Debate Club

Say No to Drug Testing the Unemployed

By + More

The idea of routinely drug testing applicants for unemployment insurance is mean-spirited and misguided. Unemployment insurance is a program explicitly grounded in individuals' work history, involuntary job loss, and willingness to work—individuals' "work" underwrites the "insurance" that provides income replacement during unemployment. In normal times, unemployment spells are typically only a few months, but everyone knows these are not normal times. Extreme unemployment, though, is no reason to impose extreme conditions on law-abiding Americans seeking the unemployment insurance assistance they've earned.

Drug testing of unemployment insurance applicants is terrible policy for other reasons too.

[Control of U.S. Senate Up For Grabs in 2012.]

First, it's unnecessary. People who lose their jobs because of drug use or failed drug tests are ineligible for unemployment insurance in 20 states already. In the remaining 30 states, a drug-related discharge would likely be treated as disqualifying misconduct.

Second, it perpetuates myths and scapegoats the unemployed. Drug-testing proposals stem from false assumptions that the unemployed are lazy drug users who prefer unemployment checks to paychecks. Aside from being wrong, this assumption completely misunderstands what unemployment insurance does: It assists workers who've lost their jobs involuntarily, generally for economic reasons. Economic reasons also explain why so many of today's unemployed workers haven't found new jobs: There simply aren't enough to replace those we've lost. For nearly three years now, unemployed workers have outnumbered job openings by more than 4 to 1.

Third, massive drug testing is the last thing cash-strapped states can afford. A conservative estimate by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration puts the cost of drug testing at $25 to $75 per test. Because federal law prohibits charging applicants, states would have to absorb the cost of testing thousands of unemployed workers. The Texas Legislative Budget Board recently estimated the full-year cost of implementing such a program to be nearly $30 million. Is there a more frivolous or unnecessary way to spend taxpayer money?

[Mort Zuckerman: 5 Sure-Fire Ways to Create More Jobs.]

Florida's recent experience with drug testing TANF recipients shows the cost of such testing would likely outweigh any perceived benefits. The testing, which has been halted by a federal court on constitutional grounds, found positive results in only 2.5 percent of applicants, substantially below the Centers for Disease Control's 8.5 percent estimate of the drug-use rate in the general population.

Proposals to drug test the unemployed are insensitive to the realities of today's economy, ignorant of the implications of such policies, and insulting to millions of law-abiding Americans who already bear the heaviest burdens of a weak economy.

Christine L. Owens

About Christine L. Owens Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project

Tags
Congress
drugs
Republican Party
unemployment

Other Arguments

#1
1,118 Pts
Welfare Programs Should Promote Self-sufficiency

Yes – Welfare Programs Should Promote Self-sufficiency

Robert Rector Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy at the Heritage Foundation

#2
789 Pts
Practice Has Been Upheld By Courts in New Jersey, Texas, and Indiana

Yes – Practice Has Been Upheld By Courts in New Jersey, Texas, and Indiana

Jack Kingston U.S. Representative, Georgia's 1st District

#4
373 Pts
The Result Could Well Be More Drug Addiction

Yes – The Result Could Well Be More Drug Addiction

Lawrence M. Mead Professor of Politics and Public Policy at New York University and Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute

#5
-452 Pts
Participation in Welfare Is Not Voluntary

No – Participation in Welfare Is Not Voluntary

Peter Cappelli George W. Taylor Professor of Management at the Wharton School and Director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources

#6
-525 Pts
Welfare Assistance Is Not Parental Oversight

No – Welfare Assistance Is Not Parental Oversight

Matthew Bodie Professor and Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at Saint Louis University School of Law

#7
-550 Pts
Mandatory Drug Testing Demonizes and Demoralizes

No – Mandatory Drug Testing Demonizes and Demoralizes

Vanita Gupta Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union

#8
-563 Pts
Only Winners Are Companies Making the Drug Tests

No – Only Winners Are Companies Making the Drug Tests

Joy Moses Senior Policy Analyst with the Poverty and Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress

You Might Also Like


See More