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Unemployed In America

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The unemployment figures were so bad Friday—half a million U.S. jobs lost in one month—some in the corporate media actually sounded a bit alarmed. Still, the overriding impulse of mainstream journalists is to look on the bright side.

Like NPR, for instance, which offers a handy chart showing how unemployment was worse in the early 1980s than it is now. The chart’s cutsy title: "In Case It Makes You Feel Better," begs an answer, such as: You gotta be kidding?

Such "things could always be worse" journalism—like yeah, a plague of locusts could be in my backyard—is pretty tiresome, but imagine how it must sound to those who really are suffering from job loss?

Like Marcia in Ohio, who told the National Employment Law Project (NELP) her story:

My husband was laid off right after he had a heart attack last year. He was working for a company for five years and then all of a sudden he is permanently laid off because they aren’t selling products so his shift has got to go. He was the major bread winner in the family….He is 55 years old…and having pre-existing conditions make it impossible for us to get any insurance. The world has become selfish and cruel….His extended unemployment benefits will run short soon-run out-and then what are we to do? Starve or die I suppose.

Starve or die. But maybe if Marcia just looked at that NPR chart, she might feel better.

NELP, this week, released findings from its survey in a report: Unemployed In America. The results depict how hopeless jobless workers have become, with between 70 percent and 76 percent of those unemployed saying they have low confidence of finding a job in the next four months. The survey also shows jobless workers are willing to take just about any job, with 63 percent saying they would accept a job that pays less than the previous job and 62 percent saying they’d take one that doesn’t provide health insurance.

But there are no jobs out there. The statement by Gwendolyn in Maryland reflects what many jobless workers are saying:

I have been unemployed since November of 2007. I have literally applied for over 250 jobs, yet I still have not been able to be interviewed yet to get a full-time position. As a result of my financial woes and constant struggle to take care of three sons and make the rent, I now find myself facing the possibility of being homeless. Unfortunately, I have not been in a position to make my rent by the 5th of the month (at the latest) since being unemployed. As a result of this, I have been advised by the management company that they will not be renewing my lease. To add to my woes, my car was repossessed last night and my extension of unemployment benefits is due to end as of next month….

As more workers become unemployed, the number of overall jobs decreases. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) yesterday highlighted how rapidly the gap grew between the number of people out of work and the number of available jobs. In October, the number of job seekers topped 10 million, more than three times the number of jobs available. Which means this data doesn’t even count November’s huge job losses.

Unemployed In America also finds that 67 percent of jobless workers have cut back on spending on food and groceries and 37 percent have had trouble paying for groceries. In fact, the number of Americans receiving food stamps set a record in September, with more than 31.5 million needing food aid, up 17 percent from a year ago.

The AFL-CIO union movement long has been pushing for extension of unemployment insurance (UI) and Congress finally acted last month. But more needs to be done. In addition to investment in long-term restructuring of our nation’s economy, we at the AFL-CIO are calling on Congress to pass an economic recovery program to address the immediate needs of working families, one that must include extended and expanded UI benefits, fiscal aid for states, significant funds for job-creating infrastructure projects and an expanded food stamp program. Earlier this week, the Institute for America’s Future released a report calling for a $900 billion government boost focused on Main Street over the next two years, and we agree with such a plan.

The nation needs real solutions, not corporate gloss and cute charts, for the millions of workers without jobs here, like Victoria. She moved from California to Las Vegas to live with her daughter because she hasn’t been able to find work in a year. Despite 30 years of experience as a civil drafter and no history of unemployment, she sent out more than 200 résumés and had a total of three job interviews.

It’s always the same story: The employers say "they get hundreds of applications for the one position they have open." I have never had to depend on anyone in the past and if it wasn’t for my daughter, I would be living in my car. I really want to work. What has happened to this country is really sad when we as Americans can no longer live the American dream.

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Tula Connell

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