Unemployment is not an easy topic to write about. Much of the focus in media coverage is on faceless numbers and reports. Too often, Republicans and Democrats twist those figures for political purposes, sometimes accusing the jobless of abusing government assistance and refusing to better themselves. The naysayers forget the unemployed are real people struggling to raise families and make ends meet. The challenges they face are vastly different from one another, too.
Nearly 2 million Americans are struggling with long-term unemployment, which means they have not been able to find work after receiving a total of 26 weeks of state jobless benefits. Since 2008, Congress has kicked in emergency assistance at the 27-week mark to help these workers pay their bills as they continue to look for work. In December, Congress failed to extend this important lifeline, profoundly affecting the lives of people who are used to working, paying taxes and contributing to their local economies.
Calvin Graedel and Nichole Clemens are among the nearly tens of thousands of long-term unemployed Washington residents who stopped receiving temporary assistance after Dec. 28.
Watch their stories below.
Graedel, 60, worked as a regional sales manager until he lost his job in November 2012. Though he did well, saved his money and invested in retirement, finding work has been anything but easy. He recently shared his story with us from his West Seattle home, which he is planning to put on the market this month:
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Clemens, 36, worked as a medical-records clerk until March 2013. The single mother of two daughters says she was making $16 an hour. She feels the longer she has gone without work, the harder it has become to get an interview. She shared her story from an apartment in Kent, where she is behind on rent.
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On Sunday, the print edition of The Seattle Times’ Opinion pages will highlight the plight of the unemployed and make a case for additional investments in workforce training. A series of reader comments will also be published, in addition to an online page where people can find resources for help.
Congress has a role to play in the short-term through extending unemployment insurance a while longer. In the bigger picture, more must be done to close the skills gap in America — too many jobs go unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers.
Unfortunately, leadership in the Beltway is needlessly split over an issue that affects red, blue and purple states. On Thursday, Politico reported that members of the U.S. Senate had finally reached a deal to extend federal unemployment benefits. By Friday morning, the Associated Press wrote that U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner does not think the Senate’s compromise will pass muster in the lower house.
Congressional inaction would further hurt Americans struggling to stay on their feet.
This blog post was corrected at 12:07 p.m. on March 17, 2014. In a previous version of the post that was published at 12:52 p.m. on March 14, 2014, Calvin Graedel’s last name was misspelled.