Temporarily Down, but Not Out
by Daphne Bishop
Anyone who thinks that collecting an unemployment check is a “disincentive” to looking for work is so far out of touch with reality as to be lost in the ethers. But to have yours cut off, as tens of thousands of struggling Americans did recently, is a disaster. I am one of them, a hard working American for most of my life, out of work for a more than a year. And I absolutely seethe at the ignorant posturing of men like Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning with his recent jeremiad against extending unemployment benefits. In the past, he has voted for so many bills when he didn’t quite know where the money would come from. Not this one.
While he didn’t join his colleague in filibuster, Senator Jon Kyl, of Arizona made the unbelievably doltish comment that “continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.” Presumably, Mr. Kyl has never had the privilege of trying to hold onto hearth and home on a few hundred dollars a week. But I suspect that neither he nor any of his cold-blooded colleagues can get by without spending that much on a few “working lunches.”
Those of us who have been out of work for far too long, have been willing to learn new skills, relocate, or work in fields different than the ones we studied and trained for. We’ve welcomed change as something to learn from, not something to cower at. But we never thought our flexibility, adaptability and eagerness to grapple with whatever life throws at us would be for naught, and that we would one day find ourselves unable to scrounge up even the least desirable of jobs, never mind one that would lend meaning to our lives and sufficient money to our bank accounts. We never thought that we would be holding on to our homes by the thinnest of ropes, struggling for food and heat and nixing repairs to our vehicles because decent jobs have vanished from our communities. We never thought that day in and week out, month in and season out, we would be filing yet another claim for an unemployment check. I assure you, no one willingly chooses this “lifestyle.”
It is a cliché to say that politicians in Washington are out of touch with the realities of the lives of most Americans, that some of them couldn’t navigate a supermarket check-out or the metro D.C. subway system on their own without confusion. But there is a difference between being cocooned from the exigencies of life and deliberately cutting at the heart of people’s ability to survive.
Senator Bunning’s recent stance should not be excused, even though unemployment benefits were eventually restored. He knew exactly what he was doing and that it would hurt, even if he has no personal experience of how much. His behavior, and that of his mean-spirited colleagues, reflects contempt for We, The People that is despicable. They should be challenged for it by anyone who is out of work, anyone struggling to hold on to a job, or anyone who is tired of the insufferable blockades in Congress.
Yes, I wrote him a letter, and no I have not yet gotten a response from his office. I did suggest that if he wanted to make a point about deficit spending, he would do well to begin with a filibuster on funding for Senate vacation pay, or for additional contractors in Afghanistan or Iraq. I was polite, professional and palpably angry. I certainly didn’t mock or insult him the way he and Senator Kyl insulted me, my intelligence and my years as a hard-working, accomplished woman; the way they denigrated anyone who has ever driven a delivery truck, worked retail, served up meals in a restaurant, managed a business, worked on an assembly line, given home health care to the elderly, designed computer software, or worked in any of the countless and varied American jobs that have slipped away and may never be replaced.
We who are out of work may be down, but we are not out. We intend to keep fighting. And we intend to keep pushing until the dead weights in the Senate – and in the House – stop obfuscating and nay saying, roll up their sleeves and work across party lines to create the jobs this country’s people are crying out for.
Posted on March 19th, 2010 by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Filed under: Unemployment