DN to Corbett: Get off your duff and check your facts

Last week on the campaign trail, Tom Corbett made a less-than-fully-thought-out remark. The DN takes him to task for it today:

We don't generally comment on statements made by candidates in the midst of a campaign, but Tom Corbett made one last week that warrants an objection. At a campaign event, the Republican gubernatorial nominee blamed unemployment on the unemployed.

The jobs are there, he said, explaining that he knows this because he's heard repeatedly from business owners across the state that they can't find workers to fill open positions. He exhorted those unlucky enough to be jobless: "Get off your duff and go to work."

We wonder if Corbett would have said this to an actual unemployed person, who might have pointed out that the latest government data say there is just one job opening for every five people seeking work in this country.

Corbett claims people would rather live off their unemployment benefits than seek work. That theory may be tested soon, when thousands of Pennsylvanians will see their unemployment benefits expire. Congress is debating whether to pass an extension of benefits, and it may not help that a powerful Republican from a large swing state is calling them counter-productive. They're not. They are keeping families above water.

Indeed. Corbett said that unemployment benefits create a disincentive for people to take jobs. Paul Krugman broke this argument down recently: In some circumstances, it’s true. Though Pennsylvania residents on unemployment receive an average weekly payment of just $310, according to the Morning Call, there is research to suggest that receiving benefits will make workers more discriminating about what jobs they’ll take.

It’s simply not a consideration, however, when there aren’t any jobs available.

Beyond its basic wrongness (and its lack of empathy for the unemployed), we'd add an additional concern with Corbett's comment: The approach to public policy on display here. The country got into a lot of trouble under a president who substituted folksy tough-talk (like “get off your duff”) and “truthy” anecdotes for data analysis and informed decision-making. Corbett would do better, in the future, to refrain from drawing statistical conclusions when "three or four people" (really, that's what he cited) tell him something.

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