Monday, August 3, 2009

Making A Living Out of Nothing At All

On August 1st, the NYT published an article titled “Prolonged Aid to Unemployed Is Running Out.” The article begins by saying, “Over the coming months, as many as 1.5 million jobless Americans will exhaust their unemployment insurance benefits, ending what for some has been a last bulwark against foreclosures and destitution.” 

These 1.5 million workers are coming up on 79 -- count them, 79 weeks of unemployment benefits. Keeping in mind that there are only 52 weeks in a year, the number 79 is astounding. I refuse, however, to call all the unemployed “job seekers” as the NYT does in their article as I know some who are simply sitting back and enjoying the ride. 

According to the article there are now nine million Americans collecting unemployment benefits, at an average of $300/wk. By my calculations, then, when all is said and done - and if benefits are not yet again extended - the outflow of money to unemployment benefits will have been $213,300,000,000. Yes, that’s two hundred thirteen billion, three hundred million dollars. 

However, there is talk now of congress passing another extension, adding thirteen more weeks. Don’t worry, though... that only adds another $35,100,000,000 to the tab. No biggie, right? 

Maurice Emsellem of the employment law project (whatever that is) is quoted in the article as saying, “If more help is not on the way, by September a huge wave of workers will start running out of their critical extended benefits, and many will have nothing left to get by on even as work keeps getting harder to find.” I am not going to discount that this may be a true statement for some—it’s quite possible that there are a few people out there who have exhausted even their local McDonalds and WalMart for employment and have come up completely dry. However, I highly doubt that situations like that are common. But then get this:

For many desperate job seekers, any extension will seem a blessing. Pamela C. Lampley of Dillon, S.C., said she sat outside the post office last month and cried because “it was the first Wednesday in quite some time that I’ve gone to the mailbox and left without an unemployment check.” The jobless rate in her state is 12.1 percent.

Ms. Lampley, 40, who is married with three children, lost her job as a human resources officer in January 2008 and had been receiving $351 a week, which covered the groceries and gas. Even so, she and her husband, who still has work as a machinist, were sinking into debt. Now, still poorer, she feels devastated because they cannot buy their son a laptop to take to college and she cannot give her 9-year-old son money for the movies.

Somehow I am supposed to feel so bad as to support extending unemployment benefits to a Ms. Lampley because she now cannot purchase a laptop for her son and send her other son to the movies? Oh, by all means... extend that check!! We cannot have a nine year old boy unable to be influenced by Hollywood! And, for crying out loud, I’m 37 years old and I still have never owned a laptop in my life. I’m sure the college son can survive. 

But it goes on... Ms. Nixon’s children have had to forgo summer camp and baseball. She’s already fighting foreclosure and when her checks run out she fears that they will be homeless. But, I have to say, going from living in a house with a mortgage to downsizing to an apartment or rental home in a lesser neighborhood makes one uncomfortable, not homeless. And a person who assumes that because their government stipend has run out there is no other option available to them needs a wake-up call.

Raymond Crouse is 72 - yes, 72. He has been receiving $190 a month in unemployment benefits which enable them to keep their house. Social security alone isn’t enough. His past job? Operating heavy construction machinery. Methinks Mr. Crouse is hoping to have his unemployment benefits extended in perpetuity. 

Jim McDermott (D) is going to introduce a bill in September to extend benefits again in any state with an unemployment rate of 9% or higher. He knows that the representatives will quickly support the bill when their constituents start calling them, feeling desperate. Yes, he’s probably right. He said that “the cost would be $40 billion to $70 billion, but the expense would be temporary.” Well, duh. The expense would be thirteen weeks long, for each person on the dole. But what happens when that runs out? Because it will.  

The article goes on to point out:

Traditionally, many economists have been leery of prolonged unemployment benefits because they can reduce the incentive to seek work.

Upon reading the above statement, I started to hear the Hallelujah Chorus in my head. As I have said, I know some of those people! But, unfortunately, the chorus quickly died out when I read on:

But that should not be a concern now because jobs remain so scarce, said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. 

For every job that becomes available, about six people are looking, Dr. Katz said. “Unemployment insurance gives income to families who are really suffering and can’t find work even if they are hustling to look,” he said. 

Funny... according to this dude, we should continue to pay these people for not working as long as jobs remain scarce. Does he not realize that if we do that, most likely jobs will remain scarce for some time to come and people will be happy to continue receiving something for nothing? (And no, I am not accusing everybody on unemployment as being this type of person. Just some of them.)

But back to our earlier examples... Lampley (Remember her? The one who was crying over her inability to purchase a laptop for her college bound son?) has unsuccessfully sought clerical work at $8 an hour, though she used to make $15 an hour. No mention that she has tried to branch into doing something different to pay for that coveted laptop.

Crouse... Mr. 72 year old “said that even if new building projects were planned, construction slows in the winter cold.” Never mind that a 72 year old would be welcomed with open arms at the local Wal Mart. His job would consist of saying hello to people, putting stickers on the items they wished to return to the store, and giving out smiley face stickers to children. I’ll bet a job like that, worked part time, would just bring in more than the required $190 a month, too. Now, I might sound heartless here, seeing as he’s old—but I’m thinking if the man is spry enough to operate heavy construction machinery, he can stand at the entrance of Wal Mart for a bit. 

Nixon - the one who cannot afford summer camp for her little sweetums - has interviews for jobs in real estate and office work “endlessly” and has been unable to find employment that way. Well, blow me down! Really? Somebody can’t find work in real estate?? What a shock!! How about looking for something in the industries that are still alive, honey? But she said, “I can’t find a job, and you can’t survive if you don’t work.”

Well, apparently now you can.

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