Unemployment Extension 2012: Politicians Toy with Citizens’ Food Money

OPINION

   on December 15 2011 11:31 AM

The unemployment extension for 2012 has not yet passed in Congress and time is running out.

Republicans are mostly to blame. Democrats, however, are not guiltless either.

The Democrats want a clean passage of the extension. The Republicans want to tie it to unrelated, controversial measures. The Democrats do not deem the 2012 unemployment extension important enough to back down and accept the Republican demands.

The most recent development is that the Republican-dominated House passed a bill that pushes for a watered-down version of the 2012 unemployment extension. This bill, however, contains so many unrelated, controversial provisions that it will be “dead on arrival in the Democratic Senate and faced a veto threat anyway [from Obama].”

Millions of unemployed Americans are thus left in limbo and fearfully await their fate come Jan. 1, 2012.

If Congress does not extend unemployment benefits for 2012, two million Americans will lose their benefits in January 2012. Over the remainder of 2012, four million additional people will lose their benefits.

Weekly unemployment benefits checks are the primary source of survival for millions of Americans and their families, including their children. It is how they pay for food. Whatever is left over from that usually goes to heating, rent, transportation and medicine.

One of the cruelest myths is that most of these people are lazy, loafing on government largess and refusing to find jobs.

First, unemployment benefit checks hardly qualify as “largess,” averaging $296 per week. That is actually below what the average U.S. consumer unit spents on housing alone per week, which was $318 in 2010.

Second, there is ample evidence, both anecdotal and objective, that unemployment benefits are not the major reason people remain jobless (the tough jobs market is).

Third, the U.S. can afford it. The cost of extending unemployment insurance is about $44 billion per year. If the U.S. government thought it was a good idea to give $70 billion to AIG (which is just one, single company) alone during the financial crisis, it can certainly afford $44 billion for 2012, which is only 0.3 percent of the GDP.

Lastly, the U.S., one of the richest countries in the world with the most number of billionaires, has a moral obligation to feed its poor citizens in an extremely difficult jobs market.

While it is true that a minority of unemployment benefits recipients are loafing, far more recipients are people who played by the rules and got burned by the system.

“If I didn't have my unemployment for now I don't know where I would be. It's hard enough that I had to move in with some family members but I still can't find a good paying job,” said an unemployed 59-year-old from Pennsylvania.

A 58-year-old from Arizona, said she is unemployed for the first time in her life.

She said she was raised by hardworking parents and started work herself at the age of 14, making $1.10 per hour. However, since being laid off from her job in April 2010, she has not been able to land another job.

“I have been to more ‘group’ interviews than I can count. That's right, ‘group’ interviews… I have yet to get a phone call from anyone,” she said.

She said her families prays for their health (i.e. they are afraid to get sick), sometimes chooses medicine over food and grovels for car rides because they do not have any money for gas.  

That last part, she said, “is what almost killed us mentally and emotionally.”

The Charlotte Post tells the story of a single mom of three young children – two with asthma and one with a heart murmur – who would lose her unemployment checks if Congress does not act before Jan. 1, 2012.

She claims this is the first time she has been unemployed in her adult life. Since losing her job in December 2010, she said she has been applying to 10 to 15 jobs per day.

“Everybody does not want not to work. I don’t like sitting around. I don’t like being idle. If you cut these benefits it will be to a point where I will not have the resources to even get to a job interview,” she said.

Indeed, since the Great Recession, there have been many stories of people who were too poor to even go on job interviews (e.g. they could not afford gasoline to drive there).  

These are the stories of the majority of people who currently receive unemployment benefits. To argue that they do not deserve help on the account of a few loafers is absurd.

Leviticus 23:22

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.

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