For Unemployed Americans, Yesterday WAS The End Of The World

Fiscal Cliff

Fiscal Cliff, Fiscal Cliff, Fiscal Cliff….blah blah blah. Most of us are watching the news and hypothesizing about what’s going to happen if a deal isn’t reached by Tuesday and the U.S. goes over the “fiscal cliff.” How bad is it going to be? Will it be a “soft or hard landing”? Is it even real? Many lawmakers are saying that the “fiscal cliff” is actually a myth (yeah I wrote that article). The rich folks will be grumpy because they’ll be paying higher taxes. The 98 percenters are musing over the effect to their Earned Income and Child Tax Credits. People who aren’t wealthy but are a little more financially secure than many may be wondering whether or not the American Opportunity Tax Credit will still be available to help put their kids through college. ABC News used the word “scary” and thinks the definition of scary is this:

Partly by fate, partly by design, some scary fiscal forces come together at the start of 2013 unless Congress and Obama act to stop them. They include: — Some $536 billion in tax increases, touching nearly all Americans, because various federal tax cuts and breaks expire at year’s end. — About $110 billion in spending cuts divided equally between the military and most other federal departments. That’s about 8 percent of their annual budgets, 9 percent for the Pentagon.

Bloomberg offers it’s idea of “scary,” too:

Failure to address the expiring tax breaks, enacted under President George W. Bush, would mean heavier burdens on taxpayers during the coming filing season, on their regular paychecks and their 2013 tax bills. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in Washington estimates the average effect per taxpayer at $3,446 for 2013 if Congress does nothing. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index fell for a fifth day on Dec. 28, by 1.1 percent to 1,402.45 at 4 p.m. in New York. The benchmark Treasury 10-year yield declined four basis points, or 0.04 percentage point, to 1.7 percent at 5 p.m. in New York, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader.

What? Are you kidding me? You know what? We’re in crisis mode. It’s not that I’m not concerned about the above stated issues, but it’s like worrying about the crepe myrtle trees during a hurricane. Let me tell you what scary is. Having a few hundred dollars (if you’re lucky) in your bank account, a fridge half full of food, worrying about heating your home in the dead of winter, and even paying for your kids school lunches. And knowing that as of yesterday, Saturday, December 29th, you have received your last $400-ish per week unemployment check. For two to three million unemployed people, this issue is a bit more than the “headache” described by ABC News. Of the approximately 12 million Americans who are unemployed. 40 percent of those have been out of work for more than 27 weeks and are receiving extended unemployment benefits from the federal government. Unfortunately, these people are the least likely to find sustainable jobs quickly. Businesses are in the sweet position of having the luxury of being very selective.

“Employers are not going to consider the long-term unemployed,” says economist Sophia Koropeckyj of Moody’s Analytics. “They’re treated as damaged goods.”

Since 2008, the federal government has funded extensions of state unemployment benefits that kick in once state funds, 26 weeks of benefits, are exhausted. Many unemployed people can receive up to 99 weeks of benefits with extended unemployment. The problem is that the program will cost about $30 billion to extend it through 2013. And of course, the GOP is bucking on this. This video gives a very quick and concise explanation of what the Unemployment Extension is:

The thing about unemployment benefits is that nearly every dime goes directly back into the economy. This is just common sense. No one I’ve ever known has padded their savings accounts with UI benefits. And I’ve known quite a few people who were surviving on UI benefits. About 90,000, actually, in my days in the Dallas, Texas workforce development world. Anyone who thinks that a self-respecting American wants live on $400 per week indefinitely is completely wrong. Oh, I know there are people out there who are voluntarily staying on unemployment because it “beats working.” But in my years in workforce development, I only saw this a handful of times. Here is the ONLY thing on my mind today in regards to this fiscal cliff business: Hard-working Americans who have fallen on hard times, many of whom will very soon have to face the reality of possibly being homeless in the dead of winter and wondering where their next meal will come from. Don’t tell me that these people are lazy bums, trying to live off of the system. So you have a neighbor who’s been on unemployment for a year and you “just know” she’s not trying? Ok. But your view is a lot more narrow than mine. I know them, I’ve met them, and I’ve witnessed first-hand their efforts and their desperation. This worry comes up every single time a budget deal can’t be reached. The unemployed demographic is one of the “babies” that the GOP always uses to dangle over the cliff and say “give us what we want or we’re going to drop it.” But always, always…historically…our fearless leaders come through at the 11th hour pretending to be the heroes they are NOT, and all’s well that ends well. What if, this time, they don’t?

I’ve pulled together a to-do list and resource list for unemployed people in case we don’t see a resolution. With a recent development, the outlook is looking more and more bleak. Feel free to print it out and share it with everyone you know.

Photo I am an “an unapologetic member of the Christian Left” and worked in workforce development with youth and adult job-seekers for 10 years. Most of my career has been devoted to working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. I’m passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics I discusses, subscribe to my public updates on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me via LinkedIn. I do also have a grossly neglected blogFind me somewhere and join my conversations.