Doing Nothing in Washington

Jobs, We Need Jobs

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


Will the meanspiritedness in DC ever end? Meanwhile, I suggest we lock them all in a room & make them watch the film. Dee

Sadly, I think the wealth and potential of this country are gone. We have completely squandered what our grandparents and parents gave us. The wealthy and powerful recognize that whatever is left is no longer economically viable, and are doing nothing less than strip mining whatever is left.

...and the fools will continue to vote for and elect Republicans.

Yesterday I did a blog post about my father's 1935 WPA job. My parents married at the end of 1934 and in 1935 my older sister was born:

For myself, as I watch the erosion of journalism I am glad that I am not just starting out in the field.

Freelance assignments are pretty much history, yet I still see articles with titles like "Ten Jobs You Can Do From Home and Earn Lots of Money"...and one of them is inevitably writing. That advice seems nothing short of cruel to the desperately unemployed.

My friend Cile wrote eloquently this past week about how demeaning it is to deal with the unemployment insurance people. Read her post here:

Once again, Ronni, you have hit the proverbial nail right on its proverbial head!

Something is very, very wrong in Washington ... and some of us are doing our very best to figure out how to save us from this bunch of muddle-heads!

It's going to be tough, but we cannot stop trying or we're all doomed to go down along with this muddle-headed bunch.

And I refuse to go down without a fight!

So good of you to write about this again. I can remember the one time I lost my job, through no fault of mine, and how hopeless it felt. So many people out there are hurting. What I don't understand is why there is such a disconnect between the regular citizens and the folks we elect to national office, with the exception of a few good men and women who stand up for the people.

I was laid off 18 months ago and am SO fortunate to have landed another position - It look a lot longer than I thought, but I got there in the end (I am 48).

Maybe it isn't as bad in the UK as it is in the US . . . .

I'm in Canada now, which is enjoying a boom as they sell off their natural resources. They are complacent, but they need to understand that as soon as those resources are gone they will be in trouble similar to what we are experiencing in the U.S. Harper and friends are insidiously attacking the social welfare system, and the local paper was full of anti-government articles about graft, corruption and general malfeasance on the part of public officials. People hem and haw and tut-tut about that, even as they live on public money.
Considering what the job situation is for ordinary people, mostly fluff of one sort and another, if they lose their entitlements here they will be in deep trouble.

My daughter's experience mimics yours, Ronni, with the exception that her house was sold first. She tried finding work for 2 years while living off the proceeds of the house sale. When that money was gone she maxed out her credit card and had to stop paying on her student loan. She finally got a job through the government program that paid the employers for hiring. The program only lasted a year and when the employer stopped getting the money they laid off my daughter and replaced her with a cheaper bookkeeping service. Now she is hunting for another job but her bad credit rating from the time she maxed out her credit card (Her credit rating up to that time was triple A) kept her from getting an excellent job. It's catch 22 for her; she can't pay her bills without a job and she can't get a job to pay her bills. It was so bad that she was going hungry until getting her her first unemployment compensation check Saturday. Now the Republicans would like to take that away from her.

My daughter is 50 years old and has two teenage girls at home. I wish Eric Cantor and his fellow Republicans had to have their children go through what the rest of the country is facing for just a month and then they might rethink their radical unfeeling position.

Thanks for this post, Ronni. I think the reason some many of the unemployed appear so composed is the innate sense of threat that looms so large daily; a survival response. Ideally it would be the most appropriate time to mobilize as feelings are strong but in reality, that is not how it plays out. We are all privately unraveling and there is little energy for doing anything but putting out the fires at our feet and trying to deal with the wolf at our door. To be unemployed right now is to find oneself in a war zone of complexity and threat in unknown terrain. Like in any war, protest is a luxury left to those who are not in the trenches.

My fear is that there will be a tipping point reached in this country where something will happen and it will all boil over. I worry that ther will be a violent and wrenching event with casualties and a big mess to clean up. It may have already gone too far.

I agree with you, too. The numbers are tame to the reality - tempered, in my opinion, to keep Wall Street from reacting.

At this point, no one in my circle of family/friends is having employment problems, not that I've heard of anyway.

However, in the mid-90's and earlier, I experienced layoffs and know what it feels like to stand in line at the unemployment office. I know what it's like to scrounge for work and take silly typing tests in order to qualify as an office temp.

I know what it's like, during layoffs and on unemployment, to have to pay rent and other necessary expenses with a credit card, and to ask my parents (who didn't have a lot of money) for financial help. Humiliating.

I am SO glad to be out of the workforce, especially nowadays.

Although if they cut benefits to us seniors, maybe a lot of us will have to scrounge for work again (perish the thought).

What a mess.

Let's get rid of Tim Geithner and put up Ronni for the job of Treasury Secretary. She's got [a good part of] the answer!

Been there; done that; can't do/say anything but that I know and understand the drill.

I've been saying we need a new WPA or CCC since last June when I visited FDR Park in Georgia. It was built by the CCC. I stayed in a cabin built by those men about 80 years ago.

It helped the economy then and is still being enjoyed today. What an investment!

Even if we only decided to do a Eisenhower interstate equivalent for passenger rail, I think it would go a long way to help a lot of people.

Reading Ronni's post and responses makes me even more grateful that, at 74+, I am no longer in the active labor market. Quite honestly, I have NO IDEA what I would do or how I would cope with the situation she and so many middle and working-class Americans have found themselves in--through absolutely NO fault of their own! I'm SO lucky still to be employed part time.

What makes me angry almost beyond reason is the TOTAL disconnect that seems to exist between our so-called representatives and we, the people. I never thought I'd live to see the USA become a theocratic oligarchy, but that appears to be where we're headed and no one seems to be able to stop the runaway train of ideology that's taking us there. Instead of action, we get Texas Gov/possible Repub presidential candidate Rick Perry's day of prayer or WTH it is. I'm not even religious, but doesn't it seem like many of today's self-righteous fundamentalist Christians are missing the point of Christ's teachings entirely?

I so agree with Ronni that we desperately need a JOBS PROGRAM! Yes, we need to deal with the debt, but how can we do that with millions of productive citizens out of work and not paying taxes? Cutting benefits that real people depend on is not the answer. Taxing uber-wealthy individuals and cash-rich corporations would be a start.

Meanwhile the politicians debate and dither endlessly in Washington--the mostly-wealthy, privileged folks that we elected to represent us. Maybe they should actually listen to the millions of their unemployed constituents who are hurting badly and then do the job they were elected to do. Wow, what a concept!

I was in tears when I read those heart rending stories -and that's just the tip of the iceberg. When Obama was elected, I waited with eager anticipation for the creation of a Jobs Corp or a CCC or a WPA. Instead, we got cuts, cuts, cuts and more tax breaks for the wealthy. I'm older and live on a tiny pension and Social Security but I'm afraid that the idiots in DC would take that away from me. Because, you know, if you don't work, you don't deserve anything - no matter that there are no jobs, whether you are 40, 50, or even 70. We have so much here and yet, the wealthy are (as somebody above said) creating a theocracy while strip-mining the country.

Certainly the current situation, with a true unemployment rate of 15.6% counting everyone that is capable of holding a full-time job but can't find one is bleak and virtually overwhelming. But "If you think that's bad", lf we look to the future- things get progressively worse. The simple fact is that 15% unemployment will be the norm even when and if the economy rebounds. At an international conference of the worlds top economists that was held around 1990, the consensus was that about one out of five workers in the developed world will never find employment. Technology has eliminate millions of jobs already and will continue to eliminate more in time. Add to that the fact that our educational system is a dismal failure when it comes to providing skilled candidates for the jobs that aren't being filled now. We really don't need all the lawyers that are coming out of our legal diploma mills and we certainly won't be able to find jobs for more than a fraction of the liberal arts grads that are being dumped on the market.

However, we will need skiled technicians, plumbers, electricians and health care workers as well as millions of service workers for the hospitality industry.

The present situation is indeed bleak but in case you see light at the end of the tunnel, it just might be the glow of the weed you're smoking (for medicinal purposes of course)

I saw that same movie...and was sobered especially by the Chris Cooper character...dying his hair. I am old enough to remember how we used to look upon men with gray hair as "statesmen" and men who stayed with their employers were rewarded. There was a time when a person could count on being repaid for loyalty. ha ha ha. My family taught me that hard work was the answer to everything..they could never forecast how the middle class would be swindled and hard work would amount to nothing.

will the politicos vote to give them selves a pay cut? more public transportation would be helpful.
scary times?

A wonderful movie, indeed! I LOVED this film! It's about how life really is now.

I am fortunate because my husband retired (right before they gouge Social Security & Medicare, a rare bit of luck) and we have part-time work. I have friends who are extremely hard-working but the "wrong" age, of course, so they're interviewing like mad but getting nowhere.

Despite the market's evident love of the appearance and attitudes of "youthiness," I wouldn't be young and starting out today for anything. So hard for them--between the student loans and the horrible job market. And, as in the film, they think they're movers and shakers now, but they'll also be discarded in their turn. They just don't know it yet.

I live in England and every one of these comments rings as true here as it does in the U.S (no matter what 'Peggy from the UK' thinks). The poor and the unemployed face the brunt of savage cuts imposed by arrogant right-wing zealots, and we islanders are consistently being told we lack the skills and attitude to do a good job,giving the powers-that-be an excuse to outsource and exploit Eastern European labour, forcing down wages and working conditions even further. No jobs, no spending, no taxes, even fewer jobs ... don't they get it? They assume we'll all be cowed into total, abject serfdom - I wouldn't bank on it!!

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