Your faithful observer once owned a business. It was a little tobacco shop on Jefferson City’s main street that opened with real Cuban cigars for sale. My partner and I opened the place at a time when a thaw seemed likely in American-Cuban relations and distributors who’d bee hoarding Cuban cigars for many years let loose of a few boxes here and there and we got some. It was good for the opening of the business.
It might seem odd that someone who never smoked owned a tobacco store. But a lot of people have gotten rich by catering to other people’s vices. Not us. My partner moved to another town. The fellow we hired to run the store took off to sell insurance and by the time we found someone competent to work in the store, the customer base had weakened. We dipped into our own pockets for several months to make the payroll before I had the regrettable duty of telling our employee that we were closing. The next mortgage we took out on our home was several thousand dollars larger than the cost of the house because the extra money helped pay off the store’s debts.
The experience comes to mind because the legislature will be back at the Capitol in a few weeks to consider whether to override some more vetoes by Governor Nixon. The legislature has discovered that overriding Nixon vetoes is great sport. Nixon has become the most overridden governor in Missouri history. Some lawmakers already are showing confidence that they’ll override Nixon’s veto of a bill that puts some of the toughest limits in the country on unemployment benefits.
Right now, Missourians who lose their jobs and who qualify for benefits can get as much as twenty weeks of payments. That’s already one of the least-supportive standards in the United States. The bill in question would cut that to only thirteen weeks if the state employment rate stays below six percent. A person who has lost his or her job could only get twenty weeks of coverage if the employment rate hits nine percent or more—levels we saw during the recession and, thankfully, recessions are not frequent.
Your observer spent his working life as a salaried employee. Being half-owner of a one-employee tobacco store the size of a moderate walk-in closet hardly qualifies one as a corporate mogul althoughit was enough to get us into the Jefferson City Chamber of Commerce which is mostly non-moguls. So the view from this side of the table is that of a worker, an employee, the person likely to be laid off while the managers get bonuses for holding down costs, often by laying off people.
So the view here is from the standpoint of the future person who loses his job, whether with the closing of a little tobacco shop or when a huge business downsizes. Unless the economy is in the tank, he or she will only qualify for thirteen weeks of unemployment benefits under the bill facing a veto override. But if the economy IS in the tank, the person might get twenty weeks. If the jobless person is one of the, say, 5.8% of the workforce considered unemployed (the latest Missouri rate), that person better find a job in thirteen weeks. But if the person is one of the 9.1% unemployed, there might be twenty weeks of coverage.
Everybody I’ve ever known who has lost a job wants to get a new one right away. But finding one isn’t always easy. Sure, you can point to the classified ads as indications that there are jobs out there. But that’s a pretty simplistic response that seems to imply that any job will do if you’re looking for work.
Unemployment hurts. Does it hurt less if you are one of the 5.8% than if you’re one of the 9.1%? Is it easier to get a job when unemployment is low than it is to get a job when unemployment is high? On the one hand, you’re looking for work when jobs are filled. On the other hand, you’re looking for a job when there are no jobs.
So if this bill becomes law despite the governor’s veto, a jobless Missourian isn’t as important when times are good as that Missourian is when times are bad. If you’re one of the small number, that’s tough cookies. You should have waited to lose your job until the unemployment rate is much higher. You should have waited for the next recession. Your failure to do so means we will penalize you seven weeks of unemployment insurance. Conditions will be better for business if you aren’t expecting the state to write you checks for seven more weeks.
You know how it is, don’t you? And the people with your mortgage and the members of your family will be completely understanding and supportive because you’re only a 5.8 instead of a 9.1 and we all know that losing your job is less painful when you’re just a small number.