Tuesday, May 24, 2011

America’s Newest Enemy: The Unemployed

I was eagerly awaiting the new HBO movie about the 2008 economic crisis that nearly brought us asunder and to where we are now, Too Big To Fail, so I of course made a point of watching it Monday night. While I certainly enjoyed the performances of the all-star cast and even came to understand a little better how the crisis came to be, my ultimate take-away (as just an ordinary American Jane) was that the people portrayed (mostly men; financial CEOs and political finance big-wigs both here and abroad) were indeed the greedy, crooked bastards we thought they were, and I deeply resented them anew for nearly destroying the world so they could further swell their corporate and private coffers.

Due to the crisis they created, and because of the government bail-out that was initiated by Bush but has since somehow been attributed to Obama, America is still in a crippling recession (although government would have us believe it’s over) and more than 17 million people are unemployed – many of them for a year or more. This is bad, but what makes it worse is that the unemployed are increasingly being singled out as a problem – not because they can’t find jobs, but just because they exist, period.

Current workplace practices and proposed state and federal policies are demonizing the unemployed as lazy, inadequate workers who are draining business and government resources. A May 22 story from AP re-posted on The Huffington Post explained that “Unemployment Benefits Face Duration Cuts In Multiple States” because “Legislators are trying to limit tax increases for businesses to replenish the pool and are hoping the federal government keeps stepping in when the economy slumps.” The problem is, according to The New York Times on May 15, “The House Ways and Means Committee, on a strict Republican vote, recently passed a bill to let states use federal jobless money for other purposes, including tax cuts for business.” It bears noting that the deal the Republican Congress made was to maintain Unemployment Benefits in exchange for continuance of the Bush tax cuts for the richest 1%. So much for honor among thieves.

Adding insult to indigence, there is widespread government feeling that the unemployed are living high on the taxpayer hog for as long as possible, rather than looking for work or accepting the (usually lesser) jobs offered them. Indeed, in Florida, “One proposed bill would cut initial benefits from 26 to 20 weeks, deny benefits for employee `misconduct,’ force workers to accept job offers that pay at least 80 percent of their previous wage, or to accept any offer that paid as much as their unemployment benefit, once they’ve been out of work for more than 12 weeks,” the Sun-Sentinel reported on May 17.

These measures are just another example of the Republicans’ inexplicable lack of understanding of how real people live, what they need, and the compromises they make every day in an effort to survive and make the most of any and every opportunity.

There seems to be no official recognition of the fact that there is an increasing number of people whose lifelong work skills have become obsolete and in many instances the opportunities to gain new skills are simply not available. There are people who are willing to relocate for work, but it’s impossible for them to sell their homes – not at a profit, but at all. There are also people who are unwanted in the workforce because of their age; those 50 and older are the ones who have the greatest difficulty finding any sort of new job, let alone one that will compensate them at the rate of their previous job.

And now the unemployed have a new obstacle: potential employers who do not want to hire the unemployed! My friend the career counselor tells me that businesses have it in their heads that the people who’ve lost their jobs are in this position because they weren’t good workers. How this is possible is beyond my understanding. Don’t they know that thousands upon thousands of perfectly competent people have become unemployed because of our miserable economy? Are they totally out of touch with what’s happening?

The other reason companies “don’t want to be bothered” with the unemployed is that they want to reduce the number of applicants they have to contend with; they don’t want to be deluged with a thousand résumés for every job. Inconvenient, I know, but excuuuuuse me! That’s totally reprehensible – and completely unpatriotic.

Ironically, a bill was presented to Congress by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) on Feb. 17: The Unemployment Insurance Solvency Act of 2011, intended to “…provide assistance to certain employers and States in 2011 and 2012, to improve the long-term solvency of the Unemployment Compensation program, and for other purposes.” It was promptly sent to Committee, where it remains.

So long as displaced American workers are treated like goldbricking moochers, while state and federal governments, as well as employers, concern themselves exclusively with the horror of increased taxes, unemployment in this country will only increase. The American workforce is also Too Big To Fail. I hope the powers that be realize this soon.

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