Americans: Extend benefits, but offset cost?

January 14, 2014, 7:38 PM GMT+0

Most Americans want the government to renew extended unemployment benefits, but there is a divide over whether or not the cost should be offset by budget cuts

On the eve of 2014 the federal government's extension of unemployment benefits for people who have been unemployed for longer than six months lapsed, leaving 1.4 million unemployed Americans without government assistance. Renewal of the extended benefits may be just around the corner but over a fortnight has now passed where the long-term unemployed lack any income.

The latest research from YouGov shows that most Americans (62%) want the cuts to be renewed, while only 25% oppose renewal, but among people who support a renewal there is a significant divide. 35% think that the extension should be renewed without offsetting the cost, while 27% of the public say that the program should only be renewed if the budget is cut elsewhere.

These results conceal a partisan divide, however, with Democrats (60%) being the most likely to want benefits to be renewed without offsets. The Democratic leadership in Congress had called for extension without cuts, but in the most recent deal have ageed to a package of offsets. Most Independents (58%) support extending benefits, but lean towards wanting offsets for their extension (32%). Republicans are more divided, however, with 49% supporting extension and 43% opposing any renewal of extended benefits, regardless of whether offsets are made.

Part of this divide over whether or not to extend unemployment benefits may be a result of how people think about unemployment benefits and the impact it has on the unemployed, particularly whether or not they encourage people to stop looking for work. Most Democrats (57%) say that weekly payments don't give the long-term unemployed a reason not to look for work, but most Independents (57%) and Republicans (73%) worry that providing unemployment benefits does lead people to not look for work.

The average weekly unemployment check received by Americans is around $295, but perceptions of how much people do get - and what they should get - differ widely. Democrats tend to underestimate how much people receive to the tune of $41, while Republicans overestimate it by $77. Independents come closest to the real figure, being only $16 off the mark.

Asked what benefits should be, both Democrats and Independents tend to support unemployment benefits that are close to current levels, but Republicans think that average weekly unemployment benefits should be $96 more a week than they currently are.

Asked how long, in general, the unemployed should receive benefits for, the public is divided as to whether or not it should be capped at half a year (35%) or the current extended cap of a year and a half (26%). Most Republicans (57%) support capping unemployment benefits for half a year and Democrats tend to support a year and a half limit. Very few Americans - only 4% - think that the government should not provide unemployment benefits, while 17% say that the government should pay benefits for as long as someone lacks a job.

Full poll results can be found here.

Image: Getty Images

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