Perhaps it’s easy for most folks to believe that Congress’ arrogant, perplexing refusal to extend Unemployment benefits for millions of Americans only affects shiftless, lazy, unemployable layabouts who’ve been addicted to entitlements and have been draining the coffers for months and years.
I’m here to tell you that – at least in one very personal instance – you’re dead wrong.
That would be my own.
Explain, you say? Gladly.
As do many Americans these days, I work two jobs – I’m a freelance musician, but my “day gig” – the job that puts the majority of bread on my table – has been consulting work in the IT sector for some time now. I’ve worked in IT for over 15 years, but have been doing consulting on a temp basis for the past five. What that means, essentially, is that I’m a Temp. I work for a company who farms me out for projects, rollouts, installations, et cetera. It’s the New Normal in America in many, many fields – and statistics bear that out. So, in plain and simple terms, what that means for me and my family is that job security is a pipe dream. It means no employer-provided benefits, no paid time off for sick days, vacation, or holidays, and it further means that the longest an assignment will last is 18 months – thanks to some legal precedent set years ago when a temporary employee sued a corporation after having been retained for several years with no offer of a permanent position. The employee felt that they should be entitled to benefits extended to permanent employees, thus the basis for the lawsuit.
The actual end result, however, has been that a benchmark has been established – 18 months – after which time a company must either bring the employee on permanently or terminate their assignment.
This has been the case for as long as I’ve been doing this kind of work, and there’s no loophole that any of my employers have been aware. So what that means is that every year and a half, if I’m still on assignment after that time, the company has to either bring me on or let me go, and they tend to drop the incumbent and bring on a new face, retrain the new guy and carry on – as it’s cheaper for them to maintain “temp” staffing than it is to pay the cost of benefits for full-time, permanent employees.
So, this being the case, you can probably imagine that the Unemployment process becomes part of the package after a while. In the time since I’ve moved to Philadelphia, I’ve had to take advantage of Unemployment Compensation twice – for several months after my previous assignment, and – since December 29th when my most recent contract expired – after this one.
But here’s the huge difference between last time and this time.
Last time, I enrolled, filled out the paperwork, and began receiving benefits almost immediately.
This time, I’m looking almost six weeks into the rear view mirror and haven’t received a dime.
See, here’s the deal.
I received roughly $500 a week in benefits for my first stint on Unemployment. This time around, I made a dollar an hour less than I did on the prior assignment…and that measley dollar resulted in a decrease in my benefit amount of over $100 a week. Because my prior benefit amount was over $100 more than what I’ve been allocated this time around, I’m required to exhaust my Federal Unemployment benefits before the state will kick in.
AND – since the Federal Unemployment benefits have expired, guess how much I’ve received in benefits since December 29th?
zero. zilch. nada.
No, it doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure why it works the way it works, but this is what I’m told. I’m not allowed to collect a single red cent in Unemployment benefits until Congress passes the extension.
In the meantime, underneath a record blanket of snow and ice, musical work has been postponed or outright cancelled, money that was already tight has all but evaporated. Rent is due. Trips to the grocery store have become miserable, painstaking exercises in mathematics prior to checkout, we’ve consolidated down to one car. Phone conversations with creditors have become commonplace, negotiating truces and working out payment schedules – because my family, like the vast majority of working families in Modern America doesn’t save money – not even when everyone is working and things are operating on our version of a “normal” playing field. There is no nest egg to fall back on when life throws us a curveball, because we live from check to check to make ends meet. So when that check vanishes, it’s not a speedbump, a temporary inconvenience.
It’s our own version of the Fiscal Cliff.
And, after six weeks of no income, we’ve gone over it.
Anyone who deals in employment forecasting will tell you that there are a few no-brainers, among them being the fact that the job market is at its worst in the months after the holidays. That’s doubly true in my field, where IT projects are typically at a lull while companies come to terms with budgets and plan for the year. What that means to our house is that there will likely be a three to four month period that will drift by while various client companies scramble to try to shake work loose from the trees. And during this period, however long it lasts, there will be no “safety net” for my house, because of a technicality that allows the State of Pennsylvania to flip me the bird and refer me over to the Federal folks, whose hands are tied because dickheads like Pete Sessions think it’s “immoral” to extend Unemployment benefits. Mr. Sessions has a short memory, since he practically tripped over himself to vote in favor of giving 750 Billion Dollars to the banks when they kicked our economy in the nutsack a few short years ago.
There are a handful of people playing in the nations’ most important sandbox who have a warped sense of priority, whose shameless self-serving agendas are hurting ALL of us – not just unemployed Americans, not just gay or lesbian Americans, not just immigrants, not just gun enthusiasts – but ALL of us. Whether it’s a sense of powerlessness, apathy, or distraction, we seem to be more than happy to ignore it. To turn and look the other way, to pretend it isn’t happening…but left to eventually bend at the hips and brace for the impact.
Maybe you’re one of the lucky folks who – whether bracing for it or not – have yet to feel the impact. Maybe they haven’t gotten around to you yet. But trust me – the law of averages won’t allow for you to be excluded forever. Sooner or later, you’re gonna find yourself in the same position I am. In some form or fashion, they’ll get around to you someday.