One evening last week, I watched a DVD of a 2010 movie, The Company Men, starring Tommy Lee Jones, Ben Affleck and Chris Cooper with Kevin Costner in a supporting role.
The story follows the lives of three corporate executives after they are downsized due to the crash of 2008. It's a pretty good movie if you don't count a by-the-numbers script in which you can see the writer, scene by scene, ticking off each personal issue of unemployment.
The veteran actors make up for that failing with strong, believable performances – so much so that I had to hit the pause button two or three times and walk away until I got my breath again.
It was like an acid flashback (or maybe acid reflux) to that year of trying to find work before I realized the only way to survive was to sell my New York apartment and retire.
Until that movie last week, I had conveniently "forgotten" (read: buried) the constant humiliation, sick fear and wretched despair of repeated rejection or, most frequently, not even acknowledgment of my resume - hundreds and hundreds of times.
I had forgotten the terror of monthly bill paying, the erosion of savings down to nothing, then the abominably expensive cash advances on credit cards to pay the mortgage and everything else as debt climbed to the tens of thousands.
I had forgotten the loneliness - the friends I stopped calling and who no longer telephoned because I had turned them down so many times, not daring spend the money for an evening out.
I had forgotten the hopelessness. And that was in 2004/05 when unemployment was at a relatively normal level. That movie has been haunting me every day since I watched it, especially this short speech from the 60-year-old character played by Chris Cooper:
"Worst part? The world didn't end. The paper showed up every morning. The sprinklers shut off at six. The guy next door? He still washed his car every Sunday. The day I left there, my life ended."
Yeah. And I doubt there is a family in the nation untouched by this great unraveling of employment.
On 8 July, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the employment figures for
July June 2011, that kicked the unemployment rate up to 9.2 percent, an Economic Policy Institute economist, Heidi Shierholz, wrote this:
“Virtually every single measure was devastatingly weak...this is the second month in a row with job growth at 25,000 or less. This is a remarkable, across-the-board backslide.”
Ms. Shierholz headlined her story, “Labor Market in Full Retreat” and harsh as it is, does not begin to tell the tale of today's unemployed.
In June, according to the BLS, 2.7 million people were “marginally attached to the labor force” which means they are not counted in the unemployment statistics. What no one has done since 2008, is add up how many of these marginal workers have given up entirely, how many will never work again.
I doubt many of them are in the position I was with a home to sell when the housing market was at the top of the bubble.
Meanwhile in Washington, both the president and Congress hold the nation hostage, willing to risk economic chaos beyond anyone's imagination by not raising the debt ceiling unless every lifeline and safety net program is cut or abolished: Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance, Pell grants, food aid for poor, pregnant women, legal aid to the poor, FEMA, NOAA, community health centers, the CDC and many more.
Some are talking about lowering or eliminating the federal minimum wage and I read of increasing layoffs again.
Every program they want cut punishes the poor, elders, the unemployed and the entire working class while Republicans insist there can be no taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.
A few days ago, Jan Adams sent me a link to a Yahoo! News story that late in June asked readers to send in their personal unemployment stories. They are still pouring in; last I looked yesterday, there had been 4,866 responses.
I took the time to read through hundreds of them. Although they come in all ages, a large percentage mention they are older than 50. Here are some examples:
• I have been out of work for almost 2-1/2 years. I been searching tons and tons of job openings. But the same old thing, not hiring right now.
• I am a single mother of 4 that lost her job in '08 and have been desperately seeking a job but have been turned down so many times for various jobs.
• Age 59, worked in banking industry for 35 years, been out of work for 25 months. Great resume! Great skill set! Perfect track record. Nobody wants.
• Licensed and accredited veterinarian. Over 16 years of academic, regulatory and clinical experience. Published researcher. Thousands of pro-bono procedures for shelters and humane societies - I still volunteer weekly. Unemployed since last year. I've yet to get a second interview.
• I know a guy who immigrated here from India to get a good job. He was soon laid off and his job was outsourced - to India.
• I don't have a job, either. Single father of 2 with no money at all. We're about to get evicted in a few days. We also have no family to rely on. So, what do we do?
• I am contemplating the day of my suicide. After two-and-a-half years of being unemployed (at age 51), I worked for 32 years of my life. Now I am treated like a nobody.
• Out of work for almost a year, got an MA from an Ivy League school, can't even get a job making pizzas, and the student loan people are demanding lump sums of 5 figures just to get out of default, holding my transcripts hostage.
• After 3 months and four interviews I did get a job that pays what I was making in the 1970s when I first started out.
• I have been out of work since October 2009. I am tired of hearing from people who think they know it all. They ask, "Well, have you tried this or this?" Do you honestly think I am sitting on my a** all of this time??
• Yeah, you're either too young, too old, too educated, not educated enough. WTH!?
What is heartbreaking and remarkable is their stark recitation of facts omitting, for the most part, descriptions of their misery and desperation. But you can read it between the lines – and that movie I watched last week was an all too personal and terrible reminder to me of what these people are living with every day.
And here is the simple truth Washington cannot or refuses to see: The debt ceiling can be raised with no adverse effect in the medium future. What the country needs is a bailout for the people of the United States, a renewal of Depression-era programs like the WPA, the CCC and others to put people back to work.
It would cost a lot less than the bank bailouts did while repairing our crumbling bridges and roads. It would get taxes coming in again too thereby helping reduce the deficit. It has been three years and the nation's leaders have not uttered a word about jobs. Instead, they punish the unemployed.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Johna Ferguson: Tuxicodendron diversilobum