In late 2008, 28-year-old Rochester native Tim Wynn injured his hand on the job while working as a machinist and was eventually unfairly fired due to the injury. “It was at that time I had to file for unemployment insurance,” Wynn recalls. “Which was only a little over $400 a month, but we were able to make it work with one of us still working.”
Wynn had to rely on unemployment insurance for over a year, while looking for a job and simultaneously trying to get the surgery he needed for his damaged hand, but could not afford to pay for. However, if the federal system for unemployment benefits had been overhauled to include new proposals, Wynn would not have qualified for unemployment insurance.
Working America, the grassroots organization for workers whose 250,000 members in Minnesota have expressed great concern about these new requirements, has been bringing awareness to this issue to Minnesotans all over the state. “One of these new state requirements would be to deny unemployment insurance claimants without a high school diploma from receiving benefits, unless they are currently enrolled in a GED program,” says Working America’s Minnesota State Director, Brianna Halverson. “Barriers that would require jobless workers have diplomas are simply unfair and unworkable when the waiting lists for GED programs are sometime years long.”
Wynn, like many, had a family early in life. “I did what I needed to do,” he said, “Which was to take responsibility for my family and go straight into the workforce. I knew my career choices would be limited, but I was willing to work hard to provide for my child.”
“I never thought that I would have been in the situation I was in, but the idea that not having a high school diploma would prevent me from receiving unemployment insurance is outrageous,” exclaimed Wynn. “Actually, it would discriminate about half of the co-workers I’ve ever known, many of whom are currently out of work and would be devastated by this.”
Brianna Halverson adds, “This provision seems part of a larger agenda to stigmatize unemployment insurance by suggesting that Americans are jobless because of their own failings, rather than because our economy still has six million fewer jobs than when the recession started.”
After three years, Wynn prevailed in holding his former employer accountable for unfairly firing him; allowing him to get the surgery to repair his wrist. Wynn now has medical clearance to work again. When asked what would have happened if he had been required to have a high school diploma to receive unemployment insurance, Wynn said: “We would have lost everything. Those benefits were the only thing that kept a roof over our heads and our spirits up.” He added that without the insurance, he would never have been able to get surgery and would have lost use of his hand forever.
Information in a January 26, 2012 statement from Committee of Ways and Means Democrats indicates that if House Republican Bill HR 3630 is enacted, more than 35,000 Minnesotans would lose unemployment insurance.
“I want others in Minnesota to stop looking at unemployment insurance as something that only costs taxpayers money and which can be easily cut,” says Wynn. “When people have money to stay above water, that means they’re spending it into the economy, which keeps many businesses, employees and families above water as well. Congress should not make being jobless even harder than it already is.”
As today is Valentine’s Day, Working America joined Pennsylvania Wants to Work for an action encouraging our elected officials to have a heart and keep extended unemployment benefits in place Federal extended benefits will disappear after February 29th if our Congressmen and U.S. Senators don’t listen to their hearts and extend unemployment insurance (UI). Our politicians will likely be voting this week on whether or not millions of families will be able to feed their families, see their doctors, and pay their rent after the 29th.
The jobs crisis hasn’t ended since benefits were temporarily extended two months ago, and we cannot afford to pretend that it has. When there are four job seekers for every job available, families scraping by depend on their unemployment insurance to keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables. If anyone doubts the severity of this jobs crisis and the need for extended benefits, the experience of a Pittsburgh Working America member, described below, demonstrates such things all too clearly:
I am a laid-off engineer. I have been seeking work since 2009, and although I have a Ph.D. in computer science and 30 years of experience in information systems, I have not been able to secure full-time employment for the last two years. I have been consistently applying for jobs online, but I often do not even receive a response to my applications. Since 2009, I have had only one interview in response to my job searching. In effect, in the last few years, I have had to reduce my expenditures by reducing food, eliminating my phone line, foregoing TV, and relying on public transportation.
The jobs crisis is impacting many more workers than those who are receiving unemployment insurance. This crisis also directly impacts workers who have maxed out and no longer receive unemployment benefits, workers who simply gave up trying to find a job, workers who are working outside of their fields, workers who are working a fraction of the hours they would like to be, and workers who are receiving much lower compensation than they would if there weren’t such an huge pool of under- and un-employed workers to compete with.
It has also become clear to me how expensive it is to be unemployed. I have to carefully monitor the amount I’ve got left in my checking account so that I do not find myself stuck with a $35 dollar overdraft fee – or many of them. I have to pay legal fees on top of school taxes for not being able to pay school taxes on time. I’ve got to pay high interest rates on credit cards and insurances, because being unemployed has devastated my credit, leading companies to charge me exorbitant interest rates or “fees.” Unemployment’s impact on my credit has also compromised my employability, as companies perform credit checks for professional positions in most industries when considering an applicant.
Beyond seriously harming my credit, my savings have been exhausted, in part due to the cost of being unemployed. The other factor causing my savings to be nil is the cost of medical care. A family member, who needed medical treatment that insurance wouldn’t sufficiently cover, absolutely needed certain prescriptions as well as other treatments. The prescriptions cost a few hundred dollars a week. I cashed in my retirement savings to cover those medical expenses. As I was unemployed at the time and had minimal resources, I had to borrow money and transportation from friends. Between the overwhelming cost of treatments and prescriptions and my lack of income, once we spent all of our savings, we could no longer afford the care she needed.
The costs of unemployment extend into each area of my life. The jobs crisis is a broad one, impacting people of an array of professions, backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, experience levels, and geographic areas; it impacts deeply their families and those who depend on them; it impacts their friends and neighbors; it impacts all of society.
The news from today’s job report is strongly encouraging. In January, our economy added a net 243,000 new jobs, and the unemployment rate fell to 8.3%. And as economist Jared Bernstein points out, it’s not just the big numbers that matter, it’s the trend—the economy is going in the right direction.
Let’s not forget, though, that while an upward climb is welcome, there’s still more climbing to do. The recession of the past few years put in a huge hole—by late 2008, the economy was dumping hundreds of thousands of jobs every month, and it took major, determined effort to get the economy to start adding jobs again. We’re still trying to recover from that recession and we haven’t gotten back to pre-recession levels yet. And the effort to recover is being actively undermined by job cuts at the state and local level.
One bright spot is that things are looking up for veterans. Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had an unacceptably high unemployment rate of 13%. That rate has fallen to 9% in the latest report—still high, but a huge improvement for people who have served our country overseas. The only portion of President Obama’s American Jobs Act that Congress was able to pass was a set of incentives to help businesses hire veterans. Imagine if two other key portions of the AJA—a bill to help states keep teachers, firefighters and police on the payroll, and a bill to invest in infrastructure and construction—had passed instead of being blocked by Republicans in Congress.
The economic recovery is still fragile enough, and unemployment still high enough, that we need to keep supporting those out of work by extending unemployment insurance. Pulling away that lifeline would be a real hit to families and to the economy as a whole. We should also renew the payroll tax holiday that helps put extra money in the pockets of 160 million working people.
It’s gotten swallowed up in news coverage by the ups and downs of the Republican presidential primary race, but we’re still in a pretty dire jobs situation.
In December, Congress did the right thing and extended unemployment insurance coverage for thousands and thousands of long-term unemployed. With about for job-seekers for every job opening, that’s just common sense. But the extension was only approved for two months, through the end of February.
Well, February is here, without a new extension—meaning that as of March 1, the lifeline for thousands of jobless families will be cut off.
Will Congress act once again to protect their many unemployed constituents? If so, they need to act fast—they only have a month, and they haven’t exactly distinguished themselves so far in appreciating urgency.
What’s worse, the House Republican majority has been clear about its preferred course of action: slashing benefits and imposing conditions to prevent unemployed people from getting the benefits from a system they paid into.
Tens of thousands of people have signed on to the Nine Demands of the 99 Percent, and extending unemployment insurance is one of those key demands. Families between jobs depend on unemployment benefits to feed their kids, stay in their homes and support businesses in their communities.
Congress didn’t pass the last extension out of the goodness of their hearts. They did it because of sustained public pressure. With one (short!) month to go, it’s time to get active again.
In December, after being battered in the arena of public opinion, House Republicans reluctantly agreed to a short extension of unemployment insurance (UI) for the nation’s jobless workers. That reprieve runs out Feb. 29 and House Republicans are set to relaunch their attack on UI.
A conference is now underway between the Senate and House over two very different one-year extensions of the UI program passed late last year and the Republican bill would “slash federal benefits, impose harsh new restrictions and move to dismantle the essential lifeline of unemployment insurance,” writes Mitchell Hirsch of the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
Among other things the Republican UI bill would:
Slash federal UI by more than half in the highest unemployment states;
Allow mandatory drug testing of unemployment insurance claimants, stigmatizing jobless workers;
Make jobless workers pay for their reemployment services;
Deny benefits to those not fortunate enough to finish high school or GED; and
Let states reduce benefits and divert unemployment benefit funds to other uses.
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee says House Republicans:
are threatening another round of brinksmanship by insisting on starting with a rerun of the approaches within the House Republican bill… Department of Labor data shows that 2.8 million Americans would lose unemployment benefits under the House Republican proposal compared to current law… Democrats won’t start from the premise that the unemployed are to blame for unemployment, that weeks can be slashed without harming workers in the hardest hit states.
NELP has published a detailed legislative analysis of the Republican bill, click here and you can click here to send a message to your member of Congress to reject the drastic cuts and restrictions in the Republican UI bill.
Having narrowly averted cutting off unemployment insurance to millions of Americans right before the holidays, Congress now returns to take up what should be a relatively simple task even for this Congress — a full reauthorization of federal unemployment insurance (UI), the payroll tax reduction and other provisions through 2012. But, as they did in December, some lawmakers are looking to revive House efforts to slash federal benefits, impose onerous new restrictions and move to dismantle the essential lifeline of unemployment insurance.
The stopgap two-month extension of the federal UI program will expire February 29th unless Congress acts on a full-year renewal. This week, the Joint Economic Committee issued a report on the benefits of continuing unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut. The report estimated that more than 3.3 million unemployed workers would be cut off of their UI benefits by June 2 without a renewal of the program (see page 4 for state-by-state estimates).
A 20-member Conference Committee of the House and Senate convened for the first time this week to begin work on a full year extension. The Committee is chaired by Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), the lead sponsor of H.R. 3630, the House Republican bill that’s designed to drastically slash federal UI benefits while erecting harmful new barriers to benefits, making it harder for ordinary Americans to access their unemployment insurance.
The House H.R. 3630 proposals would:
* Slash federal UI by more than half in the highest unemployment states
* Allow mandatory drug testing of unemployment insurance claimants, stigmatizing jobless workers
* Make jobless workers pay for their reemployment services
* Deny benefits to those not fortunate enough to finish high school or GED
* Let states reduce benefits and divert unemployment benefit funds to other uses
The National Employment Law Project has published a detailed legislative analysis of these and other provisions being sought by House Republicans in H.R. 3630.
Public outcry, meanwhile, has been growing in support of a full renewal of unemployment insurance and against both the reckless cuts and the proposed new barriers to benefits. An Unemployedworkers.org action page has already generated a combined 96,000 email and fax messages to the members of the Congressional Conference Committee, and another 34,000 to Congressional leaders and other Members of Congress.
Tens of thousands of calls have been made to Congress through our dedicated toll-free line 888-245-3381.
House leaders had to, finally, accede to public pressure and drop their obstruction when Senate Republicans refused to take up the House version of H.R. 3630 back in December. Now, only strong public pressure will keep the Conference Committee from doing real damage to jobless workers, their families and the unemployment insurance system.
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) gets it and is fighting for unemployed workers in the Conference Committee. Watch what Sen. Reed had to say about the unemployment extension issues during the Committee’s first meeting this week:
Last night’s State of the Union address revolved around themes of fairness and rebuilding America’s middle class. As in any speech of this size, there was a lot to absorb. What we found most interesting was President Barack Obama’s emphasis on not repeating the mistakes that led us to the economic catastrophe of the past few years.
It’s encouraging that President Obama paid special attention to the issue of housing and financial-sector fraud. Tens of thousands of Working America members and union members called for a real investigation into banks and their role in causing the housing crisis, and the President announced the creation of a new task force to investigate fraud in his speech last night.
We will have to watch this task force closely. We can’t have an investigation just for show, one that doesn’t take a comprehensive look at wrongdoing and impose real penalties. What powers will the investigators have, and who are they? The co-chair of the panel is Eric Schneiderman, the New York state Attorney General who has led opposition to a bad deal, which is encouraging. But David Dayen, a close observer, is skeptical of the panel and thinks it may be a way to ease us into an insufficient settlement. As we’ve said before, we can’t accept a deal that lets big banks break the law and abuse consumers without being held responsible.
The State of the Union message showed that, in many ways, President Obama is attuned to the economic crisis that’s still ongoing in our country. His insistence on extending the payroll tax cut for working families is important, as is his attention to investing in infrastructure jobs and schools, which creates jobs now and builds economic strength for the future. His proposals on job training and support for companies that “insource” good jobs to America’s communities are encouraging as well.
Our members understand that politics is about priorities. With limited resources, we have to choose whether to keep tax breaks for the very wealthiest and for corporations that outsource jobs, or whether to use those revenues to support programs that seniors, students and families depend on. President Obama showed that, like most Americans, he’d choose the latter. Now it’s up to Congress to decide where they stand.
Only 26 of the nation’s 363 metropolitan areas had recovered their lost jobs by the end of 2011, and only 26 more are projected to recover them by end of this year, according to the report, which was commissioned by the United States Conference of Mayors. It will take at least five years for the 80 hardest-hit areas to recover the jobs they lost, the report forecast.
Not only has Congress failed to overcome partisan gridlock to agree on a way to created much-needed jobs by spending more money on infrastructure, mayors said, but even the small sources of federal support that cities rely on — whether the Community Development Block Grants that were devised by Republican administrations in the 1970s or more recent federal programs that help struggling cities pay for more police officers or firefighters — are being scaled back as Washington has made cutting the deficit a priority.
Now, here’s a thought:
Mayor James Brainard of Carmel, Ind., a Republican, said that the country must get to a point where it spends less than it collects in revenues, but that it must be done over years, carefully.
“We have to recognize that it can’t be done in one year without throwing us into a huge, much worse depression than we’ve had,” he said. “It needs to be a multiyear plan that doesn’t create terrible hardship.”
The report commissioned by the mayors can be found here.
The opening lines of the introduction:
No one has been hit harder by the Great Recession than the 8.8 million Americans who have lost their jobs during the most significant economic downturn in generations.
Our nation’s mayors are focused on doing everything we can to help the jobless, the underemployed, and those worried about losing their jobs.
That kind of concern is a real contrast to all the unemployed bashing we’ve seen by members of Congress and the presidential candidates. Let’s hope that folks in Washington are paying attention while the mayors are in town.
As the first snow of the season finally hits the Badger State, we find ourselves ready to face another legislative session in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin. It’s a good time to take a moment and reflect on all the damage he has done to the state of Wisconsin over the past year – and to gear up for more fights as he seeks to take our state even further backwards.
While Walker sits in the Governor’s Mansion and talks about making Wisconsin “open for business,” the rest of us are faced with five straight months of job loss. The people of Wisconsin are concerned about putting food on the table and what type of future their children will have.
“One of the top concerns in communities across Wisconsin is education,” said Working America field manager Kristin Gutkowski. “Day after day we hear stories about huge class sizes and teachers afraid of losing their jobs. How are kids supposed to learn in an environment like that?”
With Walker’s priorities it’s easy to see how we got into this situation. While he talks about doling out hundreds of millions of dollars to big business he is cutting $793 million dollars from the education budget.
Speaking of big business, Walker and his pal State Senator Glenn Grothman are busy yet again trying to give corporations the edge over Wisconsin workers.
Right now Grothman is pushing a bill that would remove the requirement that political campaign donors report where they work. The reason for this bill, according to him, is to protect businesses from the public – but not allowing us to know who those businesses support politically.
“This bill makes no sense to me,” said Milwaukee Working America member Scott Lyman. “People have less and less money these days, don’t we have the right to know who these businesses support before we hand over our hard-earned dollars?”
Grothman’s bill also comes at an ideal time for his buddy Scott Walker.
Not only was it recently discovered that Walker has 1,115 instances of improperly disclosed donations for his political campaign – totaling over half a million dollars – but one of Walker’s big donors just got nailed for funneling money through his employees to his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
William Gardner, president and CEO of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., plead guilty to two felony counts in connect to donations given to Walker in his run for governor. One of these counts was for giving company and personal funds to his employees and associates so they could make contributions on his behalf.
Guess what helped them pick up Gardner’s trail of dirty money? You guessed it: the employer information that campaigns are currently required to give for political donors – the very same information that Glenn Grothman is seeking to hide for the public with his pro-corporate bill.
Beyond the legislature, we can even see examples of Walker’s anti-worker policy bleeding into the private sector. The machinists at Manitowoc Crane were negotiating a fair union contract with their company when management decided to add in union-busting language at the last minute. Lifting the language straight from Walker’s anti-worker budget repair bill, the company was seeking to take away their workers voice even as they posted a 20.7 percent sales increase in the 3rd quarter of 2011.
By a vote of 180 to 2, the union rejected this contract and went on strike to ensure that their voices could be heard on the job. Working America members in Manitowoc have come out along with the rest of the community to support these courageous workers who are standing up for good, family supporting jobs.
In early December we saw nearly 3000 people gather in support of the workers, rallying in sub-freezing temperatures to bring them donations of food and gifts for their children before the Christmas holiday. After nearly two months on the picket line the workers were finally able to come back to the bargaining table with management this week and our thoughts are with them.
A community rallying in support is not something new to Wisconsin; we are a strong state with a rich history of supporting workers’ rights. Recently, I saw a commercial Scott Walker put together over the holidays. In it, he said that “we can all work together to move forward,” and we are. We are working together to make sure that he cannot do any more damage to our state. We are working together to stop the attacks on the working class, and create a future where the ultra-wealthy “share the sacrifice” with Wisconsin working families.
And most importantly, we are working together to get Governor Walker out of office.
The following is a statement from Working America.
The increase in jobs growth reported today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics—200,000 jobs gained as unemployment fell to 8.5 percent—is a modest improvement but one that remains virtually invisible to Working America’s 3 million members. Small improvements in jobs numbers are welcome news, but they are not enough.
Working America members are among the nearly 6 million people who have been jobless for more than six months. Employment in communities of color remains an ongoing catastrophe. And many workers have given up looking for work, leaving them uncounted in the statistics we read every month.
As corporations sit on huge piles of cash, they refuse to hire, devastating the economy. Not only are millions without work, there are 7.5 million homes that have entered into the foreclosure process, with 4.8 million more homes at risk.
Lawmakers should be calling for robust investment in infrastructure to rebuild crumbling roads, schools and bridges. They should be protecting homeowners and consumers from runaway banks and a financial system that favors the 1%. They should be holding accountable corporations who hoard their profits, rather than hire in the United States. Those would be the modest improvements to our economy worth celebrating.