Unemployment benefit cuts squeeze workers

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Gov. Pat McCrory says he will sign a Republican bill into law that would more quickly pay off the $2.5 billion unemployment debt that North Carolina owes the federal government.

That debt needs to be paid. But the burden of the plan in place will fall hardest on middle class workers who lose their jobs and workers who receive pink slips in areas with higher-than-average unemployment.

The new plan cuts maximum weekly unemployment benefits more than one-third – from $535 to $350 – for new jobless claims starting July 1. This will hit the middle and upper classes worse since they are far more likely to have higher wages.

A maximum of $350 a week equals $8.75 an hour, assuming a 40-hour work week. That’s slightly higher than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 a hour. But don’t forget, many full-time workers also receive health insurance and other forms of compenstation in addition to their hourly wages. So that new maximum jobless benefit represents drastic cuts in health care and the ability to make ends meet for anyone making much more than minimum wage.

The proposal also reduces the maximum number of benefit weeks from 26 to a new sliding scale of 12 weeks to 20 weeks.

The state unemployment rate was 9.2 percent in December, according to labor statistics. The jobless rate for Edgecombe County in November was 14 percent.

Will this new sliding scale decide to pay out fewer weeks of unemployment to parts of the state in desperate need just because things are better in Wake and Orange counties?

Come July, that’s something the Twin Counties will find out together.