Restore Full Benefits to Laid-off Seniors

Dayton Daily News - January 20, 2006

Dayton Daily News

A cartoon in a recent edition of The New Yorker magazine has a middle-aged man meeting with a financial planner, being asked whether he’s given much thought to what kind of job he wants once he retires.

If you didn’t laugh, you’d have to think about crying — or at least whimpering — at the prospect of spending your golden years under the golden arches, supersizing french fry orders.

But people are living longer, and many haven’t saved nearly enough to fully retire. Social Security provides just a modest benefit, and most employers are getting out of the pension business. So older citizens are a growing presence in the paid labor market.

Yet Ohio law has failed to keep up. Ohio has one of the most dismal unemployment security systems in the nation. Rick McHugh, a staff lawyer at the pro-labor National Employment Law Project, refers to the state as the “Mississippi of the Midwest.” Employees who work as many as 36 hours a week, for example, aren’t eligible for unemployment compensation if they lose their jobs, because they were only “part-time.”

Meanwhile, Ohio’s system stands alone in the nation in how it singles out senior citizens for discrimination.

Older workers who are otherwise entitled to full unemployment compensation after losing a job have their benefits reduced — dollar for dollar — for benefits received under Social Security. The rule is the result of an old, now irrelevant, federal labor rule that sought to ensure employers aren’t nicked twice when workers retire: once through the pension they funded and once through unemployment compensation taxes they paid.

Some states interpreted the rule to include Social Security retirement payments. But seniors have begun complaining loudly about the offset’s illogic. The complaint is justified. They’ve earned the right to unemployment compensation, and shouldn’t be denied that benefit simply because they’re old enough to be receiving Social Security payments.

Each year an average of about 2,500 Ohio seniors are being denied unemployment benefits because they are Social Security recipients. Some people are proposing a halfway reform, giving seniors 50 cents on the benefits dollar. This suffers from the same illogic as the current rule, and still relegates seniors to second-class citizenship.

Ohio lawmakers need to give older workers their full due without delay.

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