August 18, 2019

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Arizona Lawmakers Make Life Even Harder for State’s Unemployed Population


A new law in Arizona could put more stress on the unemployed. Currently, in order to maintain unemployment insurance in the state, one must take the first “suitable” position offered. But under the new statute, which is set to take effect at the beginning of August, unemployed people must take whatever job comes their way after four weeks of joblessness, regardless of its suitability, so long as it pays 20 percent more than the weekly benefits package. Health concerns, experience, previous earnings, commuting distance – all of these have been removed from the Department of Economic Security’s list of considerations.

Republican Sentiment

In their support of the bill, Republicans repeated the age-old bootstraps narrative, according to which Americans must learn the value of a day’s work: “It’s a job that the individual’s been offered, and it pays,” said Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesperson for Governor Doug Ducey, in a callous statement. It’s a good thing that people “are getting off of benefits and finding value in work,” according to the governor. “That’s the kind of action that we want to reward rather than somehow disincentivizing,’’ he continued.

Already Working

As noted by Laura Clawson, of Daily Kos, the Republican rhetoric about lazy moochers doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, as the only people permitted to have UI in Arizona are those who have lost a job within the past few weeks through no fault of their own. Moreover, they are required to spend four days of the week looking for a job and must make at least one job-related contact per day. This is par for the course in a state that has one of the worst benefits programs in the country.

Conservatives Still Not Happy

Still, Republican state legislators aren’t satisfied. For them, it’s common sense: workers who are out of work should take the first job that pays more than their UI benefits, which max out at $240 per week in Arizona. That means workers must take work that pays at least $288 per week, which amounts to $15,000 per annum. So, no matter how much a person made at their previous position – no matter what their skillsets – they must take a job that pays just a few thousand dollars over the federal poverty line.

Only So Many Jobs

State Senator Steve Smith (a Republican from Maricopa) sponsored the bill. For Smith, there’s a straightforward answer to all of this. Unemployed people need only apply to jobs they want to take. But as mentioned, under the DES requirements, unemployed folks must spend four days of the week searching for a position, and they must make one contact per day. Under that kind of pressure, it isn’t likely that every single contact or job application will be relevant to a person’s work history. It isn’t simply a matter of filling out the right applications. This assumes that there are unlimited jobs available, which simply isn’t true.

Still, Smith has condescended: “We shouldn’t say, ‘Pretty please, here’s a job, would you please take it?’” He continued, “If you’re offered a job that pays you more than your benefit, you should take it.’’

Return-to-Work Program

There is another aspect to the law that could be beneficial to those in search of work. The statute sets up a Return-to-Work program, which allows UI recipients to work as apprentices or interns for companies willing to participate. Under the program, the UI recipient will continue to receive unemployment benefits (including workers’ compensation for injuries) while training at an approved business.

In order to partake of this program, participants must be eligible to receive unemployment insurance; must continue their job search; and must be willing to train for 20-32 hours per week for less than six weeks.

Though this latter provision might prove beneficial to some, it is doubtful that it will offset the negative aspects of the new law. Republicans in Arizona will continue to push their bootstraps narrative, while the unemployed population continues to suffer with very few options.

About Sean Lally

Sean Lally holds a BA in Philosophy from Temple University where he also studied theatre for several years. Between 2007 and 2017, he worked as a professional actor for several regional theater companies in Philadelphia, including the Arden Theatre Co., EgoPo Productions, Lantern Theater and the Bearded Ladies. In 2010, Sean co-founded Found Theater Company, an avant-garde artist collective with whom he first started to cultivate an identity as a writer.

Over the past few years, Sean has been working as a content writer, focusing primarily on the ways in which unequal power distribution can negatively affect consumers, workers and “everyday people,” more broadly. He writes for a number of websites including,, and others.