In recent months, Congressional Republicans have proposed that any new extension of unemployment benefits come with strict conditions. In December, for instance, the payroll tax cut bill passed by the GOP House would have denied unemployment insurance to laid-off workers who didn’t have a high school diploma — unless those workers agreed to enroll in a GED program. That idea never made it into law, but it’s likely to resurface when Congress comes back to debate a year-long extension of the payroll tax cut.


A job fair in Portland, Ore. (Natalie Behring/Getty)

As Robert Greenstein notes, career, adult, and technical education courses currently receive 15 percent less funding, in real terms, than they did in 2008 — due in part to recent spending cuts by Congress. In one recent survey, some 160,000 people were on waiting lists for adult-education programs and 72 percent of programs around the country had queues. So there’s a high chance that under the GOP proposal many newly laid-off workers without high-school diplomas wouldn’t even be able to find space in an education course. And that means they’d simply be denied benefits altogether.

Mark Thoma raises another, related worry. Many of the laid-off workers who enroll in classes in order to collect their unemployment benefits might not want to be there — and don’t necessarily have to finish their coursework. So, Thoma notes, “students who have no interest in being in adult education classes, no interest in learning, will crowd out students who want to be there.”

(As a side note, Thoma also wryly wonders whether we could see new types of “degree mills” pop up that offer easy enrollment in exchange for a cut of unemployment benefits, though it’s not clear who that would actually help).