What if the unemployed worked for their unemployment checks?

The Gov't would love you.I have no idea how crazy this is going to sound (esp. since I’m no economist), but I found this question posed by the Huffington Post extremely fascinating. What if the unemployed worked for the checks they’re receiving?

Here’s a quote from one of the guys interviewed – Glen Blackburn – who’s been unemployed for 18 months:

“Put me to work digging ditches or helping build roads. Anything is preferable to sitting on my butt. This would give those of us on unemployment back our pride and actually accomplish something with the money being spent. There is a work force of a million people just sitting idle waiting for something to do. That is a massive amount of lost labor that could be fixing America’s infrastructure. Instead of unemployment, hire me to do that.”

That makes me smile on many levels :) First, because there are so many people EAGER and ready to get out there and do something productive. Not *everyone* of course (like the scammers and others who are taking their sweet time on purpose) but a lot really are ready to start working again. Everyone knows it’s hell out there so why not give this out as an option? Give it your all and collect for a few months, and if nothing works out try out a job that helps the community?

I’d go insane being rejected all day long at home and would totally take up this offer myself. Put me out there doing construction or patching up all those potholes in DC. Or bet yet, throw me in with all the gov’t bloggers and journalists, eh? ;) I guess that would be one of the things to straighten out – HOW, and where, to place people. Do you do it by occupation and location? Age? By the order of project importance? And what about training? Lots and lots of logistics to consider. Although it could quite possibly open up doors to so many NEW opportunities you didn’t even know you could do or like!

But what I like most about this idea is that it offers a SOLUTION.
It may be crazy and never see the light of day, but at least people are thinking about it. The craziest things can come out of adversity, and the more we challenge ourselves and really think about how we fit into this world the better. I salute you Glenn Blackburn and all the others willing to work for their unemployment checks – way to be creative!

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  1. Ryan @ Planting Dollars March 1, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    Wow, I really like that idea. As a currently unemployed person (not starting my new job for another two weeks after quitting my other one) I'd much rather have a fulfilling workday than sit and watch episodes of Judge Judy. I really think this is an idea worth pursuing, even if it does turn into a volunteer thing, I bet there are a lot of guys like the one you quoted. It would also look like less of a black eye on your resume if it showed your were still ambitious enough to get off your tush.

  2. jim March 1, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    Nothing stops someone on unemployment from volunteering with a local community organization. If someone is that eager to work, they can easily volunteer and still meet the job searching requirements of unemployment.

  3. Investing Newbie March 1, 2010 at 2:41 PM

    I didn't read the article on what he did prior to being laid off, but I find it unlikely that many people would work back-breaking labor if they once were in an office. I guess with time, I'll appreciate what Blackburn is saying, but now, I feel like I wouldn't dig ditches even if I had been unemployed for years. I'd probably work in retail before I consider a shovel…

  4. Tracy March 1, 2010 at 2:53 PM

    I think people would work if that was the price of the unemployment check. If I lost my job and could turn to ANYTHING for income, even ditch digging, I would be all over it. It could be set up as part time so there was also time to look for a job. The people who would object the loudest I'm afraid would be the unions, who don't want anyone doing the jobs they want to reserve for union members, even if the members have to be laid off due to budgetary issues. It's a tiger eating it's own tail in that sense.

  5. J. Money March 1, 2010 at 3:41 PM

    That's a good point, volunteering can always be an option. Would get you out doing stuff as well as look good on a resume…although you'd have a lot less volunteers out there than if there was some mandatory work enforced to pick up that unemployment check ;)

  6. K.S. Katz March 1, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    I have to disagree with this. The Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) (http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/international/article/0,,id=104985,00.html), with state unemployment systems, provides for payments of unemployment compensation to workers who have lost their jobs. Most employers pay both a Federal and a state unemployment tax.

    In order to qualify for unemployment, you have to have worked and been paid wages over a specific period of time. (Example http://www.labor.state.ny.us/ui/claimantinfo/beforeyouapplyfaq.shtm). This money is due to you, and states shouldn't force people to jump through hoops to get their unemployment checks.

    However, I could see a mandatory work detail for unemployed people seeking vocational rehab, meaning if your job no longer exists and you need help training for a new career then I can see the state wanting you to contribute.

  7. Brandi March 1, 2010 at 5:27 PM

    I LOVE this idea. Seriously.

    I can't imagine just sitting at home getting rejected by company after company. Give me WORK to do!!!

  8. Anonymous March 1, 2010 at 5:51 PM

    I am sorry but I have to disagree with this idea. If you want to volunteer for a non-profit, that's fine. But working for a for profit corporations, is taking a paying job away from someone else. Why would an employer pay someone, when he can get free labor? This idea would just prolong the recession, as employers would not need to hire workers to produce their product. I would rather see the unemployed going to school and increasing their skills–so they will be an even more productive worker, when the recession does end.

  9. Anonymous March 1, 2010 at 9:04 PM

    I disagree with this as well because you don't really make alot of money on unemployment so if you had children and had to pay daycare out of that unemployment check you would be hurting. Most people who are on unemployment and want to get back to work are spending most of their days looking for work, not just watching Judge Judy. For alot of these people it is not their choice to be on unemployment but to force someone to work for their check, something they may have been paying into for 20 years but never used before is unfair in my mind. There are those that abuse the system and they are the ones on unemployment over and over again; they should have to work or take training not the average person who is having some bad luck.

  10. J. Money March 1, 2010 at 9:32 PM

    Great opinions guys! Not sure about the "taking away from other jobs" deal if it was just additional work on top of whatever's already out there (you can't have TOO much manpower, right?), but it is cool to hear these other viewpoints. I was having a hard time coming up with some negatives ;) Maybe these are why it hasn't happened yet?

  11. conqueringpersonalfinance March 1, 2010 at 9:36 PM

    The government has allowed laziness. There is no incentive until the unemployment runs out. I would like to see the stats on what percentage finds a job when the money is about to run out. The situation is the same with welfare. What used to be a program that helped people with extraordinary circumstances now is a way of life for many. I like solutions though. Thought of solutions are a step in the right direction. The government is guilty of paralysis of analysis. The White House can't see past the end of their 4 year term. Thanks for the thoughts on this subject.

  12. Financial Samurai March 1, 2010 at 10:46 PM

    Come on guys, there is a BIG FALLACY here.

    It's like getting a tax refund. The money was YOURS to begin with!

    We (employee and company) pay our unemployment benefit fees/insurance every single paycheck.

    When we collect unemployment, we're just getting our money back. If there was work to be done, there would be a job for that.

    Honor & Truth.


  13. Sanjay Srikonda March 1, 2010 at 11:11 PM

    LOL, I tried applying to MANY jobs in the time I was unemployed. They wouldn't hire me. Every one said, "You're overqualified." but kept the signs in the windows looking for people to come work there.

    I wasn't asking for what I was making before, I was asking to be working and make something that would pay the rent and the bills. Not anything extravagant. Yet, repeatedly, I was told no. Fortunately, I DID finally find a job that paid me what I was making before but what about the millions who are rejected and told no?

    The government talks about how many have "given up" looking for work. There are jobs, but the employers are either not paying enough to live on because of the glut and they know people will take it, or they're not hiring.

    I don't get it.

  14. Hank March 1, 2010 at 11:17 PM

    We already have worked for our unemployment check. Unemployment insurance is a benefit that our employer pays to the government (like payroll tax) in the event that its workers are laid off or fired. We shouldn't have to work for it. We already have earned it. That's the way it was originally set up. It is not a hand out. It is an entitlement that we have already earned, but it is one that no one hopes to have to use.

  15. Jen March 1, 2010 at 11:33 PM

    Some jobs go away when a recession hits. However, it's a great time to put money into things that folks don't normally think of as "necessary." Look at how much information and infrastructure was collected/built during the depression using the WPA – how many bridges were improved, sidewalks installed, sewage systems placed in formerly overlooked communities, documentation projects (film, writer's projects, art) recording our national heritage, etc. Folks want to work and there should be a national effort to use people effectively as a work force for public good. Yes, it's likely to bother some unions, but speaking as a union member, sometimes there just isn't work out there in your field. I like the idea of this being a way to get some new vocational training as well. The government should offer an additional stipend – your unemployment is your benefit and you've earned that already.

  16. Tom March 2, 2010 at 1:04 AM

    Labor pickup is legal in many states, just go to your local Home Depot or Lowes. I wonder if that labor pool has suffered at all. It could be a viable option for unemployed people.

  17. Anonymous March 2, 2010 at 1:13 AM

    While I full heartedly agree with the "idea" of working for the common good of the community during a time of unemployment, there is WAY too much bureaucracy and logistics that goes with what most people are believing to be "manual labor" jobs (road construction, bridge & road repair, [the housing market is already kaput], mining – yes mining is absolutely necessary, where else are you going to get the gravel to pave those roads, or the metals to build those cars you're driving down them – etc). There is the liability of the company – you have to know something about concrete to make sure you pour it correctly / allow it to cure correctly, or mining safety to conform to MSHAW requirements; you can’t just put anyone to work building a bridge. Labor Unions don't want the unemployed competing with their employees (and neither do those employees who still do have jobs in that Union). So much time goes into training and safety operations that a company can't afford to train someone, only for them to leave in several weeks when their unemployment is up or they’ve found something else. I believe this would be a good way to add to the common good of our communities, but I find that the option of volunteering is a much more probable approach.

    On a side note, I also think the gov’t should do away with unemployment….if you can’t save your money and prepare for something bad to happen (we all love our EFs), then oh well. We would all then be taking home slightly larger paychecks. None of this milking the system and entitlement issues. Be prepared or don’t.

  18. LeanLifeCoach March 2, 2010 at 3:06 AM

    Unemployment is a benefit that we all pay for, but when unemployed you are not getting "your" money back. You are getting "our" money. Spend some time in poorer communities and you will find people that are just gaming the system, that is fact. There are also a lot of decent people that would love nothing more than finding real employment.

    However, those with a work ethic shouldn't mind cleaning a park or performing some civic support for the benefit on a part-time basis while looking for work.

    Those without work ethic would then be more likely to go get a real job.

  19. youngandthrifty March 2, 2010 at 3:24 AM

    I think that getting your unemployment cheque until it runs out is reasonable, without having to "work" for it. If one was accustomed to working in an office, and then they were forced to work in labour type jobs (if that thing isn't their bag), then I think a lot of morale would be going to the pits.

    I thought initially you were talking about welfare.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I heard that in NYC, the mayor previously arranged for people receiving welfare cheques to work in labour type jobs to earn their cheque?

    If that's the case, I think that's a good idea because it promotes a sense of worthiness and contribution to society, which may counteract feelings of depression, drug use, etc.

    Don't mean to get all political here, but I come from the same Vancouver notorious for the Downtown Eastside and our cheques are handed out pretty liberally here =) And then everyone spends it on drugs on cheque day.

  20. Jim Juber March 2, 2010 at 3:20 PM

    I read the article and what jumped out to me was Glenn Blackburn's last comment:
    "He says the only work available anywhere nearby is what he calls "putt-putt jobs" — clerking at convenience stores or washing dishes. With those jobs, he'd earn less than the $388 he's been pulling down in unemployment benefits every week, so it makes no sense to take them before his unemployment runs out (which he said will happen soon).

    He was making 17/hr before the lay off, which is rougly 34k/yr. Unemployment pays him 388/wk, which is roughly 20k. Minimum wage at 7.25/hr is roughly 15k/yr. All of the above scenarios assumed to be 40/hrs at 52 weeks. Why accept a job for 25k/yr when I get 20k for doing nothing.

    And that people, is the problem with unemployment benefits. As long as it pays more than minimum wage, there is no incentive to apply for and consider every job.

    I think, the first 6 months of unemployment should be free, no strings attached. After 6 months, some type of work should be required to receive the benefits (minimum of 30 hours a week).

    I have seen and heard far too many folks use unemployment as a vacation, only to find a job right before or after the benefits expired. Here is the kicker, Indiana pays 390/wk for unemployment benefits. 390/wk would cover all my expenses. I too, would hold out for a job that is closer to my ideal salary and collect employment benefits until they ran out. But I'm not willing to work to collect that 390/wk unemployment check when I can work somewhere for 450/wk doing a regular job.

  21. Anonymous March 2, 2010 at 3:46 PM

    It should also create jobs, since it would take so much time and manpower to get this up and running. I would love to see this happen. Especially if the unemployed people would be working in their field, or close to it. It keeps them busy, earning their checks, as well as experience. Great Idea!

  22. Leslie March 8, 2010 at 4:14 AM

    I disagree as well. Everyone knows that it is much harder to job search while working! I spent at least half the day job hunting and applying. Even if I had a part-time manual labor job, I would be too exhausted when I got home to apply for jobs.

  23. David Damron March 8, 2010 at 5:05 AM

    I am torn on this issue….

    I understand there are people who think most (if not all) people receiving unemployment benefits are lazy. Such may be the case for half of these people. If 50% were the case, than there is the other 50% making an effort. If these people (As mentioned in earlier comments) were working labor jobs instead of searching for jobs, it would be even tougher for them to get back into jobs they would excel at because they are not putting full faith into the job hunt.

    The whole situation sucks for those RECEIVING unemployment and STILL PAYING for others receiving unemployment. I believe there is no right or wrong answer. There are pro's and con's to having unemployment benefits in the first place.

    I understand, but disagree with Jim Bunning's attempt to stop unemployment benefits from continuing. He makes some valid points about people not wanting to work if they are getting a handout. However, many of these people worked and contributed indirectly and directly to these funds. As many people on unemployment are trying to get jobs, the battle for basic living wages is tougher and tougher.

    We all should take note that saving for this situation is critical. Budgeting is just one way to make sure that we are not so reliant on unemployment benefits. With that said, we all never know what MAY happen to us. Jobs we thought were secure are not. Times change and we may become hypocrites one day that we too need these unemployment benefits.

    Tough calls on either side of the argument.

    David Damron

  24. Slinky March 25, 2010 at 12:50 PM


    We did something like that during the great depression. They did a lot of work in Upper Michigan where I visit my in-laws. From what I hear up there, it was a great program. It took out of work men, many with no skills, and taught them how to build bridges and such. It housed, fed, and clothed them while they did it. They paid the men and required that a certain amount be sent home to support dependents.

  25. J. Money March 26, 2010 at 12:25 AM

    Yeah, that’s exactly along the lines of something that would seem to work pretty well. I’m sure a lot has changed over the years, but I think I really like that general concept. Thanks for sharing :)

  26. Slinky March 26, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    I’m always glad to advertise the CCC. It just makes sense to help out those who need it by having them help the community. Everyone wins. And maybe we’d have less potholes. :)

  27. J. Money March 26, 2010 at 11:53 AM

    Don’t try and excite me too much ;)

  28. Ron March 3, 2011 at 10:26 AM

    I guess it would have been a good idea possibly for the future…but the logistics..making governmant even BIGGER then it is and contrary to democratic beliefs of the bad BIG BUSINESS..and BIG OIL….BIG GOVErnMENT is paid by us the taxpayers….and the Tea Party was started just because of the fees surcharges taxes surtaxes that we already pay….if you dont want to sit on your butt…get government to lower taxes especially corporate and capital gains…so people with money will start business instead of hanging on to it…and get rid of obama care…it is a business killer…make real reform such as fraud of billions in medicare and medicaid….tort reform to lower premiums passed to we the people for outlandish settlements. Its funny and you have to have faith but it works…like a tiller on the sailboat you have toturn the opposite ditection of the way you want the boat to go…but it works…we have to lower the taxes to spur business and make even more in taxes then if nothing is done…..more business with less tax beats by a mile stagnant business with high taxes…the high taxes dont come close to makig up for the revenue lower taxes do……Dont beleive it??/ C’mon tough guy do some investigating for your self..it works every time the republicans lower the taxes….even JFK did it ….its fun and it works

  29. J. Money March 3, 2011 at 2:30 PM

    Haha… well, I do like being called a tough guy, but I’m not versed well enough to debate with you :) I’ll let others chime in if they have an opinion.