Twisted Logic from MSNBC's Hayes: Paying People Not to Work Encourages Them to 'Get Back to Work'

Friday's All In with Chris Hayes exhibited host Hayes's latest example of fuzzy logic as he argued that paying people unemployment benefits, rather than encouraging them to go longer without taking a new job, actually encourages them to "get back to work."

After applying loaded words and phrases like "unconscionably" and "screwing over millions of people" to Republican opposition to unemployment benefit extension, the MSNBC host played a clip of Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul arguing that unemployment benefits encourage people to remain unemployed longer, and then responded:

Paul is, not to put too fine a point on it, full of it. You only get federal unemployment benefits if you are actively seeking work, and the millions of Americans who are unemployed, they are, by and large, not choosing to be unemployed. Right now, there are almost three unemployed people for every job opening. Long-term unemployment is at its highest level in 30 years. In fact, what congressional Republicans are doing right now is entirely unprecedented.

He soon added:

Now, the reason Congress has never failed to extend federal emergency unemployment benefits with unemployment this high is that the program actually keeps people in the labor force.

He then argued that refusing to pay unemployment benefits encourages people to stop seeking work and become "discouraged workers." Hayes:

How do we know that? Well, last year, North Carolina decided to run a little experiment. Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill that sharply cut the state's unemployment benefits, and, as a result, North Carolina's unemployment rate dropped dramatically from 8.8 percent to 7.4 percent between July and November.

But here's the thing: That drop came because the state's labor force shrank more than twice as much as the national average. In other words, people just stopped looking for work. They gave up. They quit.

Hayes did not address the implication that, if there were people who stopped seeking work because they were no longer receiving unemployment benefits, they must have been in less need of that income to pay bills than others who persisted in a job search, and may not have been serious about trying to find a new job.

Later, as the MSNBC host recounted several Republican Senators who support a further extension of unemployment benefits, he urged them to "do your jobs so other folks can get back to work as well."

Ironically, on the same day's The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, the Huffington Post's Ryan Grimm admitted that there was "some truth" to the Republican argument that benefits discourage work, although he still seemed to come down on the side of paying people not to work until a higher paying job opening similar to the one they lost is available. Grimm:

Republicans are pushing back with a different type of analysis. What they're saying is that giving unemployment benefits to people discourages them from work, you know, from taking jobs. So, you know, therefore, you're actually hurting them, you know. They're being compassionate by pulling this away.

And, in a sense, there's some truth to that. But the political question is, you know, what is the value of someone's basic dignity? You know, sure, you know, if your unemployment benefits run out, then, yes, you are more likely to take an $8 an hour or $9 an hour job because you have to keep your electricity on, you have to put food on the table.

He continued:

If you're getting that tiny unemployment check, $200, $300 a week, then you can maybe hold out so that you could try to get a job that's a little bit closer to what you were making before you were let go. Now, and this is the dynamic that has created the inequality that we're talking about here. You know, this is what drives wages down because, you know, job seekers then have less power when they're negotiating their work. So, I mean, but Republicans are very public that they're saying, you know, people will stop, you know, will take jobs if you take these unemployment benefits away from them.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Friday, January 3, All In with Chris Hayes on MSNBC:

CHRIS HAYES: Good evening from New York. I'm Chris Hayes. Lawmakers tonight are planning their return to Washington, D.C., amidst the blizzard that has covered much of the country. Congress is back in session on Monday, and, when they return, there is one item of business at the top of the priority list, a three-month extension to federal emergency long-term unemployment benefits.

Unconscionably, Republicans blocked Democrats' attempts to extend federal emergency unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed in the budget deal hammered out before Christmas break. As a result, 1.3 million people were cut off from their benefits three days after Christmas, and almost two million more could be cut off in the first six months of 2014.

So why, you might ask, are Republicans doing this? Well, to be honest, it's a bit hard to answer that because they haven't been exactly taking to the microphones to explain themselves. It's almost as if they're ashamed of screwing over millions of people. But here's Rand Paul.

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R-KY): I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they're paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers. You're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.

HAYES: Paul is, not to put too fine a point on it, full of it. You only get federal unemployment benefits if you are actively seeking work, and the millions of Americans who are unemployed, they are, by and large, not choosing to be unemployed. Right now, there are almost three unemployed people for every job opening. Long-term unemployment is at its highest level in 30 years. In fact, what congressional Republicans are doing right now is entirely unprecedented.

GENE SPERLING, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We as a country have never cut off emergency unemployment benefits when long-term unemployment was this high.

HAYES: Now, the reason Congress has never failed to extend federal emergency unemployment benefits with unemployment this high is that the program actually keeps people in the labor force. How do we know that?

Well, last year, North Carolina decided to run a little experiment. Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill that sharply cut the state's unemployment benefits, and, as a result, North Carolina's unemployment rate dropped dramatically from 8.8 percent to 7.4 percent between July and November.

But here's the thing: That drop came because the state's labor force shrank more than twice as much as the national average. In other words, people just stopped looking for work. They gave up. They quit.

And it's not just happening in North Carolina. Right now, hundreds of thousands of people are dropping out of the workforce each month. They are called, in technical terms, "discouraged workers." They are millions of Americans who our political class and especially the Republican Party, has chosen to discard, has chosen to take their talents and their abilities and their possible contributions to our economy and toss them into a national dumpster fire for no good reason.

So when Congress returns on Monday, first item on Harry Reid's agenda is a three-month extension of federal emergency unemployment insurance. The bill will give retroactive benefits to the 1.3 million people who lost benefits three days after Christmas and extend them for the hundreds of thousands more whose benefits will expire in the first months of 2014. And the question is, who is stopping that from happening? Well, the Republican Party, as I said.

Harry Reid plans to bring this bill up for a vote on Monday, and because of a routine abuse of the filibuster, he will need 60 votes to get it out of the Senate. Right now, it looks like he has all 55 Democrats. And he is one Republican, a cosponsor of the bill, Senator Dean Heller of Nevada. Nevada's unemployment rate is a whopping nine percent. Over 17,000 people in the state lost benefits on the 28th, and over 20,000 more people will stop receiving their checks in the first six months of 2014 if Congress does not act.

Dean Heller is one Republican. Democrats will need four more to break the filibuster. Keep in mind, this is a filibuster of unemployed people looking for work. The vote will likely come down to these four people.

Republican Senator Mark Kirk whose state of Illinois has an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent, where over 80,000 people lost benefits in late December and where almost 90,000 more will lose benefits in the first half of 2014.

There's Rob Portman of Ohio, with the state unemployment rate of 7.4 percent. Almost 40,000 people lost benefits in his state in December, with even more set to lose them in 2014.

Then, there's Susan Collins of Maine, who has voted for multiple benefit extensions in the past, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who has said she would be open to an extension.

Well, tonight, we asked all four of those senators to join us here on this program so they could tell the people of their states where they stand on letting their unemployment benefits disappear after all. Those four Senators stand between 1.3 million people getting back on their feet, or being kicked to the curb. Two of them said no. Two did not respond.

Now, when you ask Republicans how they could possibly not vote for an extension, they start to voice concerns about the costs of the program, around 6.5 billion for the three-month extension being voted on on Monday. Republicans are saying they want to off set to pay for the extension.

Senator Rob Portman told us in a statement, "I'm willing to consider any credible proposals, so long as those benefits address job creation and are paid for so we don't add to our nation's burdensome debt." Senator doesn't mean the deficit is falling at its fastest rate in 60 years, or that the cost of the extension could be off set simply by ending our program, to subsidize wealthy farmers.

Or to illustrate the point visually, here's the difference between the current budget and the budget with the emergency unemployment benefits extended. It's hard to make out. But in human terms, that difference looks like this.

DOLORES SIRIANNI, UNEMPLOYED: Terrifying, devastated.

REPORTER: Overwhelming emotions as Dolores Sirianni and Jeff Schaeffer wake up without unemployment insurance benefits today.

SIRIANNI: How do I feed my four children? How do I feed the dogs? My husband? Everything and it's so overwhelming that you don't know where to start.

HAYES: So, Mark Kirk, Rob Portman, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, when you get back to Washington, D.C. on Monday, how about doing your jobs so other folks can get back to work as well?

--Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Brad Wilmouth on Twitter.