The image and reality of people who are on unemployment.

As noted elsewhere on this site, the Law Office of Bruce Godfrey handles no work for management in its labor law practice. While the firm is NOT 100% labor law, no part of the practice handles any work for management in labor law disputes. The firm represents workers in unemployment appeals including Lower Appeals Division hearings, appeals from the Lower Appeal Division up to the Unemployment Division Board of Appeals and petitions for judicial review. It also advises workers on non-unemployment matters such as wage and hour litigation, wage payment and collection litigation and other unemployment law matters including employment discrimination cases.

People on unemployment have a bad rap. In my experience, most people who are on unemployment are desperately trying to survive. I have encountered a few – a very few – whose work ethic really disappointed me, who solicit me for advise on how to stretch out unemployment benefits, whether they really have to go back to work if they can, or whether they really have to seek work. But for every one of these, I have 15 others who are clawing their way back to employment with an admirable cold ruthlessness, knowing that they could lose their apartment or mortgage if they don’t start earning above what UI pays.

This video is about a year old and addresses economic conditions in California with a focus on the northern part of the Central (San Joaquin) Valley. The unemployment rates described in that video are just staggering; Maryland’s unemployment rate is around 7.5% and some of the counties in the video were over 20% unemployed. It does blow my mind to think that people would turn down work with benefits in order to stay on UI, though CA benefits for UI may well be higher than Maryland’s maximum pay-outs.

Next week (1 March) new stiffer laws go into effect for workers who are fired for alleged misconduct. The penalties for misconduct and gross misconduct will increase from the current 5-10 weeks to 10-15 weeks of benefits for simple misconduct and a 25% increase in the amount that a worker fired for gross misconduct will have to earn at new jobs before “earning out” of a gross misconduct disqualification. While I understand the budget-balancing motivation for increasing the penalties on misconduct, I wonder how much of the change was motivated not by budget-balancing motives or even a desire to relieve pressure on businesses for the taxes/backcharges as much a desire simply to stick it to the unemployed, period.

Studies have suggested that unemployed workers have a harder time getting hired than employed workers of substantially the same resumes; employers prefer to hire those who need the job less, not more, it seems. Classical economics would suggest that the unemployed worker might be in a more aggressive position to out-bargain the worker with the standing job; the marginal utility of going from no income or unemployment to full salary would be bigger than the marginal utility in most cases of going from one job to a step up of a couple percentage points, and so the unemployed worker would be a more aggressive bargainer, would take the job for less. It appears, though, that being unemployed lowers the perceived utility of the worker to the employer, and so the hiring doesn’t happen.

To those who can work and can find work, but elect not to work and collect unemployment instead, I have no sympathy whatsoever. I would prefer that potential clients who have that mentality take their business elsewhere; my office is pro-worker, pro-labor and pro-union, not pro-loafer. This may sound judgmental, but I can afford to lose the probably 5% of UI inquirers who don’t want to work.

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