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Declaring "War on Unemployment"

Posted on 5 April, 2011 at 17:00


"Am I done at 44? Is nobody going to want to hire me?" wonders Tim Zaneske from Michigan.


Tim’s fears are played out in every town across America. Ordinary people who are out of work longer than they ever imagined. People you stand next to every week at the market, around the neighborhood, or in the stands of your kid’s events.


People whose faces are familiar but whose daily and deep-seeded stress is invisible. The chronic unemployed have little to celebrate these days. So we grasp whatever straws we can to tell them they're not forgotten. This week, out of nowhere, 2 Democrats and 2 Republicans will meet to discuss extending unemployment benefits to all groups, including “99ers.”


This is the unifying label for Americans who have run out of unemployment benefits. While the government does not keep track of how many 99ers live amongst us, one service estimates it’s about 1.4 million people. Add another 4 million Americans who the White House believes will become 99ers this year, and you have a growing voting bloc. Evenso, a meeting last week at the White House went seemingly nowhere.


Unemployment benefits do not make a lifestyle. The goal of unemployment benefits has been to provide people with about half their normal income. But that’s not even close these days. While the average unemployment check is $295 a week, the average weekly salary was $865, meaning unemployment benefits really replaces just about a third of someone’s salary.


Unemployed people would rather work than receivce $295 a week from the government. With hiring basically stagnant, labor expert Timothy Bartik with W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, wants the federal government to create a temporary jobs program. Put the jobless to work improving community, repairing schools, renovating parks, cleaning up abandioned property.


Getting long term unemployed back to work would also help fuel the recovery by putting money back into every community they serve. Bartik reminds us the longer people are out of work, the longer their skills decline, their confidence erodes and their health problems, mental and physical, increase.


While lawmakers battle this week over budget cuts, paying for a jobs program or extending unemployment benefits seem like a long shot, for now.


But there's one group not waiting for someone else to draw a line in the sand. “Our nation has declared war on poverty…war on drugs…even war on obesity,” said National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial. The group is calling on Washington to "declare war on unemployment, and urban America is the battlefront.”


Linked together, creating jobs, extending benefits and declaring war is a strategic plan to move America forward.


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