Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Joke of Unemployment Insurance in a Shrinking Economy

I got laid off from my job two weeks ago. The first thing I did, on the first day after my contract ended—right after I got out of bed, before I showered, got dressed or had breakfast—was file for unemployment insurance, because I knew that it takes two weeks to receive your first check and, like 40% of the country (according to Time magazine http://business.time.com/2012/08/22/a-huge-number-of-us-have-no-financial-safety-net/, but I still think that number is too low), I live from paycheck to paycheck.
When I didn’t receive my first check this week, I called the New York State Department of Labor and was told that there was no record of my claim. Apparently, I had made a mistake when applying for a new claim on their Web site, but since there are so many people unemployed right now, it took me two days just to get someone on the phone to ask a question.
All of this is just a tempest in a teapot, however.
The larger issue is, How is anyone in New York supposed to survive on a maximum of $405 a week?
The last time I was laid off, a former boss of mine emailed me three days later with a job offer. Due to the incompetence of that company’s HR department (and the Christmas holidays), however, it still took four weeks for me to actually be hired. Even though I found another job almost immediately, I still had to borrow $900 in order to pay my rent.
This is why I go crazy when Republicans start talking about people “living on unemployment.” As if that was even possible!
The other thing that drives me crazy is how companies define “immediately.”
When I say I’m looking to start work immediately, I mean, right now. Corporations have another idea of what that means. I just had an interview where the company told me it takes them two months to hire someone. What position am I applying for? Keeper of the Nuclear Code? Do I need a security clearance from the C.I.A. just to be a proofreader?
The system has become so rigged in favor of the top 1%, it’s reached a point of no return. Companies are now routinely rewarded for destroying jobs. These same companies then pay off politicians (in the form of campaign contributions) to create tax breaks for them so they can make even more money. And then the banks (and other, more dubious “financial institutions”) swoop in to make even more money as people left scrambling for any means of support resort to credit cards and payday loans in order to put food on the table.
They say that it takes one month for every $10,000 of salary in order to find a job. And that, I presume, is during a good economy. Right now I have two friends who have been unemployed for over a year. And neither of them were hedge fund managers.
When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, being out of work for even one week can be catastrophic.
I would even be OK with unemployment insurance providing more money for a shorter period of time. That would at least allow people to get back on their feet. The current system barely provides enough money to eat and pay a few bills. It’s not enough to also be able to pay one’s rent. (And God forbid you have a car.)
As far as I’m concerned, “living on unemployment” isn’t even an option.

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