During the recent fight over extending unemployment benefits, conservatives trotted out the shibboleth that says the program fosters sloth. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., for instance, said added unemployment benefits mean people are "encouraged not to go look for work." Columnist Pat Buchanan said expanding these benefits mean "more people will hold off going back looking for a job." And Fox News' Charles Payne applauded the effort to deny future unemployment checks because he said it would compel layabouts "to get off the sofa."
First: as a NH resident, I'd like to apologize to all of you on behalf of my state, for sending Judd Gregg to the US Senate.
Second: Judd Gregg started working hard before he was born, thereby ensuring he was born into a very wealthy family. He knows what hard work REALLY is.
The idea is that unemployment has nothing to do with structural economic forces or rigged public policies and everything to do with individual motivation. Yes, we're asked to believe that the 15 million jobless Americans are all George Costanzas -- parasitic loafers occasionally pretending to seek work as latex salesmen, but really just aiming to decompress on a refrigerator-equipped recliner during a lifelong Summer of George.
Have you noticed that the folks who spread this myth are all comfortably employed and/or independently wealthy?
Narcissism is also a factor. In a nation that typically dehumanizes the destitute Other with epithets like "welfare queen" and "white trash," our self-centered culture leads the slightly less destitute to ascribe their own relative success exclusively to superhuman greatness. The myth of the lazy unemployed plays to that conceit, helping the still-employed experience potentially scary unemployment news as a booster shot of self-aggrandizement. You remain in a job, says the myth, because you are better than the jobless.
This explains why the comment sections in online stories about long term unemployed and/or homeless people are filled with such horrifying comments. Many working people realize they're about 2 paychecks away from homelessness. They're scared to death of losing everything, AND being labeled lazy bums.
The trouble, though, is that the whole narrative averts our focus from the job-killing trade, tax-cut and budget policies that are really responsible for destroying the economy. And this narrative, mind you, is not some run-of-the-mill distraction. The myth of the lazy unemployed is what duck-and-cover exercises and backyard nuclear shelters were to a past era -- an alluring palliative that manufactures false comfort in the face of unthinkable disaster.
1: to reduce the violence of (a disease); also : to ease (symptoms) without curing the underlying disease
2: to cover by excuses and apologies
cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org