Election 2008: What will the candidates do to solve the problem of unemployment?

Last month, I lost my job. My employer told me the company had a financial bleed, that the competition was fierce in our region, and because of the struggling economy, he could no longer afford to keep me on staff. Therefore, he axed my position. I was devastated. Not only because I loved my job, but also because my income contributed to my family's well-being.

After hearing this terrible news I was not only shocked, but quickly began to fear the unknown. I entered the workforce at 15 years old. In the last fourteen years, I've never been jobless. The money I made helped pay our bills. I didn't know how to tell my husband I was no longer employed. I didn't know if we could make it with just one income, especially with the economy as it is today.

We have a mortgage, we have utilities, we have student loan payments. We were doing our best to pay our debts and still save money for retirement, our son's college fund and a future dream vacation. No sooner than I entered the ranks of the unemployed I started thinking of luxuries we'd have to cut. Cable television? Gone. Internet access? See ya later. Cell phones? Out the window. The gym membership? Time to cancel. Dinner out a few times a month? Are you kidding me?

The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach plagued me for days. After crying and wallowing in self-pity, I obsessively scanned the want-ads and found absolutely nothing suitable for me.

There were numerous positions asking for an RN, LPN or CNA with a nursing degree. A lawyer was seeking a legal secretary with a Bachelor's Degree. Unfortunately, I never finished college because I couldn't afford it. There were openings for OTR truck driver's but I don't have a commercial driver's license. I considered working third shift in a factory, until I discovered that experience with a skill saw was required.

When I searched for the jobs that required no professional qualifications, I was quickly disappointed. No wait staff positions, no hotel housekeeping positions, nothing in retail. There were a few part-time openings for a local gas station but it was weekends only, something I couldn't do with a husband who works every weekend and no daycare available on Saturday or Sunday.

I applied for a position as a bank teller, only to discover the competition was overwhelming and the job was filled within seven days. I wasn't even called for an interview, but received a letter stating "at this time we chose a candidate with more experience in the workings of a financial institution."

It's discouraging to realize that I'm somewhat unemployable. I don't have the necessary skills for some jobs and others are not accommodating to my needs as a wife and mother. What's worse is the guilt I felt for not being able to fill even the few minimum wage jobs available.

In a way, I didn't believe I had the right to be picky, and I felt somewhat obligated to take the first job available just to bring home a paycheck. Even if it meant pawning off my son to my parents so that I could work 10 hour days on the weekend, I was prepared to do it. I didn't think I had a choice.

Of course, I filed for unemployment, but that turned out to be a grueling process. When I had to speak to the claims representative on the telephone I felt embarrassed about answering some of his questions.

This man wanted to know why I was out of a job and whether or not I intended to go back to work. He asked if my resume was uploaded onto the various employment websites like Monster.com and CareerBuilder. He informed me of the requirements that I had to meet, such as contacting two employers per week and filing a weekly benefit claim every Sunday. Should I fail to complete one of the requirements, I would no longer be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

The first payment didn't arrive for two weeks and it was gone before I signed my name on the back of the check. Bills were piling up and my hair was getting grayer with every second I worried about my financial future.

This is what so many Americans go through every single day. Unfortunately, many of these Americans are worse off than I am. Thankfully, I have a husband who still has a job and is able to cover the bulk of our mortgage and utilities. I had to contact our student loan holders to ask for a deferral until I got a job.

I couldn't help but wonder if the loss of jobs is the biggest factor in so many home foreclosures, in addition to the variable interest rate debacle. Then I began to worry if unemployment contributes to families tearing apart because there's no money to pay the bills, and despair has settled into their hearts.

I couldn't stop thinking about the jobless Americans in Michigan and Ohio because industrial jobs are being moved overseas, or because of buyouts and mergers, or the companies can't afford as many workers on their payrolls during a recession.

Just last month in a town near me, 300 jobs were lost because of a factory closure. The company decided to move operations to a country with cheaper labor.

I remember reading the following in The Onion earlier this year:

In what some economists believe to be a sign that the U.S. could be headed for a recession, a job opening last month at the Findlay-area Bob Evans prompted a deluge of more than 3 million job applications from out-of-work Americans, restaurant manager Tom Fields confirmed Tuesday.

Within three days of placing a "Help Wanted" sign at the Bob Evans front entrance, Fields reportedly received more than 800,000 resumés for the part-time hostess job. The newly available position offers no health benefits, minimum-wage pay, and a dress code that mandates both the standard red-and-white Bob Evans kerchief and "a smile," as well as a 15 percent discount on all meals eaten during one's shift.

I know it's intended to be funny, but it's not really that far fetched.

What are our elected politicians doing to combat this growing unemployment crisis? The answer: Next to nothing.

Bob Herbert wrote in the New York Times:

The stock markets continue to tumble. The dollar has weakened. The subprime mortgage debacle has morphed into a full-fledged panic. And Joe Stiglitz is telling us the war in Iraq will cost $3 trillion.

Maybe now we can stop listening to the geniuses who insisted that the way to nirvana was to ignore the broad national interest while catering to the desires of those who were already the wealthiest among us.

We have always gotten a distorted picture of how well Americans were doing from politicians and the media. The U.S. has a population of 300 million. Thirty-seven million, many of them children, live in poverty. Close to 60 million are just one notch above the official poverty line. These near-poor Americans live in households with annual incomes that range from $20,000 to $40,000 for a family of four.

The economic pain and anxiety felt for so long by the poor and the near-poor has been spreading like a stain in the middle class as well. It’s hardly been a secret. But neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have stepped up to this fundamental long-term challenge, and that includes the three remaining candidates for president.

No one will tackle the crucial issue of employment in a serious way. The cornerstone of a middle-class life in America (and that means the cornerstone of the American dream) is a good job. The American dream is on life support because men and women by the millions who want very much to work — who still have in their heads the ideal of a thriving family in a nice home with maybe a picket fence — are unable to find a decent job.

David Leonhardt writes this, also in the NY Times:

The dismal jobs report released Friday showed overall employment to be lower than it was three months ago. Every time such a slump has occurred since the early 1970s, a recession has followed — or already been under way.

And if the good times have really ended, they were never that good to begin with. Most American households are still not earning as much annually as they did in 1999, once inflation is taken into account.

Employment has risen by 100,000, but even that comes with a caveat: there are also 600,000 more people who are working part time because they could not find full-time work, according to the Labor Department.

“The decline in the unemployment rate,” said Joshua Shapiro, an economist at MFR, a research firm in New York, “should not be viewed as good news.”

Peter S. Goodman writes in yet another NY Times article:

Nicole Flennaugh has a college degree, office experience and the modest expectation that, somewhere in this city on the eastern lip of San Francisco Bay, someone will want to hire her.

But Ms. Flennaugh, 36, a widow, cannot secure steady, decent-paying work to support herself and her two daughters. Nearly two years after she was laid off as a customer service representative at the Educational Testing Service, and even after applying for dozens of full-time jobs, she has been getting by with occasional stints as an office temp.

“You’re used to making $17 an hour with benefits, and now you have to take any job for $8 an hour,” Ms. Flennaugh says. On a recent afternoon, she sat in front of a computer terminal at an employment center in a gritty part of town, scrolling dejectedly through online job listings while sending another batch of applications into the ether.

“I’ve literally sat and cried, but my friends with double degrees are doing worse,” she says. “It’s the economy. It’s really bad.”

From McClatchy:

Bill Clinton's campaign famously defined the 1992 election with the phrase, "It's the economy, stupid." Today, "It's the jobs, stupid."

The latest employment figures, released in late January, showed a 52-month streak of job creation ending with a loss of 17,000 jobs in January. The Bush administration acknowledged the contraction, but pointed to the national unemployment rate of 4.9 percent to say that the labor market wasn't a harbinger of recession.

A closer look at unemployment data by McClatchy, however, found that jobless Americans are spending more time looking for work and that those who can't find work now make up a greater share of the unemployed.

Several measures of unemployment, in fact, show that the workforce is under the kind of stress not seen since March 2001, when the U.S. economy entered a nine-month recession, followed by a so-called jobless recovery.

The long-term unemployed amounted to 18.3 percent of all the unemployed in January. That means that while overall unemployment is low, almost one in five unemployed workers has been jobless for six months or more.

So many Americans struggling, but no immediate solutions at hand.

Senator Barack Obama's website doesn't directly address the issue of unemployment, but it does say this:

"There are 37 million poor Americans. Most poor Americans are in the workforce, yet still cannot afford to make ends meet. And too many poor Americans are single mothers who are raising children."

Within his plan to combat poverty, Obama plans to make jobs more accessible by investing $1 billion over five years in transitional jobs and career pathway programs that implement proven methods of helping low-income Americans succeed in the workforce.

But what if there are no jobs available? Especially when Very Large Corporation receives a tax cut for sending employment to India or another foreign country. Career training and support is great in theory, but how can we make more jobs available to Americans?

Senator Clinton also does not directly address unemployment.

From her website:

Hillary has a plan to restore America's middle class. After six and a half years of Bush administration policies, the middle class is struggling to succeed in an economy that is leaving more and more Americans behind.

Income inequality has risen to the highest levels since 1929, and wages have stagnated. In the meantime, health care premiums and college tuition have skyrocketed, squeezing middle class families who have largely relied on their home equity to make ends meet. The burgeoning problems in the housing market further threaten many middle class families.

Understanding that a vibrant middle class is essential to America's prosperity, Hillary will implement a broad set of policies to once again restore opportunity for all Americans.

She does mention a plan to harness innovation for high wage jobs in the 21st century.

Hillary mentions the reliance on home equity loans. As a recently unemployed American, my husband and I have decided to borrow against the equity in our house to consolidate all of our debt. We feel it's easier to make one payment each month than five or six with a reduced income. It's true that Americans often have to borrow from Peter to pay Paul and it doesn't always work in their favor.

But not every American is a home owner with equity to rely on. And with the mortgage crisis, Americans are not willing to buy into the American Dream of a two-story house with a white picket fence. The risk is just too high.

From CNN Money:

Mortgage application volume fell 2.9% during the week ending March 14, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's weekly application survey. The MBA's application index fell to 652 from 671.7 the previous week. Refinance volume fell 4.6%, while purchase volume declined 1% during the week. Refinance applications accounted for 49.7% of total applications, the first time all year that purchase application volume was larger than refinance volume.

Senator McCain's website offers a plan to assist unemployed Americans:

John McCain will overhaul unemployment insurance and make it a program for retraining, relocating and assisting workers who have lost a job. The unemployment insurance system needs to be modernized to meet the goals of helping displaced workers make ends meet between jobs and moving people quickly on to the next opportunity. John McCain will reform the half-dozen training programs to approaches that can be used to meet the bills, pay for training, and get back to work. John McCain believes that we can strengthen community colleges and technical training, and give displaced workers more choices to find their way back to productive and prosperous lives.

McCain suggests assistance in relocating jobless Americans, but why should workers have to make these kinds of sacrifices?

In my job hunt, I found several positions open in other cities over 50 miles away. This would require a relocation, something that isn't feasible, especially when my husband has over 20 years in at his job. We'd spend more money just to sell our house and move. Not only that, we'd be moving away from our support network of family and friends to start over, and there's no guarantee that we'd be any better off.

Our economy needs an overhaul. Several bloggers have written about unemployment, their own recent job losses, their frustrations and the struggles they face.

Savvy Frugality writes:

According to the Labor Department, 63,000 jobs disappeared in the U.S. in February. Although more people left the workforce, unemployment filings were down slightly, but many analysts point to the loss of jobs as yet another sign that the U.S. is either headed for recession, or is already in one.

Losing a job in a recession is rough. I speak from experience. I lost my job during a recession and didn't find full time work for six months. It's not that I wasn't employable. I had a lot of experience in my field. There just weren't as many jobs to be had because during a recession, not only are employers not hiring, but they are cutting back on the number of people they keep on the payroll.

Jim Burklo writes:

Recently, I lost my job, or my job lost me. I’m still not sure which description is more accurate. In any case, it’s my first experience with unemployment. I’m blessed with very supportive family and friends. But it’s still been a trying time.

People want to say and do the right things. Their attempts at compassion are sincere. While I am learning to receive gratefully their underlying intentions, some of their expressions make me wince. And make me muse about what helps, and what doesn’t work so well, in offering sympathy to people in crisis.

Consider these words which have been said to me, in one form or another, quite a few times in recent weeks: “When God closes one door, He always opens another.” When I first heard this one from one of my parishioners, right after my employment imploded, I was taken aback. What about the people in Baghdad? I thought. When their doors are kicked in by men with machine guns, does God magically open another door for them to exit gracefully? All too often, the answer is no. Lots of people lose their jobs and go bankrupt. Do we worship a God who washes away the front door of your nice house in New Orleans with a devastating flood, and then opens a trailer door for you in a bleak vacant lot, months later? Are we expecting divine intervention to solve our personal or social problems, or are we taking action to make sure that when a door is closed, another one will open to something good?

Molly Elizabeth writes:

Yesterday, on my 25th Birthday, I lost my job. I have had two jobs. I lost the one that makes me smile. The Wine Bar, a family-owned company, had not been in the best straits. The business started as a deli, and while sandwiches thrived during the day, the business was lacking during the evening hours. The Owner, who was personally guaranteed for the five-year lease, was desperate to find an alternative money-making option. As The Owner’s nephew was trained (and talented) in the fine-dining culinary world, The Wine Bar began. The double-sided business would have closed without evening revenue. We lost money every month. With only fifteen tables and a Minnesotan dinner-at-6:00 mentality, we were never going to make an excessive profit. And although The Owner never lost as much as he would if The Wine Bar wasn’t open, he didn’t rationalize the potential or opportunity costs in that way.

Even small business owners are struggling. With a government that offers tax cuts to the big corporations, the little guy takes a beating, closes his doors and more Americans are jobless. The cycle never ends.

What can our government do to save the millions of desperate, job-seeking Americans?

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