The GOP still doesn’t like the unemployed

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) told CNN yesterday that he’s visited with a lot of business people lately, and he’s learned they’re “actually afraid to hire people” because they’re “afraid of what the government will do to them.”

That’s awfully dumb — when Republicans find evidence of government punishing employers for hiring workers, they should let everyone know — but it was the next part of the interview that really stood out.

“I have talked to a lot of businesses in South Carolina who can’t get employees to come back to work because they are getting unemployment and they’re getting food stamps and they say, ‘Call me when unemployment runs out.’ […]

“There are a lot of people who desperately need it and we need to make sure that we have that safety net in place, but we also have to realize there are a lot of people gaming the system right now.”

I’m not sure which of DeMint’s talking points were supposed to believe — are employers afraid to hire or are they struggling with lazy people who won’t apply for openings? — but the rhetoric is a reminder that Republicans just don’t seem to like the unemployed.

In DeMint’s mind, the jobless are living it up on meager unemployed benefits, and don’t want to seek gainful employment. In reality, the number of applicants outnumbers the number of job openings by about a six-to-one margin*, and the private sector isn’t hiring as much because of a lack in demand — a problem DeMint intends to make worse through an austerity agenda.

I have to admit, given the number of Americans struggling with unemployment and underemployment, I’m a little surprised by the number of Republicans who’ve shown outright hostility towards those who’ve lost their jobs.

A few months ago, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) equated the unemployed with alcoholics and drug addicts, while Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) compared the unemployed to “hobos.” All kinds of GOP officeholders have said the unemployed choose not to work because of jobless benefits, while a few want to impose mandatory drug testing for the jobless — because if you can’t find work, you’re not only to blame, you’re also a suspected addict.

I realize there’s some evidence to suggest benefits, in a healthy economy, can delay workers reentering the workforce, but this is (a) far harder to believe when the job market is already terribly weak; and (b) hardly an excuse for so many GOP officials to take personal shots at those who are already struggling.

* fixed

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.