This is the first in what is to be a series of articles that could be broadly titled “where do we go from here?” as we look at the future of how this nation will respond to the greatest unemployment crisis since the 1930’s. Perhaps we should start with recognition of what my friend John Adams called “the stubborn facts.”
The first thing that has to be done is to choose the attitude one has to adopt in this situation. There are some who have, quite understandably, thrown up their hands in disappointment and despair and accepted that a Tier 5 will never occur and are now planning their lives accordingly. Others are suggesting that while the failure to get either Congressional or, for that matter, Presidential attention to the plight of the 99ers should not be accepted and the fight for the 99ers should continue. Perhaps there is a middle ground. Perhaps a sensible and realistic approach should be to assume that a Tier 5 is a long way off and plan accordingly yet at the same time continue to agitate for a Tier 5 when the next Congress begins in lrss than two weeks, on January 5.
As we enter what Shakespeare once called “the winter of our discontent,” there are some more stubborn facts that need to be confronted. This is presented as an overview here and each section will be discussed in a separate article in the coming days
Recognition of the Political Landscape of 2011 – Even though the start of the next Congress is less than two weeks away, it will be a far different U.S. Congress than the one that passed into history on December 22. In the U.S. Congress that just ended, the Democrats in the Senate had 55 Democratic Seats plus the two independents that usually voted with them for a total of 57, the Republicans had 43 Senate Seats. In the next Congress, the Democrats will control 53 seats (including the Independents) and the Republicans will have 47 Seats.
In the Congress just ended, the Democrats had 255 Seats to the 180 held by Republicans in the House of Representatives. In the Congress to start on January 5, the Democrats will have 193 seats, to the 242 held by Republicans.
The elections of November 2 showed the biggest turnover of seats in the House of Representatives in 80 years. It has fundamentally changed the political landscape and thus what may have been legislatively possible in 2010 will extremely hard to achieve in 2011. In a future article we will discuss the dynamics of the incoming Congress with respect to unemployment insurance
Recognition of the need for solidarity – there is an emerging trend among the unemployed that is as troubling as it is self-destructive. Some people, still receiving unemployment benefits sometimes tend to ignore the needs of the 99ers. Given the almost insignificant growth of jobs that could put a dent in the huge unemployment crippling towns and neighborhoods all over the nation, when you think about it, most of those who lost their job through no fault of their own can really be divided into two groups; those who have exhausted their benefits, or those who will exhaust their benefits. In other words, almost all the unemployed are 99ers; some just have not gotten there yet. It is significant that the extensions that expired on November 30 are now reinstated, but any dispassionate look at the job creation that occurred in 2010 draws one to the inescapable conclusion that a significant number of those on federal tiers of unemployment extensions will simply run out of benefit weeks before they find a job. I say it again, if we are going to make progress on this issue, everyone should consider themselves a 99er, either presently or in the future.
Recognition of the need for education – We have all seen the misreporting of the renewal of unemployment extension eligibility. A surprising number of media outlets have reported that there were 13 months of benefits added for the unemployed, when of course this is about as far from accurate as can be imagined. The misinformation does not stop there. An amazing number of people that do have jobs lack a clear understanding of unemployment insurance, how it works, who gets it, and how meager the benefit amounts really are. Any effective lobbying in Congress does not start in the marble halls of the Capitol Building – it starts in the local newspaper and in discussions with neighbors, local officials, and even groups at Churches, the local diner, and any other place our neighbors get together.
Recognition of the “rules of the road” – advocacy before Congress for any bill requires a fundamental understanding of not only how Congress works, but what “levers” work best in gaining Congressional attention. No one has to work for decades in Congress to get this knowledge. But those of us who are advocating for attention to the 99ers need to have a unified message and need to stop infighting. Anyone who has attempted to deal with the many, many “99er organizations” has noticed that sometimes they spend more time criticizing the other groups than working together to advocate a unified message.
Recognition of what strategies are effective and possible – Most of the unemployed, be they receiving benefits or not, have limited resources. While some activities may be useful in building spirits one wonders how effective they are in achieving results. For example, about 100 unemployed gathered the other day in Boston before the federal office building in where Republican Senator Scott Brown has his Massachusetts state offices. The demonstration, held in the late afternoon on a bitter cold Boston day, called for Senator Brown to enact a Tier 5. There was virtually no media attention and many wondered why this protest was held when it was clear that the Senator was in Washington and that all planned legislation on unemployment insurance had occurred in this Congress. The moral; choose the battle carefully. Many have suggested a mass protest in Washington when the Congress reconstitutes itself. Not a bad idea, but when many of the unemployed are finding it hard to even keep gas in their cars to go to a job interviews (assuming they get one) is it really realistic to ask people who have limited or no income to travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to Washington DC for a protest march. Some have to scrimp and save to get a subway ticket so as good as a mass march on DC might be, is it realistic to ask the 99ers to participate?
Recognition of the possibilities – Anyone who tells you that a Tier 5 is doomed forever or, on the other hand, suggesting a Tier 5 is a certainty, is, in this writer’s opinion, perhaps allowing hope – or despair – to be transformed into solid predictions. Make no mistake about it; the battle for a Tier 5 will be hard and difficult. But there is a battle to be had here and no one who is concerned with this issue should simply leave the field because there is no certainty of outcome
Recognition of the bigger picture – We need to continue to press for realistic near term job creation programs. We need to never loose focus of the larger picture. Unemployment insurance is not the answer, jobs are the answer.
As I say, this is but a broad outline of the areas we need to work on as we gear up for the next battle for attention to the unemployed who lost their job through no fault of their own. We will be looking at these areas in more detail in the coming days. In less than two weeks those of us in the unemployment advocacy community will be starting the battle again. Despair is perhaps the easiest emotion to give in to, hope is hard work. But there is hope. Some may feel alone, isolated and even forgotten during this holiday season but they are not. Yes we who are concerned about this enormous issue did suffer a defeat with the failure to expand unemployment benefits, but we will continue the battle many of us have been working on full time for over two years and we are not going anywhere.
I stated this piece with a quote from my friend, John Adams, so perhaps I should end with one; “If we do not lay out ourselves in the service of mankind whom should we serve?”