Thursday, November 17, 2011

To: Newt – From: An Unemployment Compensation Bum

Although Newt Gingrich is currently one of those at the top of my list of favored Presidential candidates, I want to take exception to one point that the former Speaker has been stressing in his campaign. Relative to reforming the Unemployment Compensation System, Gingrich has consistently been saying, “It is fundamentally wrong to give people money for 99 weeks for doing nothing.” I think there is an implication central to this statement that is inappropriate and counterproductive.

I agree with Speaker Gingrich that our Unemployment Compensation System is in dire need of reform. And, more specifically, I agree with him that the 25 million Americans who are presently unemployed or underemployed are depending on a system that is costly but does not actually help them get a job. Furthermore, I agree with Gingrich that ninety-nine weeks is too long for any American to be dependent on the government. But, as one who, in the not-too-distant-past, was among the ranks of those depending on that system, I can tell you, the implication that these 25 million Americans are being “give(n) money … for doing nothing” is dead wrong. To illustrate this, let me share some excerpts from an article I wrote this past summer, entitled Meeting the Challenge of Senior Underemployment – One of Our Greatest Socioeconomic Opportunities. It begins with the story I know best … my own.

We moved to Southwest Washington in mid-2005. What I brought to the table was a professional background of 30+ years in Sales and Sales Management, with technology-based business-to-business systems-solutions. Our employment plan was for me to find a “mid-level” job. My Wife, who had been in charge of the administrative staff of a Public Defender’s Office, was only going to work as she wanted to. The way things actually worked out is:

We’ve been in Southwest Washington for about 76 months now. During that time, I’ve had four periods when I was “between jobs”. Especially considering my previous work history, it still astonishes me to note that those periods cover a total of 30 months. Though I won’t bore you with the related stats, without hesitation, I can say that I spent every day of these periods tirelessly leaving no stone unturned in my efforts to secure a job. The yield of those efforts included: a phenomenal number of interviews (with a remarkably high percentage of those having me included in the final round of candidates) and the five jobs I’ve taken. Additionally, due to my employment challenges and the erosion of the investments at the core of our “nest egg”, after a little over two years of “retirement”, we agreed that it was a good idea for Ruth to return to work.

As “I spent every day of (my ‘between jobs’) periods tirelessly leaving no stone unturned in my efforts to secure a job”, one key aspect of my efforts was to network my socks off. In doing this, I became well acquainted with many who were having unemployment/underemployment experiences similar to mine.

Key takeaways from these anecdotes include:

- Though I come from a generation that finds the thought of taking Unemployment Compensation to be repugnant, I and the others I met along the way found it necessary to turn to this system during our extended periods “between jobs”. It made the difference in being able to make ends meet and to not have to watch the eroded “nest eggs” vanish altogether. I think those are purposes that this system, which we all had paid into faithfully for decades, is supposed to serve.

- The fact that I and the many I met along the way who were having unemployment/ underemployment experiences similar to mine spent every day of our “between jobs” periods tirelessly leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to secure a job”, serves as proof that, while we found it necessary to turn to Unemployment Compensation, we found it unacceptable to abuse the system. This fact should also provide clear illustration of why I find the implication of Speaker Gingrich’s position on this to be inappropriate and counterproductive.

As I said earlier, I agree with Speaker Gingrich that our Unemployment Compensation System is in dire need of reform. However, his statement that “It is fundamentally wrong to give people money … for doing nothing” focuses on the victims of our flawed Unemployment Compensation System and not the broken system itself. In doing this, Presidential Candidate Gingrich comes off a lot like President Obama, when he says; we’ve been “lazy”. Mr. Speaker and Mr. President, we aren’t lazy. In fact, we are as industrious and hard working as ever. We just need you to set our nation’s policies to make it more likely for our efforts to bear fruit.