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Working World

June 26, 1988

Harry Bernstein's May 3 labor column, "Time to Examine Inadequate Jobless Benefits Programs," failed to consider some key factors in assessing the adequacy of assistance to the unemployed.

Unemployment insurance is, and always has been, a program of short-term, partial wage replacement for those between jobs. It is not and has never been a program of long-term income maintenance.

The proportion of Americans with jobs has never been higher. Over 16 million net new jobs have been created since 1982.

The unemployed want jobs, not unemployment insurance or welfare. Fifty-five percent of the unemployed are either new to the labor force, re-entering the labor force with no recent work qualifying them for unemployment insurance or long-term unemployed who have exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits.

The level of weekly benefits payable in each state is determined by state, not federal law. In most states, it is pegged at about half what the claimant earned on the job.

Bernstein reported that the number of workers who process unemployment insurance claims had been cut from 54,000 to 40,000 since 1981 but fails to point out that the staff provided to pay claims is tied directly to the actual claims workload. Claims dropped over 40% from 1982 to 1987 during the longest peacetime economic expansion in U.S. history.

Finally, Bernstein argued that federal legislation mandating that companies give advance notice of plant closings and layoffs, plus increased jobless benefits, is the best way to help the unemployed. I believe that unemployed workers can be better served by providing them with immediate adjustment assistance, on site, when a plant or facility is closing or laying off a substantial number of workers. This is the approach contained in the Administration's proposed Worker Readjustment Program, which would provide retraining and readjustment services to some 700,000 dislocated workers.



The writer is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

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