This has all kinds of negative ripple effects. As New Yorker financial writer James Surowiecki notes, "Being unemployed is even more disastrous for individuals than you'd expect. Aside from the obvious harm -- poverty, difficulty of paying off debts -- it seems to directly affect people's health, particularly that of older workers." He cites a study of the 1981-82 recession that found experienced male workers had soaring mortality rates in the year after layoffs and much higher than average death rates even 20 years later.
For reasons that are not entirely clear, jobless workers have a higher risk of dying from cancer, developing heart disease and psychiatric disorders, not to mention greater risks for divorce and suicide.
Surowiecki also points out that unemployment isn't just a problem for the unemployed and their loved ones. "It's bad for all of us. Jobless workers, having no income, aren't paying taxes, which add to the budget deficit. More important, when a substantial portion of the workforce is sitting on its hands, the economy is going to grow more slowly than it could. After all, people doing something to create value, rather than nothing, is the fundamental driver of growth in any economy."
Indeed, one factor that tends to pull down West Virginia's economic statistics is the fact that it has the lowest work-force participation rate in the country.
Work sharing isn't a cure-all, but it could help keep some people attached to the work force who would otherwise be lost.
Fortunately, the legislation mentioned above makes it easier for states to implement work sharing while also saving money. Under the new law, the federal government will pay 100 percent of work sharing benefits for up to three years for states that already have it and 50 percent for up to two years for states like West Virginia that agree to do it. Currently 24 states and the District of Columbia have work sharing.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, West Virginia could receive $3.98 million if it passes legislation to implement work sharing. That would be enough money to provide regular unemployment benefits for more than 840 jobless workers for 16 weeks, at the national average benefit level of $296 a week. Not exactly chump change.
It doesn't happen every day that we have a chance to benefit businesses, workers, taxpayers and the public sector at one stroke. But we have one now.
The West Virginia Legislature should seal the deal.
Wilson, director of the American Friends Service Committee's West Virginia Economic Justice Project, is a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist.