Desperation Row

Originally posted at UnemployedWorkers.Org.

Far too many American workers, stricken by the plague of long-term unemployment, find themselves at a place that now exists just off of ‘Main Streets’ in big cities, small towns and rural communities across the country.  It’s a frightening place of great distress, where help is sorely needed — call it ‘Desperation Row’.

Every day we receive numerous stories submitted by workers through this website’s ‘Raise Your Voice’ page.  On a single day earlier this month we received dozens of such stories, several of which we’ll excerpt here.  Taken together, they offer a stark picture of lives in the balance, as the painfully slow recovery fails to reach those most in need and millions of jobless workers face the exhaustion of unemployment insurance benefits.

Patrick from Illinois writes:

I’ve been unemployed for 21 months.  I’m 45 years old, married with 2 children 9 & 1 years of age.  I was told over the phone by a staffing agency that employers are skipping over people who have been out of work more than 6 months.  Now that makes me think that companies are skipping over me as well.

I worked for 24 straight years until I was laid off from my job.  Now I face the prospect of losing everything in 2 months when my unemployment insurance will be exhausted.

Katherine from Florida writes:

My husband and I are in our mid 50′s.  We both lost our jobs in March of 2009.  His unemployment insurance ran out in Dec 2010 and now I just learned mine has run out too.  We don’t know what to do.  We are both educated — I have a Master’s degree – but I find that most employers will not speak to you if you are unemployed.   And finding new employment is so hard in Florida. Our health is suffering, and soon we will have to decide what to do.  We are invisible because of our age, too young to retire, too old for college… Life as we knew it is gone.  Now what lies ahead of us?

Carol from Massachusetts writes:

I have worked my whole life only to be where I am right now – that is an unemployed, 53-year old mother of two.   And now I can’t find a job.  I never thought that I would ever be here.  I am on the verge of losing my home and I’m being sued because I can’t pay my bills.  I don’t know what to do or where to go from here.  I have 4 weeks of unemployment benefits left — and then, I don’t know……

Lonny from Washington writes:

I am a journeyman cement finisher with 33 years of experience.  I was laid off in August 2008.  My UI benefits ran out in March of 2010.  I have diligently been looking for work in every state west of the Mississippi. I have sent out approximately 2,000 resumes with only a handful of responses.  The employers that I have talked to on the phone have said that they are so overwhelmed with responses — they can’t even begin to answer all of the applications or resumes.  That’s just made it harder for me to find employment.  I and probably thousands more like me have been evicted from our residence and forced to either live on the street, to live with relatives who can’t afford to have us there, or live in our vehicles.  This is demeaning and depressing.  People who have steady employment have absolutely no clue as to how rough it truly is.  The public does not want to know the truth, and most of the news agencies don’t have the guts to tell them the truth.

Jamie in Minnesota writes:

I am a 54 year old single woman with more than 30 years of experience in office administration and accounting positions.  I lost my job in February 2008 after more than 9 years employment with a local government.  My federal unemployment benefits were exhausted in February 2010.  With no one else in my home and no other income coming in, I had no choice but to cash in my only retirement account to stay in my home.  Since I have now been unemployed for just over 3 years, I rarely get called for an interview (last call was sometime last year).  Now, my mortgage provider (US Bank), is pursuing foreclosure proceedings against me and unless I can sell my home before the sheriff’s sale, I will lose my equity.  My siblings are already helping their own children by taking them into their homes, so I will virtually be left homeless.

Ellen in California writes:

I am turning 65 years old. I have worked all my life.  Now I find myself out of work going on 2 years and can’t find a job.  Employers do not want to hire older people, especially if you are unemployed.  My unemployment runs out this month.  Now what?  I am still looking, of course, but so far no luck.

Don in Connecticut writes:

I am one of the millions of 99ers in this country that has lost everything, my home, my car, my savings, and I am about 2 weeks away from being homeless.  I have been looking for a job for over 2 years now.  In addition to my work experience, I have an education — something that has proven to be more of hindrance than a help.  I have been on a number of interviews, most concluding in the very same way: "you are over qualified, sorry."

WE ARE SUFFERING, not only individually, but also as a nation, and ignoring the problem will not make it go away — it will, in fact, just make it worse.

Bonna in California writes:

I am a 66 year old woman who was laid off from my job at a homeowner association management company in May 2009.  I have tried everything to find a job:  networking, internet, newspapers, cold calling and nothing has landed me a job.  I have been in the workforce for over 45 years and have experience in many positions in many fields, and still no interviews.  I too must work to pay my bills, just like any other person.  My husband had two strokes back in 1999 and has been disabled ever since.  He currently resides in a nursing home in Riverside, CA and Medical says my income is too high as long as I am collecting unemployment, along with my Social Security and my husband’s small disability check, so I have to pay a "Share of Cost" to the nursing home each month.  This leaves me with little or no money for food or gas — and when my unemployment totally runs out in April I will have no choice but to file bankruptcy….

And Cynthia in Minnesota writes:

I am a single mother who worked for a utility company for almost 25 years, and then they just let me go in February 2009.  I’m still unemployed even though my unemployment benefits ran out in December.  

I have 2 college degrees.  I’m starting to get interviews, but there are still too many others looking for the same job.  My car needs work and most of the jobs I have been looking at are in the southern part of the metro area, where bus service or trains will not take me.

I want to work!  I don’t know how much more I can go before I have to give up my home.

There were many more such stories received that day; and more, unfortunately, every day.  Few of us are very far removed from people who find themselves on ‘Desperation Row’.  In some cases, they are family members, our neighbors, friends — former co-workers.  And, in too many cases, ‘they’ are us.

Researchers at the National Employment Law Project (NELP) recently estimated that during 2010 there were 3.9 million workers who were jobless when they received their final payment of eligible unemployment insurance.  A report last December from the President’s Council of Economic Advisors included a projection of roughly the same number of UI exhaustees during 2011.

Lest we forget, this devastation was not caused by anything like a natural disaster.  No hurricane, no earthquake, no tsunami caused the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.  This crisis, its mass unemployment, and its highest levels of long-term joblessness on record were caused by the lords of finance – by those at the top of the big banks and by Wall Street’s investment kingpins.  In their myopic and rapacious race to acquire ever more wealth, they caused the collapse which has wreaked such havoc in the lives of tens of millions of American workers.  And it is the workers who have paid the price – not the lords of finance.

The latest data from the Labor Department shows that there were still 5 unemployed workers for every full-time job opening in January – the 23rd month that the job-seeker’s ratio has been 5-to-1 or higher.  Add the 8.3 million underemployed Americans working part-time jobs but wanting full-time work, and the job-seeker’s ratio climbs to nearly 8-to-1.  That means that for 7 out of 8 unemployed or underemployed full-time job seekers, there simply are no jobs.

Especially for unemployed workers, the difficulty of finding a new job is exacerbated by the pernicious practice of employers, recruiters and staffing firms discriminating against unemployed workers – to the point where the unemployed are summarily excluded at the outset from consideration for open positions.  And it appears that this discriminatory exclusion is even more pervasive against those who have been unemployed for longer periods.

Despite the relative improvement in the labor market reflected in reduced numbers of layoffs, the improvements have failed in large measure to reach long-term unemployed workers.  With the lack of sufficient job openings, the painfully slow rate of new job growth, and the discriminatory exclusion of unemployed workers in hiring – it’s no wonder that so many workers have or will face exhausting all their eligible unemployment insurance benefits.

In the face of this acute and widespread human crisis, not much has yet been done.  There is a bill – HR 589 – the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Expansion Act of 2011, which, as we have reported on previously, would add 13 more weeks of benefits eligibility to EUC Tier I and make those benefits retroactively available to those who have exhausted their eligibility.  While the bill now has 74 co-sponsors, the new House majority has displayed little interest in even bringing it up in committee.

But the depth and scope of the needs facing 99ers and others exhausting unemployment benefits are so great that a truly robust, targeted and comprehensive set of initiatives is what’s required.  We need an innovative approach that combines income support and assistance, training and personalized job placement services, appropriate incentives for employers, an end to discriminatory hiring practices affecting unemployed workers, and most importantly good jobs with good pay that will help workers recover the lives and livelihoods they’ve lost.

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