For a lot of us, Saturday was the end. Adíos. Sayonara.
Goodbye, federal unemployment extensions.
As Congress has failed to renew the four tiers of federal unemployment extensions, the enabling legislation passed last year quietly expired on Saturday. Not with a bang, but a whimper.
Many of us will receive our very last unemployment benefit checks this week. I am willing to bet a nickel that a good number of those affected have no clue. Sure, they’ll get a little notice in their envelope. As if anyone bothers to read those.
So, how many are being summarily cut off? About 1.2 to 1.3 million nationally, 222,000 here in California alone. By the end of 2014, it is estimated that nearly 5 million Americans could be affected.
I consider myself lucky. I am still on my “initial claim,” receiving state, not federal, unemployment benefits. But those only last for 26 weeks. I was laid off on September 27, which means I am now halfway done. If I do not obtain gainful employment by the end of March, I will be on my own.
I ought to add a sidebar to my résumé (not that anyone wants to see those anymore). It should read something like this: CONGRESSIONAL SPECIAL! Halfway through and accepting deep salary discounts! Call, text, email or tweet now!
In a couple of weeks, I will change the font and color for the next promotion: MLK DAY SPECIAL! Ten weeks left til I’m broke! Hire now and pay me less!
A month down the road, I’ll cut and paste some little clip art silhouettes of George and Abe: PRESIDENTS DAY SPECIAL! Only six weeks til poverty! Patriotic employers, hire now and improve the American economy!
As a last ditch effort, in mid-March I shall turn my entire résumé green: ST. PAT’S SPECIAL, LAST CHANCE! Final grains of sand in the hourglass! Only two weeks left! Hire me on the cheap before I’m out of luck!
Perhaps it won’t come to this. There are currently six bills in Congress (three each in the House and the Senate) that would provide out-of-work Americans with various types of benefit extensions. There is a possibility that one or more of these may be voted on and approved after Congress returns from its New Year’s break on January 6. Personally, I think our elected representatives are lily-livered, insensitive, gutless wonders to allow federal unemployment extensions to run out and then head off on vacation.
The Democrats are blaming the Republicans (what else is new?), but not everyone on the Democratic side of the aisle wants to spend the $26 billion needed to renew unemployment benefit extensions either.
President Obama, who has taken so much flak for the Affordable Care Act, unsuccessfully urged Congress to extend benefits rather than allowing them to expire. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urges the restoration of unemployment benefits to be Congress’ first priority upon legislators’ return to the Capitol.
One thing that seems fairly certain is that if any extensions are approved, they will not be retroactive. So let the suffering begin and, hmm, happy new year?
It is no secret how being cut off from unemployment benefits will affect the 1.2 million. Many have no savings and will effectively have no source of income whatsoever. They will be unable to pay their bills, right down to food, rent and heat (um, it is wintertime, folks). There will be an increase in evictions, with homeless families crowding the shelters or sleeping out of doors in the cold. Food banks, churches and emergency assistance services will be taxed even more than they already are.
And we can expect an increase in crime. Who is going to blame a parent for taking whatever measures are necessary to feed his or her children? Panhandling? Check. Shoplifting? Check. Petty theft? Check. Breaking and entering? Check. Better put out the “Welcome, Unemployed” signs at the entrance of the county jails. Police departments and hospitals had better add overtime shifts to their schedules. Why hospitals? Can you say “substance abuse?” How about “depression?” How about “domestic violence?” Try this one: “Hypothermia.” It’s a very big word, but I bet you can say it, children! Even you with the frostbitten fingers and toes.
Congress, however, has no problem with its extremities; it is its heart that has been frozen. From what I’ve been reading, it appears that our elected representatives feel no sense of urgency in this matter, as employment has been increasing nationally. In November, unemployment decreased from October in 45 states, falling 7% nationally. Here in the West, however, we continue to deal with the highest regional unemployment rate in the nation. Ironically, California was the exception, with the greatest drop in unemployment in the whole country.
The worst increase in unemployment was in Ohio, where 12,000 joined the ranks of the jobless last month.
But you know what they say about statistics — it’s a primer in how to lie with numbers.
For one thing, I have to wonder how many of the lucky people who found jobs in November were signing on for seasonal work? You know, employers beefing up the staffs of discount and department stores for the holidays, hiring bodies to load and unload trucks in warehouses, bringing on bell ringers and sign wavers?
I think about my nephew, who was one of those warehouse workers until he was laid off a few days ago. Christmas is over, don’t you know.
And what do the unemployment numbers really tell us? How many people are on the unemployment rolls — in other words, how many have open claims and are still receiving unemployment checks. What about the hundreds of thousands who have already run through all available federal extensions? Federal and state agencies refer to those who have been out of work for more than six months as “the long-term unemployed.” But what about those who were laid off back in 2012 or earlier? Many of them are still out of work, but are not counted in unemployment numbers because they are no longer eligible to draw benefits. These are the unseen unemployed, the invisible ones. It is no surprise that many who fall into this category have become discouraged, depressed and have given up looking for work altogether.
But, hey, look on the bright side. Eliminating these slackers from our unemployment figures makes the American economy look ripe for investment in the eyes of world markets. And the news is about to get even better. As of last Saturday, we have 1.2 million fewer on the unemployment rolls! Imagine that!
I think the solution to all our unemployment problems is totally obvious. Simply cancel all unemployment benefits of every kind, both state and federal. Then our unemployment rate throughout the nation will be . . . (drum roll, please) zero!
Who says full employment is just a pipe dream?
Fox, Emily Jane, “Unemployment Benefits for 1.3 Million Expire,” CNN Money, December 29, 2013. http://money.cnn.com/2013/12/27/news/economy/unemployment-benefits-expire/
Lauter, David, “Q & A: Why Unemployment Benefits Expire for 1.3 Million,” Politics Now, Los Angeles Times (December 27, 2013). http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-q-and-a-unemployment-benefits-20131227,0,1111524.story#axzz2p1oXeJcn
Lowrey, Annie, “Benefits Ending for One Million Unemployed,” New York Times (December 27, 2013). http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/28/us/benefits-ending-for-one-million-of-unemployed.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Plumer, Brad, “Unemployment for 1.3 Million Expire Saturday. Here’s Why,” Wonkblog, Washington Post (December 23, 2013). http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/20/unemployment-benefits-for-1-3-million-workers-expire-next-week-heres-what-you-should-know/