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MINDSETTER ™ Grace Ross: Unemployment Vote- A Universe of Bad Choices

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Grace Ross, GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER

In a universe of bad choices...

Friday marked another decision in the downward spiral of national policy decisions. Decisions where regular people had essentially no notice and no opportunity for input. Decisions made to hurt the incomes of regular people and so continue to undermine our society’s economic future since our spending drives about 70% of our entire economy.

That’s not a disputed fact among economists. Our elected leaders either don’t know whom our economic future depends on or don’t care. A reality particularly galling in a supposed democracy and leading many of us to wonder if these public servants on our public payroll only care about the money flowing into their own pockets and their reelection accounts.

You are wondering what decision from Friday I am referring to, no doubt?

With outright false headlines like: “Compromise On Federal Unemployment Insurance Protects Jobless Americans and the US Economy” no wonder the US public ends up completely confused and unable to participate meaningfully.

On Friday, Congress voted to drastically cut back the weeks for unemployment benefits, continue a payroll tax break that is dwarfed by the staggering tax break for the incredibly wealthy and then claimed the only way they could pay for this was to freeze wages for federal workers and cut into their pensions. This is our US. government that continues to spend hundreds of billions for military campaigns we the people have opposed for years and an even more outrageous tax-payer underwritten gift of 7.77 trillion to the largest banks primarily through the federal reserve.

Hundreds in Worcester were spoken with over the last couple of weeks when community activists figured out that unemployment extensions were up again for a vote in Congress. Outrage among unemployed was palpable once people got through their shock that Congress could be considering not renewing them. Dozens of people met and demands have been made of Congressman McGovern’s office.

But here’s the real scoop. Unemployment insurance (like the government pensions that have been raided in Friday’s vote) are an employment expense, one that employers take into account when we work; so it is part of the benefit package we have already agreed to when we took our jobs and that we work to receive. When it becomes clear that our economy is doing badly and jobs are scarce the standard number of weeks for unemployment is generally extended by the government.

Needless to say, in the worst economy of our life times, more jobs have disappeared and those of us who work for a living have had the longest jobless periods of our life times. The government voted unemployment insurance extensions (for those who managed to jump through the hoops to qualify) for up to 99 weeks. And yet only a little over a year ago, tens of thousands in Massachusetts were being cut off every month because they ran out that 99 weeks before finding a replacement job.

{The vast majority got replacement jobs that paid less, provided fewer hours and less benefits – but that’s another story of how our economy is spiraling downward for another time.}

Friday’s vote capped the number of weeks the unemployed can possibly get at 63 weeks even though the US Senate had originally voted to continue the 99 week cap and the President had originally said he wanted 75 weeks; right wing congressional leadership wanted 59 weeks.

And the headlines claim this doesn’t undermine the unemployment system that people in the last depression literally flooded the streets to force the federal government at that time to create. And some of them died there in that struggle.

Although job creation has been anemic at best and US residents are not dying off in droves, amazingly, unemployment figures have started to drop measurably! Looking around our neighborhoods and among our acquaintances, we know that while some people have gotten jobs there has been no remarkable upturn.

To make sense of this, we have to revisit one of the ongoing government misrepresentations: unemployment figures.

So what happened? The government which put out the propaganda on Friday’s vote is the same government that has re-written the definition of “unemployed” so it bares only a distant resemblance to the actual definition of the word.

In federal government speak, unemployed means (to name just a few limitations): you are actively seeking work according to government surveys but NOT taking any educational or certificate course, NOT a recent graduate from any school, NOT a recent homemaker, NOT working a few hours in a family business, NOT taking on a few hours of paid work while you look, NOT claiming any retirement benefits even if you did early withdrawal to survive, etc.

So in a state with lots of educational options like Massachusetts, lots of people have turned to trying to brush up their educational credentials – so they no longer count. In the recent meeting in Worcester, younger adult participants talked about how they have never received unemployment benefits (so are likely not “counted as unemployed” by the feds) and older participants all said they had had to take “retirement” but are still searching for regular paid work.

The reality of ongoing staggering unemployment and destruction of people’s livelihoods (and collateral damage to health and the fabric of our communities) will continue – unmeasured by our federal government and therefore unreflected to us as a voting public.

Because of uninformed and/or uncaring elected, so-called “public” servants, we will all get to continue to pay into the national coffers through unemployment but much less of the money will be coming back to the struggling people in our state guaranteed to spend it and thereby, help bolster our local economy.

In a universe of bad choices, some of our best elected representatives want us to see this from their point of view – that this was the compromise offered by congressional leaders and the President who supposedly wanted the 75 weeks capped jumped on to the compromise so fast that they had no choice.

Problem is: if our best elected officials are not working together with each other and those of us who live real working lives that are effected by these decisions – then the universe of choices they will face (and we will get told we are stuck with) will only continue to spiral downward to oblivion.

In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth may well be a revolutionary act in the best US tradition. Acting on that truth needs to become our standard for measuring real political leadership.

Friday’s vote and the reporting of it failed on both counts. 


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