I learned long ago in the news business that anecdotes never tell the whole story, that most people regard the world through their own experiences or that of their peers, and that many successful people fail to understand why so many others come up short in American society.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan right now is flashing all three characteristics. Coming out of the pandemic — if that’s what’s happening — Hogan declared that Maryland would stop paying out federal unemployment benefits to gig workers and an additional $300 in weekly pandemic benefits to people who lost their jobs during the last year.
On Saturday, two Maryland courts said that was wrong, that the state must, for now, continue making the payments, as Congress had authorized them, until September.
Why did Hogan do this? Ending the benefits early, he said, is “absolutely critical to our economy.” He believes — primarily because business owners told him this — that people are refusing to go back to work because of the unemployment benefits. The extra $300 a week is a particular disincentive, Hogan said, echoing the arguments used by Republicans in Congress against the major relief funding for people furloughed or laid off during the pandemic.
Is there a study showing this has happened? No. In fact, just the opposite. Hogan based his decision to cut off the benefits two months early on anecdotal evidence — there’s an oxymoron for you! — and probably his instincts. His pledge to continue to fight against the benefits in court on the Fourth of July weekend reveals his lack of empathy for people put out of work in the most extraordinary of circumstances. It’s really the classic myopia of the successful and, in Hogan’s case, wealthy individual — isolated from the reality of the working life of people paid by the hour.
Businesses are not back at full steam. That there are jobs available does not mean people can get to them. Child care is still a big obstacle for many. Maybe some workers don’t want to abandon jobs where they had seniority and experience, and hold out hope that their boss will call them back. Pardon the anecdote, but I recently met a 48-year-old man who had a good job at the Kennedy Center in Washington; he was furloughed for more than a year and hoped to return to his old job soon. A Maryland resident, he would have been affected by the Hogan cutoff.
I don’t know what Hogan is trying to achieve here besides a good look for his political ambitions. A non-Trump Republican, he has to make his way back into the fold by joining other GOP governors in cutting off extra unemployment benefits. That hard line has been in the Republican rule book for decades, and most prominent in the 40 years since the time of Hogan’s idol, Ronald Reagan, the president who exploited welfare queen anecdotes to denounce public assistance to the poor. The Republican rule book, handed down from Mount Reagan, says you can’t make government look like it actually helps people because then more people will become pro-government. And that’s bad for a political party that has not only been anti-government but, more recently, actively supporting a would-be autocrat who inspired a mob to attack the seat of government and our democracy.