Rep. Steve Womack, Republican of Arkansas, speaking at a town hall on Tuesday, described a conversation with a local business owner who said "we'd love to expand, problem is we can't fill the workers we need now." Womack continued:
And I said "why?" And he says "Well, couple of real good reasons. One, lot of them can't pass the drug test. That's one. Number two, some of them say 'call me when my unemployment runs out.'"In the same week, Ohio's Rep. Bill Johnson, responding to a constituent asking if the government could drug test welfare recipients, said:
Sure, believe it or not, we actually passed some legislation in 2011 to do exactly that. It was part of unemployment compensation reform…. But there are employers up and down the river in Ohio that say "I can’t find workers because the kind of job that we need them to do—I can’t find people that can pass the drug test." And those people will come in and they will find out they gotta take a drug test and they’ll even leave and won’t take the drug test but they’ll use that employer sign-off to go back and stay on unemployment. They’ll use their unemployment checks for buying their drugs.The previous week, Rep. Dave Joyce, also of Ohio, lamenting jobs that go unfilled:
And the trouble is, it's because they either can't find people to come to work sober, daily, drug-free and want to learn the necessary skills going forward to be able to do those jobsWas this part of the official House GOP talking points for August recess? In any case, these are not new claims. The problem is, they're so consistently wrong. In 2011, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley claimed that a nuclear reservation in her state was having trouble filling jobs because half of the applicants failed a drug test. Problem was, the number of applicants failing a drug test was actually less than one percent. When Florida required drug testing for welfare seekers, it cost the state $118,140, $45,000 more than would have been paid out in benefits, in the four months before a court shut the program down, because only 2.6 percent of applicants failed the test. A similar law in Utah caught just 12 people applying for welfare while testing positive for drugs between August 2012 and July 2013.
It's not hard to see why this is such an appealing story for Republicans to tell: It not only provides them with the excuse they want to cut every form of government assistance, from food stamps to unemployment insurance, but it gets them off the hook for job creation, too, since the claim—made explicitly by Joyce—is that there are tons of jobs out there if only jobless Americans weren't too lazy and drug-addicted to be worth hiring. In fact, not only are the number of job openings dwarfed by the number of job-seekers, but there's a pile of evidence showing that it's employers, not workers, who are to blame for most unfilled job openings. None of this discourages Republicans, though—why would they worry about facts when they can fall back on lazy stereotypes and urban legends that make their policies look halfway plausible?