Valuing Labor Means Helping Workers, Especially When There Are No Jobs

This op-ed was originally published by Common Dreams on Aug. 31, 2014.

As we take a three-day weekend to celebrate those who labor, let us take a moment to remember the families who won’t be planning picnics or a last trip to the beach. Despite some positive economic indicators, 9.7 million Americans are still out of work, almost a third for more than six months. More than seven million more have taken part-time work at poor wages to make ends meet even though they need full time work to pay the bills. And three-quarters of a million more have little hope and have given up looking for work and as a result are no longer counted as “unemployed.” (They are just “out of the labor force.”)

For most Americans, losing a job is traumatic and painful, disorienting and frightening. But long-term unemployment brings financial catastrophes in its wake. Unemployment benefits, when available, rarely provide more than half a workers’ previous income. And state unemployment benefits usually last 27 weeks or less. The federal government usually steps in to provide another six months. But the program was not included in last December’s 11th hour budget deal.

Despite promises to address the issue in early 2014, no legislation authorizing extended benefits to help the over 3 million workers searching for work for over six months has passed Congress. The Senate has passed two bills, but the House Speaker has steadfastly refused to allow the full House to pass on $10 billion extension to the emergency unemployment insurance program. Members report the extension would pass if a vote were allowed; it would incredibly hard to vote against such assistance and then face your constituents in an election.

What makes this particularly bitter and unconscionable is what the House has passed instead. Since the end of the year, more than $500 billion in corporate tax cuts have been approved by the majority of the Members of the House — none of them have been paid for with cuts elsewhere in the budget. Congress is willing to borrow money for tax breaks for corporations but not to assist struggling working families — with unemployment assistance or minimum wage increases.

This means the long-term unemployed soldier on while the internet they need to search for jobs gets cut, they exhaust savings, college funds, retirement accounts to pay the rent or mortgage, and they have to choose between groceries and transportation money to get to job interviews.

This is wrong. It’s un-American. And it hurts people.

My organization, the Center for Effective Government, has collected stories from the people who need extended unemployment. We delivered them to Members of Congress and for seven weeks this summer, we stood with more than 80 non-profit leaders, faith leaders, labor leaders and Members of Congress in the shadow of the Capitol dome to read their stories and bear witness to their voices and hardship. Here is a selection of what we heard at our Witness Wednesday events:

  • "I do not want to lose my home that my husband and I raised our children in, but it will come to this without help." Lynda in Ohio

  • "I worked hard and paid taxes all my life, [and this is how] our Government rewards us? This is not the American Way I grew up to understand. I haven't paid my rent this month, and, of course, gas, electric, cell phone, and others are due. Even worse, I have no gas to get to an interview, if I got one. I know my story is not different from the many Americans that are out there." Darryl, a U.S. Navy veteran, in Nevada

  • "Last month my husband pawned his wedding ring for $75 worth of gas money.” Alisa in California

  • "I feel like a failure to my children. They have never seen their mother in hard times like this.” Gigi in Texas

  • "My kids can't go on class trips because I can't pay for it! My kids didn't get their school pictures because I had a negative bank account when the money was due! And now my 7 week old is lucky to get a bottle of formula from a family member!" Joseph in New Jersey

Unemployment insurance is not a government hand-out. It is a public insurance program paid-for by employers with federal help, knowing that the economy has ups and downs, that companies sometime fail, and workers will need support as they look for new work. Having unemployment insurance gives people the chance to bounce back from job loss. It provides money to keep families in their homes and paying a few bills, so job searching can continue.

Unemployment insurance also protects communities and local economies. A plant closing hurts everyone in a community, not just those employed at the firm. When families no longer have money to spend in supermarkets and other local stores, other current workers’ jobs are put at risk. When someone can’t pay her mortgage, the bank suffers too, and property values in the neighborhood declines. The failure to renew unemployment assistance will cost an estimated 240,000 in jobs this year.

Congress will soon come back from their five week long break, work just eight days, and then recess again to campaign for the November election.

When you come across your representatives on the campaign trail, ask them if they value working people. Ask them what they are doing to help American families and communities who are still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.

Tell them that attending a Labor Day parade won’t cut it anymore. American workers need a government that works for them, that cares about their families, their children, their neighborhoods.

Tell them that’s what you’ll be thinking about when you enter the voting booth in November.

Reprinted under a Creative Commons license.

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The $2BB that went to Ukraine could have gone a long way here to help the unemployed and small business. Remember the unemployed have a portion of those people that can go into business.
The $2BB that went to Ukraine could have gone a long way here to help the unemployed and small business. Remember the unemployed have a portion of those people that can go into business. Government has really lost their way on this one. Unemployed and Freelancers and small business start up are consumers too. They spend money on all sorts of things including computers, advertising, and what have you.
They're being paid by the Kochs to keep this legislation from happening. I just pawned a ring myself this week and am trying to find the rest of the rent. Got two shut off notices. Landlord's having a fit because she got a copy of one of them. Have 3 kids to feed. Worried about the car payments. Had good interview the other day, cross your fingers. Why is it that we can give billions to every godforsaken backwater out there but can't help Americans?
Thank you Katherine and the Center For Effective Government for not forgetting about the long term unemployed! While many news agencies have stopped covering this issue, you and the CFEG have continued to consistency write articles. Although the people affected by unemployment know this issue on a "first-hand basis," we need to keep informing others who aren't aware how congress works (or doesn't work) and how much we need a change in this country! Remember in November!
"Having unemployment insurance gives people the chance to bounce back from job loss. It provides money to keep families in their homes and paying a few bills, so job searching can continue." That only works when there are jobs out there. There are NO jobs. And since there are NO jobs, how long should we keep paying people not to find work? What America needed was a President that could have lead this country - and not to the golf course daily - but lead a county out of the economic quagmire we find ourselves. Unemployment numbers are dropping because they are simply running out of folks to count that have "recently" lost their jobs. Its never going to get better. Never
EUC EMERGENCY UNEMPLOYMENT EXTENSION FOR LONG TERM UNEMPLOYED IN 2014; LABOR DAY CELEBRATION CONFRONTS AMERICA’S JOBLESS Learning and Finance September 1, 2014 Today’s unemployment benefit extension news review and EUC update for September 1, 2014: The first day of September in the U.S. is Labor Day and this is a day of festivities and celebration in honor of the working people of America. On this day, the people of America are expected to celebrate economic achievement. For millions of Americans though, long term joblessness has left them with little to celebrate. The fact that Congress has not passed another unemployment benefit extension deal for the long term unemployed only makes their plight more difficult and uncertain. According to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, approximately 64 percent of Americans are currently “dissatisfied” with the state of the economy right now compared to only 35 percent that are “satisfied.” Over 70 percent of America believes that the country is on the wrong track according to the poll. Approximately 76 percent of Americans do not believe that their children’s generation will be better off than this generation. This poll does not imply that a majority of Americans will be celebrating the current state of the economy this Labor Day. The best many jobless can hope for is that the Democratic contingent will return and once again take action to convince the Republican contingent that another round of unemployment benefits is necessary to support the long term jobless in the U.S. right now. It should be noted that the federal government spends trillions per year and the recent attempts to pass an unemployment deal would have cost the government just under $10 billion. On this Labor Day, as lawmakers begin to consider their transition back to Washington, thought should be given to the plight of the jobless.
....Katherine: Excellent article. When one has no resources to continue paying the high cost for services as a phone, internet and such, one's work search takes a huge hit as most companies only accept online submission of resume's and/or applications. I no longer have Net access from home and am forced to spend what little I have to sit at a hotspot coffee shop to get online. This has severely limited my ability to look for work as I can only be online for a few hours a day.. In the past my Online search usually as a minimum of 6 - 7 hours a day (including weekends) Now it is about half that, and not every day either depending on if I have the extra cash to afford a now 2.50$ cup of coffee (so much for "Hey Brother Can You Spare a Dime", more like "fiver" these days). Yes it gets discouraging, but at least I feel fortunate to still have still something to work with. These people in Congress are clueless as to what it is like having to struggle looking for work in a sluggish to flat job market with little to no cash resources for services essential to maintain a viable work search. The infuriating part of it all is we had to pay taxes out of our meager benefits, some of which goes to paying the exorbitant salaries and benefits packages of the very people who turned their backs on us. It's like Robin Hood in reverse - take from the poor and destitute and give to the rich and powerful. The only "trickling" that has been going on all these years has been in an upwards direction. It is a sad statement that our elected representatives can be more sensitive to the needs of other nations and the wealthy corporations (many of the latter which are looking at "inversion" as a means to dodge what remaining taxes they still have to pay) while being so insensitive to the American people they are supposed to be serving. 10$ billion for EUC required an offset, meanwhile, as mentioned in the article above, a half trillion in corporate tax benefits is basically being "foisted off" on future generations to pay. Add to this the cost of a potentially lengthy overseas war again should congress push for it and we could find ourselves in serious trouble, worse than the previous downturn we experienced. Now after only a week in session, Congress recesses to campaign for the upcoming election while there is still no resolution for the Long Term Unemployed. This just illustrates how heartless, selfish, and corrupt they have become. We need to put an end to this "business as usual" approach and start looking at fixing what really is broken here at home. This includes not only renewing extension of UI benefits, but developing programmes for transition and retraining as well as stimulus to small and mid sized local businesses for job creation. Any corporation that inverts to dodge paying their share should be treated as a foreign entity.and no longer be able to lobby our elected officials nor contribute to individual campaigns or through PACs to influence elections. If they don't pay, they have no say. There also needs to be major reform on Capitol Hill. No longer should the leadership of either chamber determine which bill goes to the floor for a vote and which doesn't. Such practice goes against the very concept of a representative democracy, it is more like a personal dictatorship. There also need to be fewer "breaks" and more "workdays" for both the Senate and House. We need more "bang" for the "big bucks" these people are paid, for as it currently stands, it's been a pretty bad deal for rest of the nation. Furthermore, neither chamber should be allowed to vote themselves a pay raise, particularly considering the poor performance we have seen from them this year. If you or I went to our boss and said we are giving ourselves a raise, he'd just laugh and then most likely sack us on the spot. Our elected representatives are supposed to be there for us. It is about time we put our foot down and make it so.
BC Shelby 4:52: AMEN!
Not a doubt in my mind that President Obama doesn't have a plan to fix this issue. He is just waiting for the Republicans to lose the House and then he can legally bring back the Long term Unemployment and also back pay us for the last year of lost wages. Throughout our great history, great men have stepped forward in time of extreme crisis. Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt ... and now, President Barack Obama. In time of major financial crisis, he turned our economy around from the brink of bankruptcy. No more bad loans, no more foreclosures, home prices booming in certain regions, 6 figure salary employments ... the list is endless. To add to that, he took out Osama, something previous President tried and failed to accomplish. And now, with major world crisis staring at him directly into his eyes - he steps up again. He calls it like he sees it. No bending over and falling to public opinion - he does what is right for our country. And once the Democrats take the House back in November, then he will also provide all with EUC funds. Thank you Mr President for your services. Our country owes you a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. And the millions of us that voted for you and hundreds of millions of us who supported (and still supports) you - will never forget your great accomplishments. Your popularity around the world and in our country speaks for itself. Again, thank you!
thank you Katherine McFate....really, thank you for hearing us.