WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's plan to let Bush-era tax cuts expire on earnings above $250,000 is part of a "class envy" scheme to make people who aren't working feel okay about not contributing to the nation's economy, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said on Tuesday.
"There are more and more people that are looking at others saying they shouldn't be making that much money because I'm not. And they don't feel as much guilt about the 72 different means tested welfare programs that we have," King said on CNN's "Starting Point."
"Today it's almost a government guarantee of a middle-income standard of living from all these [government safety net] programs we have. I like an America where people feel some guilt about that and they want to step up and help and carry their fair share of the work."
Plenty of unemployed workers do feel guilty and ashamed that they aren't working. In fact, the stigma of unemployment is so intense that the Congressional Budget Office says it actually might increase the national unemployment rate, because long-unemployed workers' skills and confidence erode while at the same time employers become less willing to hire them.
But King had a broader group of people in mind than just the 12.7 million that the Bureau of Labor Statistics officially counted as unemployed in June.
"There's a number approaching 100 million Americans of working age that are simply not in the workforce, and that includes the 13 million that are unemployed," King said. "Some can't do anything about that, some aren't willing to do anything about that. When you add that all up, roughly a third of Americans of working age are not contributing to the gross domestic product of the United States."
"They should do their fair share," he added.
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King's "approaching 100 million" figure is a tad imprecise. According to the most recent (seasonally unadjusted) BLS data, of the 243 million Americans who are part of the civilian noninstitutional population -- meaning they are older than 16 and not in prison, nursing homes, or the armed forces -- 86 million are not in the labor force. Exclude workers nearing the retirement age of 65 and up, and 52 million are not in the workforce.
The Labor Department says many people who are not counted in the workforce are in school, helping out with family responsibilities or retired. Unemployed people are counted as part of the labor force, as are the 8.2 million working part-time because they can't find full-time jobs. But the 2.5 million "marginally attached" -- people who want jobs but haven't looked in the last month because they believe no work is available -- are not part of the labor force.
Economists attribute some of the decline in labor force participation over the past 10 years to scads of baby boomers reaching retirement age.
Pressed by a CNN anchor if the unemployed are to blame for being unemployed, King suggested that they just might be.
"One of the things is, people are told they don't need to create opportunities," he said. "It's up to somebody else to offer them a job."