The Problem of Abuse in Unemployment Benefits: A Study in Limits

The Problem of Abuse in Unemployment Benefits: A Study in Limits

The Problem of Abuse in Unemployment Benefits: A Study in Limits

The Problem of Abuse in Unemployment Benefits: A Study in Limits

Excerpt

In a country as wealthy as ours, the chief factor limiting the further development of the system of unemployment benefits is the community's apprehension of something called "abuse"--a term that varies widely in meaning depending on the user of the word and the context in which it is used. It stretches from the case of the man who deliberately lies in order to receive both wages and benefits simultaneously to the man who honestly but mistakenly thinks that he is serving not only his own good but also that of the community by drawing benefits for "a while longer," until the right job turns up. As used, the term embraces everything between the most hardened criminal activity and the most plausible economic optimism. Between the two extremes are many degrees and distinctions which are not always clear in the mind of the community. But the whole problem is grasped vaguely, and when the community shrinks from further extending the system of unemployment benefits, it is usually because it questions whether there might not be so much "abuse" accompanying the extension as to offset its gains. When a proposal is made to liberalize eligibility requirements, or to increase the benefit-wage ratio, or to lengthen the duration of benefits, a line dividing those who will favor and those who will oppose the suggestion can usually be drawn beforehand by ascertaining how much claimant abuse they think there is. in the existing system. That is the first sense in which this is a "study in limits": it is a study of that which chiefly limits the community's willingness to make provision for the unemployed out of a common pocketbook. Logically, the term abuse extends to abuse by taxpayers (who put in too little) as well as by claimants (who take out too much), and widespread tax-evasion would act as a further limit on the community's willingness to expand the program. In practice, however, it is only the community's apprehension of claimant abuse which exerts a significant limiting effect.

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