to KTIV, King has talked with Smithfield Foods about giving Sioux City workers jobs at plants Smithfield owns in other communities, but I question how realistic that is when 44 other states have higher unemployment rates than Iowa. Nor would it help Sioux City businesses and property values to have hundreds of families leave the area.
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