From the excellent Working In These Times, Roger Bybee writes quite movingly about the growing despair of the unemployed.
It's important that we keep the heat on Congress about this, because it looks like the only unemployment politicians care about is their own:
"[Layoffs] are the opposite of life-giving; they literally deplete life… Layoffs diminish the ability to restart. You can have all kinds of people like spouses and friends say you are terrific, ... but in the core you say, I am not, and I have big evidence that I am not."
—Prof. Kim Carmon, psychologist, University of Michigan
For anyone who has ever been out of work, Kim Carmon's statement captures your innermost feelings of worthlessness that "literally deplete life." Unemployment exacts both an enormous toll on both one's self-esteem and physical health, as Prof. Peter Dreier and Dr. Harvey Brenner have documented, respectively.
When I wrote last week about the plight of America's 4.8 million unemployed, it triggered some powerful responses from unemployed workers. They're excerpted below.
The economic situation is especially dire for the 1.2 million jobless Americans who face a loss of benefits if long-term unemployment benefits are not extended beyond February 28. Many people, like this man who responded to my column last week, have already exhausted their benefits and are barely managing to scrape by:
I lost my job through no fault of my own when the economy went south. It’s a spit in the face to move up the ladder and then go from making $800 a week to $350 before taxes. My benefits recently ran out and I’ve still had no luck finding a job.
The frustration of the jobless is now being intensified by Congress' inability to accomplish four relatively simple things:
- Develop a jobs bill commensurate with the massive problem unemployment crisis we face.
- Extend unemployment compensation benefits due to expire on February 28, along with the provision where the federal government covers 65% of otherwise-unaffordable COBRA health insurance payments.
- Provide aid to state and local governments that are looking at a combined deficit of $142 billion for next fiscal year, starting July 1.
- Remove the outrageous federal income tax on unemployment benefits, which kicks in after $2,400 in benefits. For many of the unemployed, that means the tax starts being collected after just six checks.
However, as Art Levine wrote on this website, the Democrats—particularly in the Senate—seem to be on a suicide mission as they're fumbling the opportunity to merely pass am appropriately-sized jobs bill and extend unemployment and COBRA health benefits.
After initially going along with a so-called $85 billion jobs bill larded with useless GOP-backed tax breaks for businesses, including extending tax credits for research, [Sen. Majority Leader Harry] Reid suddenly decided that he gave away too much to Republicans and decided to pare it back to $15 billion.
Unfortunately, his version lacked the much-needed extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA subsidies, putting it off until later in the month -- although these benefits are expiring Feb. 28th.
Also lacking are aid to the ailing states and relief from the taxation of unemployment benefits, a holdover from the Reagan era.
Another jobless worker wrote me to explain the desperation felt by people discarded by the economic system. They now have no financial resources left for their families and desperately hope that Congress will act to deadline to extend benefits:
The media has the way to make a difference….like making the country aware that on Feb 28th over 2 MILLION people like me (I’m on my last FED tier extension) will have NOTHING LEFT and by June 18% of the population will make this economy something that we have never seen before. The country is on a road to the worst economic meltdown we’ve ever seen….
This is what really happens when someone loses their UI benefits. PAY ATTENTION:
No income - Can’t live no, nowhere to go, no way to look for work.
no mortgage payments-NO HOME.
no auto payments means No CAR!.
no buying any luxuries like food, shelter. necessities like toilet paper!! …
I too am on unemployment and as of today 2/11 I have until this WED to find a job that I haven’t gotten yet or I’m moneyless. My last check will be $250.00 after that No income because congress isn’t willing to put everything else to the side and make unemployed people their ONLY PRIORITY!!! No days off, no holiday break no forgetting about us for the weekend we’ll still be here when you get back !!!
Most people can’t pay anything now to stay afloat and will soon be living in a shelter if they don’t extend UI for longer than 6 weeks or whatever band-aid timeframe they think is acceptable. Stop taxing UI benefits, extend to the end of 2010, create a real job plan, and do it now please!!!!!!!!!!!
If employers read this and are hiring I have 10 years of computer skills in web design (html, Flash), repair, upgrading, and audio production, 25 years in auto center management, and I’m 42 yo male married, 2 kids in Pa. willing to go to NJ (if I can keep my car).
Meanwhile, another respondent is resolutely fixed on winning removal of the income tax on unemployment benefits:
Have you heard about the Jobless STUB Retro 2009 U/B Tax Free Act? STUB is like a paycheck stub and stands for STOP TAXING UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS. This bill is seeking critical AFL-CIO support and needs media coverage to garner passage. The new legislative reform bill will make all unemployment collected in 2009 tax free not just the current law deduction of an insane $2400 exemption ( about 6 checks).,,, Remember a record 20 million collected some unemployment in 2009. This a big life changer for those millions who will face the IRS music. See Unemployment Gone Mad…..http://unemployment-gone-mad.com…... stay tuned.
Another worker also expressed his outrage at the tax on unemployment benefits:
I have always felt the tax on unemployment benefits to be a mean spirited and blatant slap in the face to working Americans. It serves as a sad and powerful reminder of the anti worker policies forged by the Republicans and their revered hero, Ronald Reagan.
At the same time, he called upon President Obama to stop seeking bipartisanship and to focus squarely on fighting for working people and the jobless:
The hope that President Obama instilled is fading fast with the working class. It appears to me, that the Republicans have taken his desire to build consensus as a sign of weakness. They have exploited his efforts to transcend partisanship and made him appear impotent to effect change.
It is time for him to remove the gloves and come out swinging for the working class. He needs to wield the power our countrymen have entrusted him with.