Unemployment Benefits: A Personal Story

  This entry probably goes against the grain of most stories posted here by writers.  This is based upon personal experience.  Since the age of 13, my wife of now almost 20 years, has worked.  Whether it was in a diner, a convenience store, the local DMV office, or with a major organization, she paid her taxes and paid into unemployment in the State.  There was, out of necessity, rarely a break in that employment history.  With the birth of our first child, she worked pretty well up to one week before her due date and reported back to work after the obligatory six week leave of absence (after a C-section).   Along the way, she managed to put herself through college with her own money- no student loans.  In recent years, she worked in the local private tourism industry in various positions, including management- a testament to her intelligence and drive- during the evening on the dreaded grave shift, then substitute teach during the day during the school year.

     Then one day in September, 2009, she lost her well-paying management job outright.  It was a “downsizing” effort in response to the economy.  In that capacity there, she worked her butt off on a crappy shift sometimes working against crappy odds.  Then she had the “audacity” to apply for unemployment benefits.  These are payments to her every two weeks that go towards such “trivial” matters as mortgage payments, food and things like that.  She still substitute teaches when called, but that pay alone would not cover household expenses.  When she received the high paying job that she recently lost, it was not as if we ran out and bought a new house.  We are in the same home we bought 20 years ago and in which we raised three kids.  We did not go out an buy a luxury car- we have a van with 170,000 miles on it that does not go in reverse.  And my pay check, after taxes and benefits, which seem to increase every year with less “benefit,” not to mention the lack of a raise in three years now, will not cut it.  That is the reality of the situation.  Some may argue that she should put her teaching degree to work, but that argument holds water only if one is hiring teachers right now.  Were decisions regarding employment or schooling wrong along the way?  Probably, but they do not negate 35 years of hard work and tax/unemployment payments.

     Economists can argue all they want about the effects of unemployment benefits to being a disincentive to looking or obtaining work.  They can talk until they ae blue in the faces about the “multiplier effects” of these benefits.  Unfortunately, behind all the economic theories and models- which do not amount to a hill of beans- there are very real people with very real bills to pay.

     Philosophically, I understand the arguments of the so-called Republican “obstructionists.”  I believe, in the abstract, that the extension of unemployment benefits need to be paid for and they could have been in this recent go-around in the Senate.  By diverting $38 billion of already allocated stimulus funds from spurious programs to the more immediate needs, it would have made more sense fiscally.  After all, it was an “emergency.”  By cutting back on funding for Obama’s liberal wish list (remember: “never put an emergency to waste”) and diverting funds to these “emergency needs,” the “budget” would not have taken a $38 billion hit.  Even diverting a portion of these pre-allovated funds would have mitigated the damage to the deficit.

     And unlike some commentators, I do not blame Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins for their votes to invoke cloture and break ranks with other Republicans.  I refuse to call them RINOs or label them in any way.  Instead, I blame the Democratic Party for attempting to steal the mantle of being the Party for those most in need.  I blame Barack Obama for using his bully pulpit to play politics and portray Republicans as obstructionist when numerous compromises were offered months ago only to be dismissed by the Democratic leadership.  Instead, I blame the Democratic leadership of the Senate for misplaced priorities by insisting “our way or no way” while allowing stimulus funds to go to special-interest projects at the expense of the unemployed.  Instead, I blame the Keynesian economists that dominate this Administration and care less about the federal deficit while paying lip service to the contrary.  Instead, I blame the liberal ideology that they, and only they, have the capacity for “caring” or “empathy” for the unemployed.  Instead, I blame an Administration that bends the truth, if not lies about the truth, regarding the effects of the largest spending bill in the history of this country which has achieved very little if anything in terms of private sector job creation.

     While unemployment hovers at 9.5% with little relief in sight, lost in the shuffle are those who have given up on looking for a job.  Or those workers now working two jobs to make less than they were making in a single job before.  Or those “under-employed,” or those who tenuously hang onto substandard jobs for substandard benefits.  Add them to the mix and the the true unemployment rate is somewhere near 20%.  I also dismiss the economic theorists who say that unemployment benefits and extensions of them serve as a disincentive to work.  That theory holds water only when the job market is not as sour as it is now and is projected to be for some time.  I defy those economists, politicians, pundits and talking heads to tell that to a person who worked continuously for over 35 years, paid thier taxes and into unemployment every one of those damn years in an attempt to achieve the proverbial American dream.  I defy them to tell my wife that 99 weeks of unemployment is a form of welfare or to insinuate that she and people like her are sucking at the teat of honest workers and taxpayers today.  As I see it, she did her part and then some.  For the government now to insinuate otherwise and turn their back on such people would be an abrogation of their responsibility.  Personal sacrifice can only go so far in making sure the very real bills are paid.  No one lives in an economic model.  We live in a very real world of high unemployment numbers and even higher underemployment numbers.  At least Collins and Snowe broke free of the ideology and live in the same very real world my wife and I live in every day.