With unemployment continuing to hover around 10 percent nationally (and nearly a percentage point higher in North Carolina), some believe that it makes sense to extend jobless benefits to those who?ve been struggling to find work.

But Nina Easton explains in TIME the problems associated with this supposedly compassionate response:

Continually easing the pain of jobless Americans, it turns out, can contribute to high jobless rates by warping incentives to look for work. “The consensus estimates show that unemployment benefits do prolong unemployment spells by quite a bit,” says University of Chicago economist Bruce Meyer, who has produced academic studies on the issue dating back to the recession of the early 1980s.


With unemployment hanging at a stubborn 10% and the release of another troubling jobs report last week, why not do more for the jobless?

Because there’s evidence that the extensions are only prolonging joblessness. Today’s unemployment rate remains high not because of mass layoffs ? most of which happened early last year ? but mainly because more people are remaining unemployed for longer periods. In academic parlance, the “exit rate” from the unemployment pool is only around 21%, compared with 34% during the last harsh recession, in 1982.