In February, April and May of this year, Congress chose to take leave instead of voting on legislation that would extend unemployment benefits beyond regular amounts. The first time made a huge ruckus in the media. The second one, not so much. By the time the May lapse occurred, a peep here and there came through the wires, even though it wasn’t until July 22 that the Unemployment Compensation Act of 2010 was signed into law. That law, as written, expires on November 30.
This major lapse in news coverage of a topic that effects roughly 10% of all of us incites rage in me. This is important for hundreds of thousands of people trying to find a job when there are none to be found, trying to feed their families and trying to keep a roof over their heads. Why hasn’t it been all over the news?
Let me paint those numbers just a little differently than commonly brought out. That 10% unemployment rate is not 10% of the population as we are let to believe, but 10% of the available workforce. That means anyone of age that is able and willing and available to work right now and are actively seeking work if they don’t already have a job. That percentage rate, the actual number of people behind it, are hidden from view along with the number of people underemployed, working part time or reduced hours and making far less than they made just a few years ago. That rate is only a reflection of the number of people who have recently lost their jobs and are currently drawing unemployment. It does not include those people who have run out of unemployment benefits, including the available-up-to-now, federally funded unemployment extensions. Millions more people are unemployed than what the numbers flaunted across the news say.
An unemployment claim is based on what a person earned during the first four of the last five quarters. How long has this horrid “recession” been going on? A lot longer than that. This means that most people filing for unemployment right now are lucky to have had enough work to qualify for an unemployment claim. It has happened a lot, especially in industries that have exported manufacturing. A lot of workers, hundreds if not thousands at a time, are suddenly unemployed, and since their jobs were specialized, there is no market for their skills. They can’t find another job. These are people who have worked years, sometimes all of their lives, at one job. They want to work, they need to work, they do everything they can to find work, yet are still unemployed.
What needs to be cleared up is that unemployment benefits is an insurance policy. It’s included in every workers’ benefit package when they hire on. The employer matches the amount of federal taxes withheld from each paycheck and from that amount, pays each workers’ premium. Each and every person working for an employer that withholds taxes has paid into and is covered by unemployment insurance. It works just like car insurance. You pay your premiums year after year after year. That money goes into a “pool” and is available for those who happen to be unlucky enough to get into an accident through no fault of their own. As long as it is “no fault of their own,” the insurance policy will cover the cost of the damages. It’s the same with unemployment insurance. As long as a worker losing his job through no fault of their own, they are covered.
Unemployment insurance is not welfare. It is not an entitlement program. It is an earned benefit. It is also a pretty myopic insurance program. It does not take into consideration the years spent working, only the first four of the last five business quarters worth of wages. All the years prior to that 15 months worth of time are not taken into consideration. The federal government actually stepped up to the plate with unemployment extensions to ease the blow. To qualify for an extension a worker had to have at least 20 weeks of work within that first four of the last five quarters. Extensions aren’t welfare or entitlement either.
Back to that 10% unemployed: These are the same people that spend all of their money buying food, household goods, cars, houses, clothes, electronics and heat, electricity, water, gas, phone, cable, Internet… These are the people that actually buy the products they labor to make. These are the people that make up the “consumer market” that businesses target, that keep businesses in business. That businesses are now stockpiling their profits that have increased during this recession instead of hiring, building, expanding, is a huge factor in why so many are still unemployed and why this damned recession is still going strong.
And yet, the heart and soul of America, we the people, are not given the respect we deserve by announcing the fact that the federal government is too wrapped up in its games of politics to tell us that unemployment extensions are on hold until further notice. “Sorry for ya,” right? Hey, you worked all your life, bought all the things you made, made the rich richer and now… What?
What happens now? What happens when you can’t find a job and the only income you had is gone too? What happens now?
It’s time to make noise, people. Every single one of you, whether you have a job or not. This is just the beginning. It is going to get worse. That job you have today could be gone tomorrow. It is time to be speak up and be heard. It’s time to make noise.
Maybe then, the media, the businesses and the government will start to consider you and I, we the people. We are America.