Jobless Benefits Will End, Merry Christmas!

Millions of out-of -work Americans could have a blue Christmas and an even bluer New Year as their unemployment checks stop coming. States provide 26-weeks  of unemployment payments. That’s 6 months, which the feds customarily extend in recessions.

On Tuesday Congress, preoccupied with infighting, let lapse the provision that would have kept the payments coming for the long-term unemployed.  That means the checks will stop at the end of the month for about two million people and more in January.

The Angry Guy seated across the room from me at the NC Employment Security Commission the other day isn’t going to be happy. Thirty years on a job, he recently boomed, and now unemployed. Twenty-seven versions of his resume, one for every job that looked promising, and nothing. He didn’t deserve this!

And someone else did?

I, too, am unemployed . The difference is I’m not angry. Disappointed, yes. Angry, no. I enjoyed my work and, by all accounts, the people I worked with were pleased with my performance. Employers are looking to save money in a bad economy; and payroll is a big expense.

Budget cuts summarily eliminated my position. That was that. I packed, surrendered my  credentials and left the premises — thankful I qualified for unemployment benefits  and knowing I’d still eat because my husband takes care of home.

For the record, recipients of unemployment benefits must be continually “working” to find work. In North Carolina,  you must keep a record providing proof-on-demand of having applied for at least two jobs each week that you file a claim. Any wages earned while  receiving unemployment payments must be reported.

Theoretically, the ESC helps the jobless start again.  In practice, dozens of unemployed people wait in lines (some with babes in tow),  fill every chair, lean on walls, spill outside. The employment counselors seem sincere, but I got the impression they are overrun.

It can take days to get an email reply. A telephone call is met with a busy signal or voice mail. I was chosen for a 13-week “stimulus” re-employment program for the recently unemployed. It includes a speed pass for quicker access to face-time with an assigned counselor, required resume writing workshops and other resources.

At session No. 1, The Angry Guy was promptly offered “help” in another setting. Across the table sat an elderly woman who nearly burst into tears when she learned she’d need to use a computer to take advantage of most ESC help.  “I’m too old, I can’t do this!”

Nonsense. She could type and had raised children. Using a computer is a piece of cake in comparison. “You can do this,” I assured her, echoed by a woman who said her parents took a class and learned to use Microsoft Office.

Most of us have a lot riding on getting a regular paycheck. It’s natural to get angry when we see those checks disappearing. And tears are understandable when you consider the competition for even low-paying positions (5 applicants for every opening I heard on NPR today).

But anger and fear accomplish nothing. Job said, “shall we accept good from the hand of God, and shall we not accept evil?”

In life things happen, and we have to be willing to make adjustments. So I’m cautiously optimistic as I work to find new work. Meanwhile, I hope the unemployment checks keep coming. And God bless us everyone!