Missouri’s Unemployment Compensation Problem
The Washington Post recently published an article that describes how states’ unemployment compensation funds are running dry in the recession. When a state has more unemployment claims than it can pay, it borrows the difference from the federal government. In all, 25 states — including Missouri — have already borrowed to make their payments, $24 billion in total.
If unemployment continues to rise in the near future, then Missouri will have to borrow even more money from the federal government in order to extend benefits. According to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the seasonably adjusted unemployment rate for Missouri in November 2009 is 9.5 percent, which is an increase over recent months.
What can a cash-strapped state like Missouri do? From the article:
State unemployment-compensation funds are separated from general budgets, so when there is a shortfall, only two primary solutions are typically considered — either cut the benefit or raise the payroll tax.
Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. Although I hesitate to encourage cutting benefits, I think that that raising the payroll tax would be a particularly bad idea. Raising the payroll tax would raise the cost of labor, causing employers to stop hiring and/or further shed employees. When you tax something, you get less of it, after all. The state would have to find a way to support an ever-increasing unemployment population with an ever-decreasing employment base.
I also want to point out that employers pay more in unemployment taxes in Missouri than they do in most other states. Missouri employers already have to pay 3.510 percent of payroll in state unemployment taxes. For those in the construction-related industries, the rate is 3.600 percent. (According to the article, the average tax across states is about 0.6 percent.)