fresh voices from the front lines of change







Ted Drost was a six-figure marketing and client development specialist based in Chicago who has worked for several Fortune 100 financial institutions. He also says he was "born and raised a Republican" and has supported Illinois freshman Republican Sen. Mark Kirk throughout his political career.

But today Drost, 47, is among the close to 2 million long-term unemployed people who were cut off from emergency unemployment benefits starting on December 28. Drost lost his last job in early 2012 and has been unable to get a job since. Being unemployed "14 months later is absolutely a shock to the system," he said. “I have worked diligently to get a great education, gain the right credentials and experience, and manage my career. I never thought in a million years that it would ever take me this long to find my next career move,” Drost said.

Then came a punch in the gut, in the form of a Senate vote February 6 to block consideration of a renewal of long-term jobless benefits. Kirk provided the decisive 40th vote that continued the filibuster against a compromise three-month extension. "My personal feeling is that he has turned his back on me," he said in a telephone interview.

Drost was not the only one. He is one of the leaders of s a group of about 200 former “C and V-level” executives in the Chicago area who have been unable to find work and meet regularly for networking and support. "These are people who have MBAs, JDs, PhDs, and other graduate degrees and have 20, 25, 30 years of success in the corporate world and they can’t find jobs," Drost said. But today's job market is not working any better for them than it is for the other close to 4 million long-term unemployed throughout the country. “We have invited Sen. Kirk to meet with us to learn about the daunting task of looking for work and he has yet to respond,” he said.

Drost and the group that he works with are for the most part not the people forced over the financial edge as a result of the votes Senate Republicans have cast against renewing extended jobless benefits, even after Democrats compromised on Republican demands that the extension should be for only three months and that its $6 billion cost be fully "paid for." But they do defy the stereotype of lazy people who would get off their butts and take any "suitable" job once Uncle Sugar stops giving them a $300-or-so weekly check.

"No one who has achieved at the same level as I have is thrilled to be collecting an unemployment check," Drost said, especially one that Drost says is pretty much eaten up by his monthly health insurance premium. That means everything else – housing, food, job search expenses and the like – comes out of savings that would otherwise help pay for his daughter's planned college education.

Drost says that the people in his group regularly encounter employers who are looking for a "purple squirrel" – in other words, a job applicant who doesn't exist in the real world. Such is the risk-averse nature of a corporate sector that believes it can hold out for the perfect as it sifts through a pool flooded with job seekers.

For job applicants in Drost's circle, it means that once they manage to get invited to an interview – a process that only happens after months of sending resumes and nurturing contacts – that interview will turn out to be only the first stage in multiple rounds of interviews over a period of several weeks.

That's why Drost says it is laughable to consider 26 weeks as the dividing line between short-term and long-term unemployment in today's economy. "In six months you are just getting your feet wet," he said. "Looking for a job has become more than a full-time job. I work 12, 14 and sometimes 16 hours daily on getting back into the working world,” Drost said.

There is also the age discrimination for older workers and what Drost calls "compensation discrimination" that makes it harder for the long-term jobless to get back to work. Senate Republicans have said that people getting long-term jobless benefits should be willing to settle for a job that pays less than the job they lost, but Drost points out employers don't want to hire workers they are certain will bolt when a job that better matches their earnings history and skills comes along.

"The ignorance so many people bring to Washington about the job market from their districts ... is truly remarkable," Drost said. “I’d like to invite every one of them to join us for one of our networking group meetings to hear from real people who are busting their butts every day to find a job.”

The truth is we should not be forcing workers with two or three decades of experience who are out of work to start again at the bottom of the income scale. Forcing people to work below their income and skill potential hurts the worker and damages the economy. What we should be doing instead is what the federal emergency unemployment insurance program was doing before conservative obstructionists forced an end to the program: give workers financial support in a way that keeps them connected to the workforce and the job search process.

"I really want [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid to lead the charge on a compromise and a solution" to renewing jobless benefits, Drost said.

Then, "somebody needs to lead the public and private sector to grow again in this country," he said. Repairing the damage done by the Great Recession is "going to take years, and there are so many people who don't have years; they have months and even days before their situations really become dire."

Reports began to emerge Friday that when the Senate reconvenes on Monday, Reid and a small group of Senate Republicans may be able to put to a vote another compromise deal that would resume jobless benefits for all of the people like Durst who have been pounding the pavement relentlessly for more than six months without success looking for work. Will senators like Mark Kirk finally come to their senses and cast a vote that makes sense in the real world of the unemployed, or will they continue to vote with their right-wing myths instead?

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