So for 1.3 million unemployed Americans the die is cast. In just about 96 hours they are, in every sense of the word, fucked.
Years ago, recognizing he had screwed the economy beyond belief, the George W. Bush administration put into place what is known as, The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program. It was there to provide an extension to unemployment benefits beyond what individual states offered. It has been a renewable part of each federal budget since then, because, honestly, it takes quite a while to dig out of a hole so deep it reaches half way down to China and manufacturing jobs aren't nearly as numerous as say, openings in the food service industry.
Now, thanks to a compromise budget which was approved by a president and democratic party, who, in theory, speak for the unemployed, the program ends on next Wednesday. According to an AP story in today's, "The Oklahoman," a white house official claims Obama wants an extension passed as soon as congress returns next month. He was mum on the reason why the president let it get to this point in the first place. Be that as it may, all manner of plans for temporary extensions are being floated, as is a proposal to make any extension retroactive--in other words make up for the benefits which were lost during the interim--but the reaction to such ideas from the right side of the floor has been cool at best.
Well what do you expect? Hell, republicans love it when tons of people are suddenly cut loose from federal benefits. That way they can make sure the military will be able to buy a few million more $175 hammers.
Obviously Obama and the democrats didn't think this was worth the same sort of fight they waged back in October when the Affordable Care Act was on the line. There are probably a couple of reasons for that. One, the EUCP is not a law. It is a provisional part of the budget which has to be voted on each year. Number two, the prospect of another government shutdown is simply too much to bear--the republicans took the big hit last time, but democrats didn't exactly come out smelling like roses either. There are well over 317,000,000 souls in this nation--1.3 million casualties might be an acceptable number when it comes to keeping everyone else calm.
Unfortunately the 1.3 million figure is just the tip of the iceberg. According to the report, the Obama administration claims the program has kept not only 11.4 million wage earners out of poverty, but has also assisted 17 million children whose parents were able to receive the benefits. In addition, if there is no extension agreement the numbers are going to do nothing but grow. For example on Wednesday 214,000 Californians will lose their unemployment checks, but by June the number will reach 500,000. In Oklahoma 4,900 people will take a hit next week, but by years end, without an extension, the figure will be 33,000. And, despite all the apparent savings to the feds, local economies are going to feel a pinch because almost all of those benefits went right back into the community in the form of food and clothing purchases, and things like mortgage payments,
Earlier in the month Kentucky senator Rand Paul, who is maneuvering for a white house run in two years, claimed renewing the extension was a "dis-service" to the unemployed. His theory is that if you throw people out on the streets they won't be so picky about the jobs they take. (You bet, that $100,000 education and the accompanying student loan payments will serve you well as you flip burgers) Not only that, but the longer you are out of work the more apt you are to stay out of work because--well--it is easier. Ah yes, spoken like a man who has never been laid off.
It is also nonsense. Princeton economist Henry Farber has stated extensions of unemployment benefits have never kept people from finding jobs as fast as they can and has never reduced the overall job finding rate. But, hey, he probably doesn't think all the African Americans in Louisiana were happy, happy, happy before the civil rights movement either, so what does he really know.
To give you a little perspective, the starting number of 1.3 million is a whisker more than the population of the Oklahoma City metro area. The average monthly benefit received by those currently in the program is $1,165. If they lived in my 46 year old apartment complex in north OKC they'd be spending around $650 of it on rent. That leaves them with $515 to pay utilities, buy food, and make payments on the automobile they must have in order to get to and from job interviews. If the money is cut off and the ol' 401K is depleted? Lets just say the management company who runs this place evicts you in 30 days if you fail to pay for your place. The average low temperature during February in this burg is 27 degrees fahrenheit. That is pretty darn cold for an extended camping trip in the back seat of the car the repo guys are going to be looking for shortly.
Trust me, I've been there, nothing is more crushing and desperate than being unemployed. Indeed, there is no stress quite like knowing the check you've written for this weeks groceries is going to bounce--that the next time the electric bill comes due there won't be any money to pay it and you'll be living in the dark--that if anyone gets sick you have no choice but to take them to the emergency room--that the guy down at the local blood plasma donation center knows you by your first name.
I expect this sort of brutal and ruthless behavior from monsters like Rand Paul. He and vast numbers of the right wing believe this country can't be great without huge numbers of unemployed and hungry people wandering about.
However, when I see democrats and a supposed liberal like Barack Obama begin to sell people out, it makes me not only want to spit, but hop the next plane to Belize wearing a tee shirt which says, "America, You Can Kiss My Ass."
I won't though. No, as the man in the movie said when he explained how to endure torture, "You learn to love the rope."
Sure. After all, that is what we've come to, so what else are you going to do?
sic vita est