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America’s Long-Term Unemployed Can No Longer Be Ignored

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UnemploymentRejectedFor the estimated 1.3 million Americans who lost their unemployment insurance benefits when Congress allowed them to expire on December 28, President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday offered the first glimmer of hope they had seen in weeks.

Equally encouraging news came on Friday with the President’s announcement of a partnership with the CEO’s of 300 top American employers – companies like Walmart, Apple and Verizon – to agree to a set of “best practices” in hiring that includes a commitment not to discriminate against the long term unemployed.

Even so, none of this goes nearly far enough in addressing this immediate, and rapidly growing crisis.

age discrimination in the workplaceJob-seekers over the age of 50 will be the first to tell you that ageism is one of the most under-reported factors contributing to the alarmingly high number of long term unemployment statistics.

Passage of the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act, a proposal known to few Americans outside of those with an AARP card, would go a long way toward leveling the playing field for those older job-seekers viewed by some employers as more of an expensive risk due to the health issues which come with age.

But Obama’s remarks – which made up less than two minutes of the hour-long SOTU speech – also probably ring somewhat empty for those most affected by the sudden loss of their only source of income. It also remains to be seen whether Obama’s “Call To Action to Give the Long-Term Unemployed a Fair Shot” initiative with big business translates into opportunities at the local level, and policies that trickle down to regional HR departments, or not.

long-term-unemployment-crisis-continuesTwo separate Democratic sponsored bills to extend the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (or EUC) benefit checks to the long term unemployed (26 weeks or longer) had been declared all but dead in the water only two weeks prior. The vote was initially rejected by Republicans over concerns on how to pay for it, and then over procedural rules allowing for additional amendments to be tacked onto the legislation.

The media covered this for about two days. But once the bill was stalled, they quickly moved on to more important stories like the Chris Christie “Bridge-gate” scandal, Justin Bieber’s DUI arrest and the debate over whether Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman’s post-NFC championship outburst translated into Straight Outta’ Compton style thuggery.

So much for the fifth estate.

But if this sort of maneuvering seems more like a case of simply moving the goal posts in a game of partisan, political football, the painful reality of the matter is that a significant segment of the American population have become more like pawns in a very cruel game. The way that Congress, and Republicans in particular – elected by the people to represent their constituents, rather than advance their own political and personal agendas – have so far turned their backs on these millions of American citizens, is nothing short of a national disgrace.

Think for a moment about the well over one million – that’s million with a great, big capitol “M” – most severely affected by this. With every passing week that Congress fails to act on extending these benefits, an additional 72,000 citizens will be added to this already much too high number.

That’s more American citizens than the thousands who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, or the many more who lost everything in the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

If that comparison seems somewhat exaggerated, it really isn’t when you think about it. For the long term unemployed, these EUC checks – which average about $300 or less a week – are a crucial lifeline as they continue to search for work in an increasingly tough, and in many cases, even hostile job market. For many of these people, this sudden loss of income has become the difference between paying their bills and putting food on their table, and in the most extreme cases keeping a roof over their head.

As their only source of income in most cases, EUC not only pays for necessities like food, rent and utilities – it also pays for that all-important job search. It pays the internet bill which is the only way to search for these jobs (the days of searching newspaper want-ads and going door-to-door, went the way of VHS and 8-Track tapes long ago). It pays the phone bill used for those initial phone screens, and puts gas in the car to drive to those increasingly rare, much harder to come by in-person interviews.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Kim Murrell

    This is an honest and straight to the point article about the state of affairs for people seeking work ( Especially Baby-Boomers!) in these ‘modern’ times. Let this article be a reminder of how important ‘Community’ is in the lives of all Americans. This country ( before the Eisenhower Interstate System) was a series of ‘Communities’ all spread across this country; supporting themselves and helping the less fortunate and there neighbors in need. There wasn’t malice and judgement when people were in need. Those who had it helped those who had none. America is our ‘Community’ and there are people out there that need help. Period! As for all those fat-cat and self righteous republicans who think that unemployment benefits are just the lazy man’s “Get By”, you are either extremely ignorant or unbelievably heartless.

  • Kim Murrell

    Please excuse misspellings and punctuation…

  • Glen Boyd

    Thanks Kim. Well said.

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    The problem is more profound than unemployment itself. We need to go to a skills-centered education system which has at its center the matching of people to relevant training and jobs. Our current education system is too laden with knowledge accumulation.

    We need to emphasize the professions more. After all, the baby boomers will be retiring and it takes at least a decade to train a licensed professional with licensure exams passed and relevant work experience in hand. Soon enough, we’ll be importing first thousands and then millions of people from overseas to fill the slots that American youth haven’t fully prepared for. I’ll probably be deceased before this actually sets in fully.

    • bliffle

      Blaming unemployment on worker job skills is an old tactic by management to try to get more cheap foreign workers admitted. It never helps existing workers, and it’s poor preparation for the future.

  • bliffle

    We can begin by discarding the notion that Republicans and CEOs are the “job creators”, they are not. In 10 years of the US and it’s citizens pumping more money into their hands thru tax-cuts, bailouts, and quantataive easing they have NOT been able to produce results in the job markets. They defrauded us. They took the money and put it in their personal and corporate foreign accounts, to the tune of trillions of dollars a year.

    Since big-shots as job creators has failed, where can we look? Traditionally, we have stimulated demand. The most immediate and effective way to stimulate demand is to put money in the hands of the lowest paid and the poor because they have the largest Economic Multiplier and they will spend immediately.

    Restore a robust unemployment compensation. It props up the economy and it incentivises employers to create jobs.

    Increasing the minimum wage is a clumsy device, but it works. The oft-expressed theory that higher minimum wage will cause employers to layoff low wage people is nonsense, since no businessman will lay off workers when he has orders to fill. He’ll pay them more. We have a long history that proves that in the union-building years. Businessmen are smart enough to know that the lowest paid people are not the ones causing them cost distress.

    Reduce the workweek from 40 hours to 35 or less. That will spread the available work out more. Besides, workers deserve a break: they have a long record of increasing productivity that should be rewarded. Most of the rewards were skimmed off at the top by speculators.

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    We do need to find ways to repatriate money out of foreign bank accounts back to the USA. The corporate tax system can be modified to facilitate this, as some in Congress have suggested. There are pockets of high employment in the USA in areas like Nebraska and others. Right now, unemployment in Nebraska is at historic lows < 4% in comparison to other parts of the nation.

    http://www.dol.nebraska.gov/infolink/LaborAreaSummaries/LAS_Annual.pdf

    Even Former President Clinton has pointed out that many thousands of jobs are available. People don't compete for the jobs due to a lack of skills. We need to link the skills to jobs and where people need retraining-the training should be provided so that they can qualify for the jobs out there. Many of these jobs are in the high tech area although health care delivery is becoming a very popular employment choice due to the Obamacare and an aging population.

    At some point, this country will just burst out of this recessionary climate because the population is growing at a robust 1MM people a year. Of course, a larger population simply buys more of everything. i.e. clothing, housing, food, consumer goods et al.

    Lastly, the baby boomers are retiring at a record rate and replacements are needed, or will be needed soon enough in every profession. Targeted education will play a role here. Students must take college courses that qualify them for entrance into one of the many professions. i.e. Accountancy,
    Actuarial Science, Medicine, Law, Engineering, Investment Advising etc.

  • bliffle

    Instead of “repatriating money” from foreign countries (a faulty solution that is always advanced by international corporations because their REAL goal is what they propose next: reductions in corporate tax rates), we have to change our tax laws to retain more of the tax money we are entitled to, in the first place. Repeal the Foreign Tax Allowance! It is that loophole that all the big corps use to cheat the USA of corporate taxes. Recently we have heard about the billions of dollars that some of our major corporations can ‘save’ (more properly called tax dodging) by opening an empty shell of an office in some foreign land and declaring their profits there. It’s just a stupid paper-work and lawyer trick, but it’s worth billions every year.

    End Tax Expenditures! Those are all handouts to corps and the rich in the amount of $1.2trillion/year (raised from $900billion/year recently; do you remember being consulted by your congress critter on this further giveaway of $300billlion?). In the 1980s we did away completely with Tax Expenditures, but now they have arisen from the dead like zombies to rob our purses and pillage our banks!

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Intercorporate profit, sales and inventory should be eliminated in consolidation. The IRS should look more closely at shell corporations that are creatures of law created to avoid taxation. Usually, the host country provides the tax haven and the business migrates there to avoid paying taxes. Our Congress can close these loopholes. Even Mitt Romney talked about closing some of these loopholes in the last election cycle. Corporations probably paid more taxes under President Eisenhower than any of the current crop of Republicans.

  • bliffle

    It’s not a matter of passing new laws but of enforcing existing laws and taxes. Also, workers must organize into unions or guilds so that they increase their power.

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    The $1 to #3 trillion dollars sitting in overseas bank accounts will not move until Congress provides some incentive for corporations to invest here in the USA. Soon enough we’ll know because the population in the USA has been growing steadily and the housing glut has been reducing. At some point, companies will be required to expand their operations in response to having to fill more orders from a spike in demand for goods/services.

    Back in ’08, Warren Buffet indicated that the housing glut would dry up in the ’14 time frame. Then, new housing will be built and the related industries like consumer goods, materials, supplies etc. would perk up in response to a greater demand for housing.

    In addition, major companies must accept the fact that the Patient Protection Act is here to stay. The biggest driver of overall affordability is health and wellness. The American people must make better eating choices to reduce the need for so much health care. i.e. child diabetes

    Taxing junk food is another possibility for infusing cash into the health care pipeline; however, this is not a popular political option as former Mayor Bloomberg quickly found out. There could be a real bonanza out there for taxing pot and medicinal pot which may replace morphine. Soon enough, we’ll know whether or not the legalization efforts in Washington State and Colorado pay off.

  • TotoFett22

    For the record, almost no one in politics has a conscience, this is not limited to any particular party. Second, while the Republicans do need to start supporting the older workforce getting back to work, Obama has been dragging his feet on this too. He had time to golf, go to Martha’s Vineyard, and get involved in all sorts of scandals, I’m pretty sure he had time to do something for the people who WANT to find work, rather than extending unemployment benefits so that the people who DON’T can mooch off the taxpayers. Honestly, I’m just frustrated at the complete lack of competence anywhere in our government, right or left.

    • Carole Di Tosti

      Truly. Right is left is right is left. The wealthy hold sway with both parties and are increasing their power hold with acts and bills the public has little clue about. MoveOn.org has a list.

    • Mark

      You, miss “Toto” are an ignorant d’ bag…..and you, not unlike most politicians, just don’t get it do you? no….
      While you correctly assessed politicians on both sides as being without a conscience…you then proceed to lump “ALL” unemployed together, stating they “DON’T” want to work?? 1st of all, unemployed ARE TAXPAYERS, past and present!! The benefits they hope to collect have already been paid for! It’s politicians/government, whom are putting their own personal agendas in front of doing what’s right for those whom HAVE WORKED for many years for this country! Keep your one-sided comments to yourself vs offending millions whom have worked in this country longer than you have lived here! (are you even a legal resident?) Unemployment comp has been “earned” by those whom qualify, legitimately…..Stop dissing on your fellow, hard working Americans….
      Yes, there are a few scabs whom are unemployed (as there are whom are employed)…whom do give the masses a bad rap/name….but, PLEASE—do NOT

      MAKE GENERAL STATEMENTS about those whom have lost their LONG TIME jobs for no valid reason….. You sound as if you are usually a little better than that….. but, maybe you aren’t?

  • bliffle

    We have to cut the workweek from 40 hours down to 35 or 30. It’s utter madness to send old people back into the workforce when we don’t have jobs for all the workers that we have! Automation, retraining, and capital fluidity have resulted in a persistent productivity increase of 2% per year that has simply made much work unnecessary. We should recognize the contributions of workers by rewarding them with shorter workweeks and longer vacations, rather than defacto workweek increases. What we have done instead is to skim off riches at the top and pile them on the altars of our CEOs. How stupid!

    Cut the workweek!

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Cutting the work week is a good idea which has been discussed for quite some time. It’s about time that they do this so that people have more time to raise families. Miniaturization and mechanization have savaged manual work, although the need for infrastructure upgrading is labor intensive. A growing population will need more housing which is also labor intensive to construct and maintain over time. Even teaching is labor intensive. Machines can assist teachers; however, people still appreciate the human element as a part of the educational experience. Bonding and the management of peer group relations are still needed in the classroom in a very big way. Social skills are still important,as is something called “emotional intelligence”.

  • bliffle

    Building a house hasn’t been labor-intensive for 15 years. You should get out more, Joe. Teams of carpenters have been replaced with pre-fabbed Simpson shear walls, Simpson metal fasteners, Glu-lam beams, etc. You’re hard-pressed to find a hammer on a build-site these days, or even a loose nail. The little bit of nailing that’s done is with a hydraulic, electric, or powder-charge nailer using a nail coil or cartridge, and usually applied to a simple repetitive flooring or sheathing.

    If you show up at a “Habitat for Humanity” buildsite with your hammer they have nothing for you to do! Even the simple floor joist has been engineered: you’ll notice that new floors don’t creak anymore when you walk on them.

    Builders have become highly trained technicians, not laborers like my grandfather.

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Maybe that’s true of the residential construction and the use of manufactured housing and pre-fab. In New York, they’re going back to skyscrapers.

    Mayor De Blasio has received a commitment from the real estate industry to incorporate 200,000 new affordable housing units throughout the city alongside the luxury apartments. In addition, they’re going to build the micro-apartments throughout lower Manhattan. Each micro-apartment will be 250 to 350 sq. feet with built in beds, cabinets etc.

    The micro-apartments are assembled very much along the lines you mentioned below. The Habitat for Humanity has operated using more manufactured housing concepts because homes need to be built quickly, cost effectively and in greater volume to accommodate the need.

    People are embracing the micro-apartments because they’re cheaper, very easy to assemble and fill the immediate need for brand new apartments. In addition, most people have computers instead of vast libraries so that fewer cabinets are needed to house books, encyclopedias etc. The need for affordability is now more important than voluminous living space.

  • bliffle

    The cure for unemployment CANNOT be found in job creation! The inexorable creep of productivity assures that. We can never create enough featherbedding and make-work to keep ahead of the replacement of labor with machines.

    After WW2 Norbert Weiner (one of Americas greatest engineers, instrumental in development of radar and other weapons systems) said that “there is no salary sufficient to support a man with a shovel so that he can compete with a steamshovel”. Yes, that steel driving man, John Henry, was bound to die.

    We MUST adjust ourselves to a new world with a shorter workweek and fewer workers. We must recognize that some people will never work in our traditional idea of work. Get used to it.

    It isn’t a question of morality. It isn’t a question of compulsion. It isn’t a question of incentive. It’s simple math.

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    There is no question about machines taking over the traditional jobs or drastically simplifying work. Outsourcing is another problem for big labor here in the US. I think that we have to look at where individual tasks are labor intensive. This is a very considered job analysis done by professionals in Organizational Development/Design.

  • bliffle

    No, Joe, you’re simply wrong. The ever increasing productivity of workers either must be sopped up by increased demand (the solution that worked in the post-war era of expansion) or reduced demand for labor. We are sated with manufactured junk, so the only solution is to reduce hours worked. If we don’t reduce the workweek then the only solution is more layoffs and more unemployment, and more unemployment (given the poor safety nets we have in the USA) will lead to anarchy and revolution.

    When this latest recession began the country that had the best tools to survive was Germany because they have a workshare system (which automatically reduced work hours) builtin to their corporate organizations. Plus, they have high levels of workplace democracy, so that workers contribute to company decision making. They prospered, whereas countries that depended on the tricky financial instruments of Goldman Sacs, etc., suffered (what they thought were insurance were actually just additional costs with no payoff). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: any and all parties to a “Credit Default Swap” are knowingly committing fraud. Any and All! Read the paperwork!

    We’d be fools to ignore the ready evidence of the European and US experiences from the recession.

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    I said that below:

    “Cutting the work week is a good idea which has been discussed for quite some time.”

    We still have massive infrastructure work on rebuilding roads, highways, bridges, tunnels etc. This work is labor intensive.
    The Baby boomer generation is retiring and every profession will need replacements. Miniaturization and artificial intelligence makes work easier but you still need professionals to do onsite inspections, examinations etc.

    You still need teachers in schools because the human dimension cannot be fully replaced by machines. For example, classrooms are now using clickers to record class participation. Teachers are still needed to lecture, manage small group instruction and do the huge amount of administrative work involved in the classroom.

    The work product which supports the awarding of a grade is no longer a few tests and a final exam. Today, teachers must produce tests, final exams, term projects, class participation and
    other evidence of learning. Some courses have labs.

    Teaching can be made easier but you still need significant human intervention-particularly in the primary grades. The municipal
    police, fire and sanitation forces are still needed. The advent of the huge stock market crash together with historic frauds indicates that you need accountants and auditors now more than ever.

  • bliffle

    Every big infrastructure project or civic project is claimed to produce jobs, but no attempt is made to choose the most efficient job creator. We always have many investment opportunities, so we always need an analysis of Opportunity Cost. Which of our choices has the largest ROI in terms of jobs per dollar? A project that returns only one job per million dollars invested is not as efficacious as one that returns ten jobs. But capital management struggles against that, preferring projects that require more capital than people.

    Sometimes, when one does that analysis, it is simply more efficient to provide welfare and unemployment pay rather than wasting so many dollars on excess capital.

    Teaching, for example, has a very high ROI of jobs per dollar. Financing an auto plant has a low ROI. But in the modern context we tend to be prejudiced against teaching and in favor of factories because one is a public expenditure and the other is private.

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    The question of employment is a difficult one because there are many dimensions. First, the population in the US has been on the rise at about 1 million per year. Second, the baby boomers are retiring and will be living longer (despite the junk food). Third, there are growing economies-particularly in Asia. New inventions, products and services abound. This commenter happens to be in favor of the infrastructure projects because roads will always be needed for things like delivery of consumer goods, services and even energy. Things like the National Hwy System have paid off for decades and multiple generations of Americans. Ditto for the rails and shipping!

  • bliffle

    The current anomalous situation, where unemployment increases as stock markets increase, demonstrates a failure of Trickle Down and Supplyside economics.

    With employees having less disposable income the high demand that Supplside depends on is simply not there, in fact it diminishes.

    The problem with Trickledown is that the pipe that goes from the top down to the bottom is not large enough, so inputs backup at the top of the pipe and overflows the input reservoir thus limiting trickledown. The way this manifests in a capital economy is that the economy is Over-capitalized (as we are, by as much as 20% according to some). Trying to force-feed the system (as with Quantitative Easing) just results in bidding up capital prices, as we see. The forced wealth just spills on the ground.

    Thus, our current QE policy, putting $1trillion into (wasted) QE, combined with our foolish Tax Expenditure policies of unnecessary tax handouts to corporations and rich people which waste $1.2trillion (Obamas new record expenditure, up from the $900billion that Bush topped out at) is all wasted money.

    The wasted money just ends up dormant in savings accounts. No use to anyone. The bane of economies.

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    It’s time to bring back the higher corporate taxes of the Eisenhower era to pay down the federal debt ! It’s also time to tax junk food to reduce the queues in the medical offices, as well as things like childhood diabetes.

  • bliffle

    There’s plenty of money available in the USA, we just have to deploy the capital we have into projects, like infrastructure, teaching, etc., that have a high ROI of jobs. Right now we have an excess of capital that is stalled and dormant because the economy is controlled by corporate heads who have no interest in the economy, just in their own personal commissions, stock dividends, bonus plans, etc. That’s why so much money has gravitated to the top (and no, they didn’t ‘earn’ it, their performance has been miserable).

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    We do need a renewed emphasis on infrastructure. That alone would employ millions. The baby boomers are retiring and replacements will be needed in every profession. It takes the better part of a decade to educate professionals, have them get relevant work experience, pass the licensing exams, get the boards to approve their work experience and get a license issued at the end of this process.

    A number of companies are doing well in this economy like Google,Apple, ITC and many others including those in the “Forever Stocks” that people like Warren Buffet own. I do want a better monitoring of derivatives and an updating of the Uniform Commercial Code to set forth the rights, duties, obligations and recourse of the parties including counterparties for derivatives. The Fed is currently putting into place more stringent stress tests for banks to avoid a repeat performance of some of the problems that precipitated the ’08 crisis.

    Lastly, the Uniform Commercial Code should be amended to redefine just what is a corporate entity and make a clearer separation of a corporate entity from persons under the UCC. The United States Supreme Court is limited in interpreting the current Code. The Court doesn’t write law-they can only
    cite what is current UCC protocol.

    The UCC itself must redefine the definition of corporations with clearer limitations on what they can and can’t do under the UCC. There is a committee in Pa. which reviews the UCC on a periodic basis and makes recommendations on changes based upon new needs in the conduct of commerce in the United States.

  • bliffle

    “Infrastructure” is not the panacea for employment that it was years ago because so many labor tasks have been replaced by capital equipment. That, after all, is the economic principle of ‘capitalism’: to replace recurring labor cost with fixed cost capital.

    As a result, much less actual labor is required for bridge-building, etc., since so much is done by powerful machines and prefabbing and so the yield per million dollars spent, in terms of job ROI, is very small compared to, say, 80 years ago. Look at old film of men building the GG bridge and you see roustabouts crawling all over that structure heating rivets and pounding them into place. No more. The guys you see are highly trained business operators, the descendants of the Guild Masters of old. Meet some of those guys and you’ll probably discover they have several operating licenses and certificates, work on contract, and they live on a large ranch they own in some hunting fishing paradise like Louisiana or Idaho and they drive their luxury motorhome into town and work about half the year so they can hunt/fish and have good times with their family the rest of the year.

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    They’re building a simple ice skating rink in the Kingsbridge section of NYC.
    The rink will bring an estimated 2000 jobs to the area.