Georgia labor chief faults benefits to jobless

Butler

ATLANTA --- Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler takes a major departure from his predecessor, Michael Thurmond, by arguing that benefit checks distributed by the agency he heads might make unemployment worse.

Thurmond lobbied for extending the unemployment benefits to the current period of 99 weeks last year when he launched an unsuccessful campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Georgia's 9.8 percent unemployment rate is worse than all but seven other states.

Butler, the first Republican to head the Georgia Labor Department, told a luncheon audience in Newnan last week that such benefits discourage some people from taking another job, especially one that pays about as much as the benefits.

"Somebody who's been on unemployment for a very extended time, and this is not everybody ... will say 'I'm not looking for anything right now but will when my benefits are about to run out,' " he said Monday.

He bases his comments on conversations with Labor Department managers around the state who tell him they see people get the most energetic about finding a job when they approach the end of their benefit period. At the same time, some employers, such as temporary-staffing companies, tell him they can't find workers to fill their openings.

Butler said the unemployment insurance program shouldn't postpone people's recognition that they might have to move, take a job in another field or take a lower-paying position.

"It's supposed to help you get by until you can get a replacement job. It's intent is not to be a replacement income," he said.

Mercer University economics professor Roger Tutterow agreed that nearly two years of unemployment checks could discourage some people.

"I think it's reasonable to believe if you're receiving unemployment benefits you might not be as aggressive," he said.

More