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Today in Class-Baiting

Steve Benen flags some disturbing news out of South Carolina:

South Carolina’s more than 236,000 unemployed workers could have to take a drug test in order to receive jobless benefits, according to a proposal by Republican gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley on Tuesday. [...] Haley said testing the unemployed was one of several steps in ensuring the newly restructured Department of Employment and Workforce — now a cabinet agency — only pays benefits to those who have earned them. “We will make sure, above all, that there will be no … benefits if they do not pass a drug test,” Haley said.

It is a bad idea, though not an original one; Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) suggested the same this summer. In other class-baiting news, check this out from Newt Gingrich, perpetual almost-candidate for president:

[Gingrich] is advising Republican candidates on November’s ballots to frame the choice for voters between Democrats as “the party of food stamps” while selling the GOP as “the party of paychecks” [...] He told reporters later that Republicans can campaign as the party of opportunity. “Most Americans would like to get a paycheck,” Gingrich said. “Most Americans would not like to be forced to have food stamps handed out by liberal Democrats.”

Where to start? Haley makes the classic mistake of thinking of unemployment benefits as welfare, rather than insurance. But they don’t call it “unemployment insurance” for nothing. Recipients need to have been working, and need to be looking for work — and workers pay into the system to ensure they have some income safety in case they lose their job. The program is federally administered, of course, but so is, say, flood insurance. Consider Haley arguing that South Carolina residents whose homes were damaged by a hurricane should have to pee in a cup before getting payments to help rebuild. As for Gingrich, he seems to conflate food insecurity with joblessness. Most SNAP recipients do actually work. They just don’t make enough to feed their families. And surely no SNAP recipient would prefer bigger benefits to a better-paying job.

Both Haley and Gingrich, in their class-baiting, also forget one of the fundamental reasons the United States makes access to these programs easy: Children are primary beneficiaries of unemployment insurance and food stamps. Both programs exist not just to reward the lazy adults (as horrible a stereotype in contemporary American politics as there is), but to keep kids out of abject poverty.

And those programs aren’t doing enough. The Economic Policy Institute, for one, notes the child poverty rate has soared through the recession. One in five children still lives in poverty. And in no state is the child poverty rate lower than one in ten.

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