The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rand Paul has some Festivus grievances with Washington. The unemployed have some with him.

On Sunday night, Sen. Rand Paul sent out an exciting tweet:

He was as good as his word. Monday morning saw a broad airing of grievances, ranging from the minor:

To the major:

To the crankish:

It was, all in all, a bravura performance. For a few short hours, Rand Paul had conjured that rarest of things: A Twitter account run by a politician that people actually want to read.

But so long as we're airing our Festivus grievances with Washington, I'd like to add one to the mix: Too many politicians in Washington have abandoned the long-term unemployed, and worse, they've justified doing so in callous and empirically indefensible terms.

Example one? Rand Paul:

In case you're not the video-watching type, here's how Paul explains his reason for letting 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers lose benefits at the end of this month:

There was a study that came out a few months ago, and it said, if you have a worker that's been unemployed for four weeks and on unemployment insurance and one that's on 99 weeks, which would you hire? Every employer, nearly 100 percent, said they will always hire the person who's been out of work four weeks.
When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy. And it really -- while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you're trying to help.

This is a correlation/causation error of staggering size -- and, because it's coming from a sitting U.S. senator whose vote will help decide whether millions of unemployed families lose the paltry checks that are helping them buy food and shelter and fuel, of staggering consequence.

Imagine a study that asked doctors whether they thought a patient who'd been under treatment for a serious illness for four weeks was more or less likely to survive than a patient under treatment for a serious illness for 99 weeks. Of course the doctors would say the patient under treatment for 99 weeks was less likely to survive.

Paul would look at that study and argue for removing the treatment from the patient who'd been sick for 99 weeks. After all, doctors thought it made the patient less likely to survive!

Last month, D.C.'s two new Wal-Marts began accepting applications. More than 23,000 people applied for fewer than 600 jobs. This is the reality of life for the unemployed: They can't get jobs because there aren't enough jobs.

Nationally, there are three job seekers for every one open position. But because unemployment is much higher in some cities than in others, the reality is that most people who've been unemployed for more than 26 weeks live in areas where there are four, five, six, seven and even eight job seekers for each open job. They're not being held back by their unemployment checks. They're being held back by mass unemployment.

The study Paul mentions points toward a real problem: Unemployment is self-perpetuating. Employers discriminate against the long-term unemployed. And so a cycle begins: Someone doesn't get hired because they're unemployed. That extends the length of their unemployment. That makes the next potential employer that much less likely to hire them. That further extends the time they've been unemployed. And so the cycle continues.

This isn't just theory. Northeastern University's Rand Ghayad sent out 4,800 fake resumes to job postings. Some of the resumes were from the new unemployed. Others showed longer spells of unemployment. The callback rate for the long-term unemployed was just 1 to 3 percent. For the newly unemployed, it was 9 to 16 percent.

The problem for the long-term unemployed isn't that their lavish government checks keep them from wanting jobs. It's that they can't get jobs -- in part because they're unemployed. And that makes them even less likely to get jobs in the future. The long-term unemployed are slowly becoming unemployable.

The federal government could move aggressively to put them back to work. It could hire them directly as teacher's aides and park rangers. It could pass a large tax cut for employers who hire new workers and and an even larger one for employers who hire the unemployed. It could invest hundreds of billions in infrastructure repair. Paul could be a powerful advocate if he took up the cause of getting them jobs now so they could get jobs later.

But Paul isn't fighting to do any of that. Instead, he's responding to their plight by cutting off the emergency benefits that are barely keeping them unemployed afloat. He isn't helping the unemployed get jobs. He's abandoning them to joblessness -- and so are a critical mass of his colleagues.