April 30, 2010

People are going off a cliff and we're not really doing anything about it. That's not great public policy. - Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project

This "99ers" unemployment crisis is a giant iceberg lurking under the political water line, and the Democrats in Congress don't seem to understand they're dancing on the Titanic. Since Wall Street is happy, and corporate America is happy, they assume everything's fine.

Many Americans still think the last extension vote was intended to add additional benefits, and thus aren't swamping their representatives with calls and emails, so our political leaders happily doze at the wheel, assuming everything's fine.

It isn't. You know when they'll figure it out? The day after the November midterms. Well, don't say I didn't warn you.

In the meantime, if you're one of the lucky duckies whose unemployment ran out, please take part in today's Mayday SOS and fax or email your resume to your Congressional representatives:

Karl Schafer says he has tried for hundreds of jobs since he was laid off from a truck factory more than two years ago. Still waiting to get hired, the 52-year-old Ohio man has suffered the indignity of applying for food stamps and asking his elderly mother for help.

Weary of her own job search, former customer service representative Wagma Omar, 40, of Mission Viejo is thinking about applying for a dangerous civilian job in Afghanistan.

And in California's wine country, Kay Stephens, 56, is frantically looking to cut her living expenses so her unemployment doesn't become a burden to her 30-year-old daughter.

Schafer, Omar and Stephens are among the increasing number of unemployed Americans whose burdens just got heavier: They've exhausted their 99 weeks of jobless benefits and must now figure out how to get by on ever more meager resources.

In California, state officials estimate there are nearly 100,000 people who are still looking for work but can no longer draw an unemployment check. Federal labor officials could not provide a number nationally, but private-sector experts say it could easily top 1 million.

What is certain is that, as the jobless rate remains stubbornly high, more Americans will have to face the challenge of making ends meet without a monthly check.

"People are going off a cliff and we're not really doing anything about it," said Andrew Stettner, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project. "That's not great public policy."

Once unemployment benefits run out, people are eligible for general relief — but that pays a maximum of $221 a month in Los Angeles County, compared with as much as nearly $2,000 a month for unemployment. Only workers with dependent children are eligible for welfare.

Worried that they could lose their homes and get put out on the street, thousands of "99ers," as they call themselves, are banding together to agitate for another extension. On Friday they're kicking off a "Mayday SOS" campaign, faxing and e-mailing Congress their resumes, along with pleas for more benefits.

[...] People who know they'll keep receiving benefits "don't rush to find new employment," said Alan Reynolds, a senior fellow at the conservative Cato Institute. Data show that the long-term unemployed often find a job just as their benefits run out, he said.

Talk about "receiving benefits"! All this Cato fellow has to do is keep parroting the conservative dogma, and he's set for life.

And really, isn't that how it should be?

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