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Published: Thursday, January 21, 2010, 12:01 a.m.

Don’t make it even harder

Signs of economic recovery aren’t very meaningful if you’re among the 10.3 percent of Snohomish County’s unemployed. Nor do they spark much optimism among private employers in our state, who recently learned that the rates they pay for unemployment insurance are going up. Way up. In some cases, more than 1,300 percent.
On top of that, rates are expected to rise again next year.
It’s a natural outcome of any recession: More unemployment benefits are paid out, and the money must be recouped. For businesses already struggling to maintain the payroll they have, though — never mind adding to it — it’s one more barrier. And that sure doesn’t improve the outlook for anybody seeking a job.
In such an atmosphere, it’s critical that the Legislature do nothing to make matters worse. A House bill, however, would raise business costs by expanding Washington’s already generous unemployment benefits. It should be rejected.
House Bill 2553 would broaden the reasons that an employee could voluntarily quit a job and qualify for unemployment benefits, and allow benefits for jobless workers seeking only part-time work.
The latter provision would qualify Washington for around $93 million in federal money for workforce training. The string attached to that one-time payment would create a permanent benefit that would cost employers an estimated $72 million every two years. They’d pay that as part of their unemployment insurance, a counterproductive outcome that will make it that much harder to add new workers.
Washington already has the second-highest unemployment insurance rates in the nation, an average of $563 per full-time employee in 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Accepting the short-term incentive from the feds could leave Washington in a less competitive position to attract new employers — not a stellar strategy for long-term job growth.
Current law allows workers who quit a job voluntarily to collect unemployment benefits for any of 11 different reasons — things like illness or disability, when a spouse must relocate for a new job, or when pay or hours are reduced by 25 percent or more. HB 2553 would add another, subjective reason: “unreasonable hardship.” Imagine what labor lawyers could do with that.
Economists agree that job growth is key to turning this downturn around, and most say that process will be agonizingly slow. If ever there was a time not to add new burdens to job creation, surely this is it.

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Herald Editorial Board

Peter Jackson, Opinion Editor: (@PeterJHerald)

Carol MacPherson, Editorial Writer:

Neal Pattison, Executive Editor:

Josh O'Connor, Publisher:

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