Unemployed to Congress: Don’t use me as bargaining chip


 I refuse to be a bargaining chip for Republican congressmen wanting to help the rich.

As everyone knows, some two million Americans face the end of unemployment checks this holiday season. Republican congressmen say the country can’t afford adding an estimated $65 billion to the deficit. Yet these same congressmen want to add an estimated $700 billion to the deficit over the next 10 years to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Now, Washington rumor has it that a deal is in the offing, with Republicans willing to give an unemployment extension to the long-term jobless if they can get their tax cuts for the wealthy.  They’ve made it clear they don’t care about the 97 percent of Americans making below $250,000 a year; their priority is getting the tax cuts for their rich friends (particularly the millionaires and billionaires who helped spark the Great Recession).

This proposal is not only immoral, but it is madness.  To link tax cuts for the rich to the unemployment checks for the jobless shows how insensitive, brazen, and indifferent our political leaders are to the plight of the jobless. One Republican representative from Arizona – John Shadegg – says he thinks unemployed workers hold off spending their checks! (“The truth is,” he said, “the unemployed will spend as little of that money as they possibly can”).  What? The truth is that the unemployed, having no other source of income, will spend that money immediately on food, gas, and other necessities.  Economists have found that $1 in unemployment benefits generates $1.61 in economic activity.  A dollar in tax cuts—not just to the rich, but to everyone—generates about 32 cents.  The rich in this country are getting richer at the expense of the working class, and few seem to care.

I am tired of reading comments from the right-wing labeling the unemployed “lazy” who want to live off the government.   We’re not. We want a job. Unemployment insurance is not an entitlement program or government handout; it is insurance employers and employees pay into to provide minimal assistance to the unemployed who lost their jobs through no fault of their own. We search diligently for jobs every day: we network, write letters, fill out long applications asking for our social security numbers, driver’s licenses, high school addresses, and credit history; send resumes to numerous recruiters in our field; register for countless job sites that send us daily spam;  scan countless job boards and send out emails only to hear nothing back from jobs we are well qualified for. Our job is to look for jobs that are not there, or jobs that go to someone’s nephew or other internal employee.

When I was laid off in early 2009, I thought it would take about four to six months to find a job, even in this economy.  I’m luckier than some of my unemployed friends – I have managed to land several interviews – but each time the position is put on hold, offered to an internal candidate, or to someone with less experience.  I’ve applied for more than 500 jobs in 21 months, with few job interviews locally.  Ninety-nine weeks may seem like a long time to find a job, but, as news reports bear out, jobs that vanished in the Great Recession have not returned. The private sector added about 159,000 jobs in October – half as many as needed to reduce the unemployment rate of 9.6 percent, which is expected to hover around 9 percent for all of next year.

When my unemployment check ends at the end of this year, I may have no choice but to work at a car dealership and apply for food stamps, while trying to hang on to our home.  Meanwhile, the crooks on Wall Street who caused the recession are now making more money than they did before the bailout, and they want more tax breaks. Where is the bailout for the middle class?



3 thoughts on “Unemployed to Congress: Don’t use me as bargaining chip

  1. Some good points but I have a question and a quibble.

    Where do the $65 billion and $700 billion estimates come from?

    It’s more or less correct to say that unemployment insurance has been paid for by employers and employees, though we could argue about whether it really makes sense from an actuarial standpoint. But if we accept that view, it goes against changing the terms of the agreement at this point. If it’s an entitlement, we can discuss how big it should be and over what period of time, and whether harsh economic realities should impact it, etc. If you paid for it, you should get what you paid for. It’s as if I bought $1 million in life insurance, and then got hit by a bus, and my wife said “It’s a very bad time for him to die now, we have extra expenses, so really you should give me $4million.”

    • The $700 billion has been widely reported in the news media (including the Washington Times), but that is the cost over a 10-year period. And Congress has always extended unemployment benefits in times of record-high unemployment rates. Most economists have recognized unemployment insurance as needed to stimulate the economy while those laid off or fired through no fault of their own work their way back into the ranks of the gainfully employed. However, as this article points out, Reaganites started to chip away at that by coming up with an “inventively regressive rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme to deal with the shortfall in federal funds: taxing UC benefits to help provide support the UC system, while of course much of their corporate contributors’ income went untaxed. Moreover, the percentage of workers covered by UC continued to erode, down to its present level of 43%.”

  2. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a year-long extension of unemployment benefits would cost $57 billion, not $65 billion. The latest compromise would leave in place for 13 months the option to file for extended federal unemployment benefits — which go as high as 99 weeks in states hit hardest by job loss. After 99 weeks, you are cut off.

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