Imagine if the main breadwinner in your house lost his or her job. Could your family get by on $350 a week? With the price of gas, the rising cost of food… How soon before you would exhaust your savings and possibly lose your home?
Last month, Governor McCrory signed into a law an overhaul of the state’s unemployment insurance system. It includes cuts in benefits so drastic it made national news.
The new law cuts the maximum benefit from $535 to $350 a week. It also cuts the maximum number of weeks someone can get state unemployment benefits – from 26 weeks (same as 43 other states) to between 12 and 20 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate at the time.
By cutting benefits, North Carolina also rejects $780 million from the federal government for long-term unemployment benefits, which means 170,000 North Carolinians lose those benefits this year. Bear in mind, the majority of people facing long-term unemployment are women, and 45% are older than age 45.
Last year, it took the average unemployed worker in North Carolina more than 40 weeks to find a new job. But they had those federally funded extended unemployment benefits to keep their families afloat. Because North Carolina is rejecting that federal money, 20 weeks of benefits is the max, even in the worst job market.
That could mean 20 weeks – 5 months – with no unemployment benefits. So once your family has pinched every nickel and cut ever corner trying to get by on $350 a week, what will you do when even that pittance is gone?
This overhaul goes against the fundamental purpose of an unemployment insurance system. The idea is that when the economy hits a downturn – as all economies inevitably do – you want to make sure it doesn’t take your middle class down with it. You don’t want families to lose their cars, their homes, and all of their assets. You want them to be able to weather the storm without suffering irrevocable financial damage.
Sadly, under the new system, job loss will mean financial devastation that will rob children of their chance to go to college and sap retirement accounts dry. We’re talking multi-generational damage here, folks.
Yes, this recession and the lackluster recovery have been rougher than most. But our state leaders are supposed to be doing what they can to mitigate the damage – not make it worse.
To find out more about North Carolina’s unemployment insurance system, check out tarheelworkers.org.