Georgia’s unemployment rate is at a six-month high — 10.4 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s more than a full percentage point higher than the national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent. All over the state, families are struggling to make ends meet. Some have to choose between paying bills and buying food.
Instead of looking for ways to help these struggling Georgia residents, however, the labor commissioner is actually considering delivering another blow. In 2009, Georgia borrowed more than $700 million from the federal government to help cover unemployment benefits. Now, to repay the debt, the labor commissioner may slice jobless benefits — the weekly amount and the number of weeks of eligibility.
By the middle of this month, Labor Commissioner Mark Butler will submit a list of repayment options to Gov. Nathan Deal and the Legislature. He should consider his options carefully.
Unemployment pay for those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own has helped many Georgia families cover basic needs, but on average, jobless benefits provide less than half of a formerly employed worker’s wages. In many cases, the reduced amount is not enough to prevent a home from going into foreclosure.
Cutting benefits essentially would be “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” If Georgians are forced to make do with even less, the state’s eventual economic recovery would be delayed longer. Families that live on less will spend less on everything from groceries to clothing. And, as product demand decreases, so will the need for workers, leading to even more unemployment. It’s a vicious cycle indeed.
Butler needs to examine his list of options carefully before he recommends solving one problem by creating an even larger one.