On Sunday, March 6, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who was forced to step down amid legal scandal in 2006, appeared on CNN's State of The Union, lauding Jim Bunning's (R-KY) one man fillibuster against the extension of COBRA and unemployment benefits.
"You know," Delay said, "there is an argument to be made that these extensions of unemployment benefits keep people from going and finding jobs. In fact there are some studies that have been done that show people stay on unemployment compensation and they don't look for a job until two or three weeks before they know the benefits are going to run out."
Unemployment benefits vary widely from state to state, with the average amount being $293 week, which works out to just about minimum wage in many states. Unfortunately for many unemployed and underemployed people, minimum wage just doesn't cut it when it comes to paying the mortgage, buying the groceries, and maintaining health insurance so that if little Sally falls out of a tree, her broken arm doesn't cost the family their home.
Julie, a 28-year-old in Milwaukee, WI, was laid off nine months ago from a job in commercial interior design. She feels that Delay's statement comes from sheer ignorance. While she concedes that there are, perhaps, some people who are happy in their unemployment and collecting benefits (which all tax payers pay into with every paycheck), she says, "Perhaps they have a spouse to provide for them, or some savings stashed away and so they have some time to soul-search and figure out a new career path. As for me and most of the people I have interacted with over the last nine months, this is not the case. I don't want to be unemployed. Take away the stigma associated with unemployment (one that has been made worse by these kinds of statements), and I still don't want to be unemployed."
Julie's life has changed significantly since she was laid off in 2009. She had to give up her apartment and move back home with her parents. She has gone into debt. On top of that, she feels that many people who are unexpectedly unemployed are not fully prepared for the mental and emotional challenges that it brings, on top of the financial stress.
"I have applied to more than 100 positions, created 10 versions of my résumé, taken career workshops, belong to several networking groups in my local community, interviewed for positions across the country, started a blog, did an internship (for free of course), took a part-time job at the mall, created a presence on Linkedin, Twitter, and Brazen Careerists," Julie says. "And yet, here I am. Still unemployed. Still without a decent salary or a dinky apartment to call my own, and my health insurance runs out in October (don't get me going on that). My finances and probably my life as a whole would be in ruin if I didn't have my unemployment benefits."
Her final thoughts on what Mr. Delay has to say about unemployed people being too lazy to look for a job?
"I find that many people who haven't been through an unexpected job loss don't comprehend either the financial severity of the situation or what it does to you on a mental level. I can only hope Mr. Delay never has to be in my situation. I'm sure he would have some smart response to that; but whatever, his ignorance is his bliss."
Alex, a 32-year-old art historian/arts administrator with a masters degree in Las Vegas, NV, has just hit her one-year anniversary of unemployment. "I spend most of my days at home looking for jobs or cooking because I can't really afford to do most of the things that I love. My unemployment benefits have been a godsend to me and my underemployed husband: Without them, we wouldn't be able to pay our rent, but by no means are we living a life of luxury on them."
Alex sends out resumes not only to locations in Nevada and nearby states, but also to jobs that fit her skill set all over the country. "Over the past year, I have applied to many jobs around the country suitable for an art historian/arts administrator with a masters degree, and I have only had two interviews -- and did not get the jobs," she says. "I keep applying to jobs even though this process has perhaps been one of the most disheartening things I've ever experienced. It gets old to work hard on your job applications only to send them off and never hear anything in return."
Alex also notes: "If I was lazy as Delay suggests, I would have given up a long time ago. Instead, I keep sending off job applications and try to remain positive that something good will happen, while maintaining hope that my unemployment benefits will still be there to help make ends meet." As for the suggestion that many unemployed people hear -- that they apply to jobs below their previous level of employment, education, or experience -- she has, and says, "Those jobs are just as competitive. Sometimes being over-educated and experienced is a surefire way to not get a job, too."
Lisa, 37, in New York, is annoyed that people like Delay and Bunning want to take away benefits while the economy is still so fragile and so few companies are hiring. She has spent all of her savings and had to move back home, onto her parents' couch. "I hate how people who are working assume those of us who aren't don't care. At this point I think I've met with every recruiter in the city and sent my resume to nearly every company and I still have no prospects or leads."