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I recently saw a local theater production of the musical “Annie.” The musical recounts the story of Annie, an orphan girl hoping to find her real parents, while she lives in a miserable orphanage in NYC. The subplot focuses on the economic hardship and unemployment experienced throughout the country during the depression. While watching the play unfold, one can’t help but feel our country’s current economic situation is mirrored in this musical’s theme.
Recently, Mr. Obama and others announced, “Hey, our recession is over.” Well, nice thoughts, but tell that to the 14.6 million unemployed, or the thousands of others who have lost homes, savings, retirement income, health insurance and so on, and it just doesn’t ring true.
In speaking to others this week about the 14 million who are about to lose extended unemployment benefits, I was surprised at the rancorous comments I heard. Some people trotted out the old, flawed argument about “…unemployment benefits are a disincentive for people to find work…” and “if people would just try harder they’d find a job…” and “…why don’t these lazy people just get job retraining and stop living off the government…” These insensitive and uncaring attitudes blow me away. Where I work I meet unemployed people every day. The majority of them are hard-working Americans who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own, many from factories that have closed or cut back production. Many have seen their jobs move to other countries where labor is cheap. I’ve met those who are college-educated, unskilled, and skilled tradespersons, and they all say the same thing: they started out looking for work in their field, and ended up looking for any kind of work. Some can’t get job training, either from not having the right economic qualifications, not living where training is available, or not having the intellectual ability to learn a new skill. Many are already highly trained, and additional training would just make them more over-qualified for the jobs that aren’t there. Even with training, many cannot afford to uproot their family, leave their house and move to where certain kinds of jobs are available. It is just not realistic to expect that 14 million people can “just get some job retraining” and they’ll all have jobs again.
To those who are critical of the unemployed, I say try living on $325 a week (the maximum regular benefit) for months or years, and see if it makes you lose the desire to work. How many people could support their family, make house payments, car payments, utility payments, etc and not lose their home, fall behind in bills, and go without?
For the rest of us, those who feel the suffering of our country, I say, do what you can to support the unemployed as you’re able. Give to food banks. Support charities that help the needy. If you’re in a position to hire, call back those who’ve been laid off, or hire unemployed folks who’ve started their own businesses like lawn care, snow plowing, housecleaning, etc.
It doesn’t look like our country is getting a new deal any time soon. And 14 million Americans are about to get an even worse deal. Our government should be ashamed for not helping them. Thanks Congress.
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