Michael Tanner
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To put it in today’s standard D.C. terms, Democrats sure must hate poor people.

That’s silly, of course. But there’s no doubt that Democrats are preparing to push policies that are likely to hurt struggling low- and middle-income Americans.

Both the Obama administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress have announced that their top priority when Congress returns later this month will be extending unemployment benefits and raising the minimum wage. Both policies are likely to leave more Americans jobless — especially low-income workers with few skills, the very people Democrats claim they want to help most.

Take the extension of unemployment insurance. Labor economists may disagree on the extent to which unemployment benefits increase or extend spells of unemployment, but the fact that they increase the duration of unemployment and/or unemployment levels is not especially controversial. As Martin Feldstein and Daniel Altman have pointed out, “the most obvious and most thoroughly researched effect of the existing UI systems on unemployment is the increase in the duration of the unemployment spells.”

In fact, even Paul Krugman, in the days when he was an actual economist rather than a partisan polemicist, wrote in his economics textbook:

Public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect…. In other countries, particularly in Europe, benefits are more generous and last longer. The drawback to this generosity is that it reduces a worker’s incentive to quickly find a new job. Generous unemployment benefits in some European countries are widely believed to be one of the main causes of “Eurosclerosis,” the persistent high unemployment that affects a number of European countries.

President Obama’s former Treasury secretary Larry Summers estimated in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics that “the existence of unemployment insurance almost doubles the number of unemployment spells lasting more than three months.”

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Michael Tanner

Michael D. Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, heading research into a variety of domestic policies with particular emphasis on health care reform, welfare policy, and Social Security. His most recent white paper, "Bad Medicine: A Guide to the Real Costs and Consequences of the New Health Care Law," provides a detailed examination of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and what it means to taxpayers, workers, physicians, and patients.