What They Said About Losing Unemployment Benefits

When the jobs/tax bill again ran into a brick wall in the Senate, I wrote a recap for the Poverty in America blog on Change.org, as well as the somewhat different, but equally angry review here.

The PIA posting triggered an outpouring of comments, virtually all from people who are unemployed and have been for some time. They tell us a couple of things.

First, the Tea Partiers aren’t the only people out there who are as mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Some portion of the jobless population is furious. And they’re ready to throw the Republicans out — every last one of them. No way to know whether the hostile energy represents a critical mass or whether it will make any political difference.

Second, sheer desperation and something close to despair are even more pervasive than outrage.

Here are some extracts from the comments:

“I have already lost my home and my car is going next week…. None of us will even have food to eat so what [Fourth of July] Holiday will we have? … I have had to sell anything of value at all for pennies on the dollar and have no food…. I wonder if we will even survive.”

“I just lost my unemployment benefits at 79 weeks…. I’ve applied for literally EVERYTHING, and no jobs are forthcoming. Have college degree and graphic design skills, but NO JOBS! Most people think, ‘oh just go to Mickey D’s or something’ but I tell you those places won’t hire you if they see you have a degree and used to make good money (trust me, I’ve applied at all of them by now). I have a stack of bills that would have been paid this month, but now I will have to default on them all because no more UI.”

“I have been unemployed for the past year and a half, and I too am a college graduate…. At 37, for the first time in my life, I am facing an eviction…. I can’t tell you how scared I am right now. It is very tough being homeless in Los Angeles, especially if you are a single woman.

“I have been unemployed in northern Nevada for 1 1/2 years and my fiance is a master carpenter and has been unemployed for 2 years. WE HAVE NO MORE UNEMPLOYMENT [BENEFITS]!!! …. I had to get welfare last week (which I always swore to myself I would NEVER take a dime of) so my kids could eat. Still don’t know how we will keep a roof over our heads.”

“My July 4th ‘holiday’ is me coming up with a plan to avoid being homeless the end of July.”

“I’m 57 years old and was laid off through no fault of my own. I am not an IT professional, I am not trained in finance, and I have no experience in health care. I can’t even get a job in fast food because employers want young people who can ‘hustle.’ That’s most of the jobs that are available. I can’t get ‘retraining’ because I have no one to support me while I do it. And a 57 year old with no experience in a new field isn’t exactly in demand.”

These and countless similar stories give the lie to some major arguments against extending unemployment benefits.

We’re told, for example, that people don’t look for work so long as they’re getting their UI checks. The benefits are a “disincentive to seek new work,” said Senator Jon Kyle (R-AZ) on the Senate floor. They “turn the ‘safety net’ into a hammock,” opined Congressman Steve King (R-IA).

They’re one of the ways “we have really spoiled our citizenry,” said Sharron Angle, who’s running for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s seat in Nevada. “You can make more money on unemployment than you can going down and getting one of those … honest jobs,” like the clean-up chores she and her sibs once did in her family’s hotel.

But what the comments tell us is that a goodly number of unemployed people have been diligently looking — and would take those honest jobs if they could get them — because they can barely make do on UI benefits.

And then there’s the more popular deficit argument. We can’t extend unemployment benefits unless they’re totally paid for, e.g., by using stimulus funds intended to create jobs.  Think, after all, of the additional debt we’d be leaving our children.

No need, I trust, to rehash the arguments that UI benefits save and create jobs —  and thus, at the very least, help control the deficit. Also, I trust, no need to note how the proposed pay-for would rob Peter to pay Paul.

Let’s think instead about those children who will grow up with all the disadvantages of poverty if we cut their parents’ lifeline now.

Here’s what one of the jobless commenters has to say:

“The Republicans say that they want the extensions to be fully funded so our children and grandchildren do not take on such debt. What about NOW when we need to feed, clothe and house them … ?” How will they live right NOW?”

How, I wonder, would an opponent of the just-quashed emergency UI extension answer.


One Response to What They Said About Losing Unemployment Benefits

  1. Anita says:

    I was unemployed for over 14 months…with no UI benefits…after working for a university for two years in a “grant-funded” position. Thank God for my family and the child support that I receive.

    UI is not a hammock and every net has holes. The federal legislators, who pat themselves on the back for upending so many people, should take a 75% paycut. Maybe that’s how we can begin to fund the pay-for which the GOP sought for the additional UI coverage.

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