All unemployed people are equal, but some are more equal than others

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I try not to spend too much time paying attention to politicians’ Twitter feeds (or to what politicians say in general… or to Twitter feeds), but this tweet, from Rep. Lee Terry of Nebraska caught my eye:

Why is an unemployed person in California more worthy of help than an unemployed person in Nebraska?

He was responding to a House bill that would extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks—but only for people who live in states where the unemployment rate is at or above 8.5%. Here’s the complete two-tweet set for context:

Arrogance of the speaker showed when she brought a 13-week unemployment extension for peolple [sic] in states w/over 8.5% unemployment…

…That excludes Nebraska. Why is an unemployed person in California more worthy of help than an unemployed person in Nebraska? I voted NO.

Yes, it does seem unfair.

But perhaps worse than that it seems really inefficient. I understand that Congress is trying to triage here, but relying on state unemployment rates leads to a fairly sloppy allocation of funds. States are big places, don’t you know, and many of them come with multiple economic ecosystems.

For example, under this bill, a person living in Wenatchee, Washington would get an extra 13 weeks of benefits. The unemployment rate in Wenatchee is 5.9%. Meanwhile, a person living in McAllen, Texas, where the unemployment rate is 11.6%, would not get any additional benefits. That’s because 8.9% of workers in Washington are unemployed, while 8.1% of those in Texas are.

I have no idea why 8.5% is the magic number. Maybe someone else does and could fill me in. But what I don’t understand more is why no one took the time to tie the these extra unemployment benefits to local unemployment rates, since they’re pretty easy to find on the Department of Labor’s web site.

The bill is still working its way through Congress—if someone wants to quickly make the switch, I’m sure the residents of Danville, Virginia (unemployment: 12.7%) and Waterbury, Connecticut (10.6%) would be appreciative. Because otherwise they won’t be seeing benefits, even though folks in Idaho Falls, Idaho (unemployment: 6.1%), Ithaca, New York (6.3%) and Morgantown, West Virginia (5.3%) will be.