Extending federally funded unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term unemployed is a subject of great debate. It invites varied opinions from differing perspectives. Congress is in the process of deciding if the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program that began June of 2008 will be funded again. The program provides benefits for claimants who have exhausted the balance on their state claims and it is utilized only during times of high unemployment. Currently the national rate is at 6.7 percent. California’s unemployment rate remains higher at 8.5 percent and Nevada is at 9 percent. Although improved, the numbers are still high. On Dec. 28, the emergency unemployment insurance program expired, which translated to 1.3 million unemployed workers losing benefits.
There are still many out of work, most of them frustrated and worried. There are also those who have given up. Older workers make up a large part of this group. This includes anyone over the age of 40. They face age discrimination as an additional challenge to an already difficult road. After being told repeatedly they are over-qualified and turned away for fear they will leave for a better position, many simply stop looking. Underemployment is another critical issue of great concern. The underemployed work in low-paying or part-time jobs to make ends meet when they are qualified for better jobs. They seek, want and need full time employment but despite their best efforts, they can’t find it. Many work two, sometimes three, part-time jobs. Prior to the launch of Covered California on Jan. 1 the majority were without medical insurance. One medical emergency could be financially catastrophic.
Some politicians say we do a “disservice” when we continue to pay emergency unemployment compensation to claimants explaining it hinders their work search efforts and keeps them unemployed longer. Others say that extending benefits will create jobs and stimulate economic growth since claimants spend it right away for clothing, gas and food as well as other necessities. Yes, the political debate continues while the jobless wait for answers, only pawns in the game.
Thousands of workers are unemployed through no fault of their own. They actively seek work, are able to work and available for work right now. Many have college educations, some with advanced degrees. There are those who have never been out of work before, displaced skilled laborers as well as dislocated workers whose professions offer limited opportunities and/or have become obsolete. Professionals stay unemployed longer on average. It is not unusual for high-level professionals to be unemployed longer than six months. Some stay off the job for a year or longer even though in some cases they are willing to slash their salaries as much as 50 percent. Over time I have worked with thousands of these unemployed workers ranging from teens trying to land their first job, to Silicon Valley executives. While I will not deny that there will always be those who will take advantage of the system, my experience is that most people want and need to work, not only to make a living but also for self-esteem, pride and self-worth. I have seen both men and women weep with joy when validated with a job offer. Many of them reach back to help others with whom they have developed lifelong friendships due to their shared plight. They pay it forward when in a position to do so. A sentiment expressed by so many so often is “I’ve worked all of my life and never thought this would ever happen to me.”
All of us have basic needs for survival. When they are not met our chance for success diminishes. Without a proper place to live, food for sustenance as well as resources to care for children and family problems are magnified. The average emergency unemployment extension payment is in the neighborhood of $300 weekly or $1200 per month. This is not a large amount on which to sustain a family. The cost of living in Lake Tahoe is higher than the national average. Families barely get by.
So no, it’s not just the lazy and the losers that need unemployment benefits. It’s people in all walks of life, people like you and me, people that have worked hard and need a break. I personally hope lawmakers make the right choice. I also hope that 2014 will bring brighter days for the jobless.
— Gloria Sinibaldi is a career professional who has worked in the employment field for more than 20 years. She is a trainer coach and job developer. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.