Today, I filed for my very last week of unemployment benefits. You see, I am a 99er. I have been out of work since the Tuesday before Thanksgiving of 2008. What’s the big deal, right? There are hundreds of thousands of people just like me, who have exhausted all of their benefits, who have no other options. I can’t speak for them, but I can share my story, and pray it sheds some light on how dire the situation really has become.
Two days before Thanksgiving, 2008, I went in to work and was told I was being laid off. I was the last one hired, you see, and since that made me low man on the totem pole, I was the first to go. Business was slow, there weren’t enough hours for all of the employees, and there was a question of whether the business was being sold or not. it’s the way of the world. I wasn’t worried, at first. I knew I could get unemployment, and that could hold us over until I found another job. I had been working in the restaurant industry as an assistant manager, so it isn’t like I wasn’t qualified for another job. I had an excellent work history, never late for work. Heck, I only missed one day when I broke two of the bones in my foot. I came back to work on crutches, and did my job just as well as I would have without the injury. Still holding on to that delusion that 99ers are just a lazy lot that don’t want to work? How many of you would only miss one day after breaking two bones in your foot, and return to a job where you a guaranteed to be on your feet for 8+ hours per day every day for five days a week? I wouldn’t consider that being lazy by any means. It shows that I am a hard worker, dedicated to my job and my company, and willing to endure whatever it takes in order to do my job.
December came and went, and while Christmas was a bit skimpier than it had been in previous years, I still wasn’t worried. I would still be able to find another job. It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. While I was required to apply at two separate places on two separate days per week, I was going to many more than that. 3-4 days a week, I would get out and just drive, stopping at every restaurant I passed, putting in applications, speaking with managers. Still, weeks went by with no interviews, no call backs, and no hope of a new job.
January went by just as December had, February, March and April as well. By May, I was beginning to lose hope. I put in an application at public housing, hoping to get into an income-based apartment, to at least help make ends meet and make things a little less stressful financially. It was only temporary, until I went back to work. For your information, I’m still on that same waiting list, behind 30,000 other families waiting for a home they can actually afford. I applied for section 8, which will pay a percentage of your rent, making it more affordable to get into decent housing without going over what you can afford. I’m sitting at the bottom of a 4 year waiting list on that one.
Fast forward to November 1, 2010. I’m sitting here, after filing for my absolute last week of unemployment benefits. There are a multitude of emotions flowing through me at this point. Fear for my family. Where will we live? I cant live in my car with my two children. I cant feed them from a car, bathe them, dress them. My family is no better off than we are, struggling to get by on a day to day basis. They cant take us in because, even if they had the space for three extra people, they cant afford to feed three more people, nor can they afford the increase in their expenses involved with adding more people to the home. There is desperation, trying to think of anywhere I haven’t been, anywhere I can go, that will hire me, even part time is better than no time at all. I’m in a state with 12% unemployment rates. There’s nowhere I can go that there aren’t at least 500 other people already there pounding the doors down, begging for work. What will happen when we lose our home? Will the state take my kids from me? Will they just let us live in the streets with nowhere to go, a month before Christmas? Will my kids even have a Christmas? This year, its very clear that answer will be a resounding no. I don’t even have money to pay our basic living expenses, how on earth can I expect to be able to give them gifts, that seem wasteful and unnecessary in the face of our impending homelessness.
I wonder about our representatives, our congressmen and senators. I wonder if they ever think of us as they sit down to their Thanksgiving dinners, in their million dollar mansions. I wonder if we cross their minds when they go do a little Christmas shopping, charging thousands of dollars to their credit cards. Do you stop and think of us when you go out to eat, and wonder if we have even had a meal that day? When you walk through the door to your office, do you think of the millions of us who have no office to go to? When you come home each night, do you think of the 99ers who are praying for a miracle, so they might have a home to come to every day as well? If you don’t, then shame on you. And shame on us, for putting you in office, where you are supposed to be representing we, the people, of the United States- the people of YOUR state. We may not have a job. We may be, or will soon be homeless. We may not have much of anything at all, besides the mountains of worry, stress, depression, and anger at being trapped in a situation we cant escape from. But we do have one thing, and its one thing you should fear above all else, if you value your job. We still have the right to vote, and we plan to exercise that right tomorrow. If you refuse to act on our behalf, to help us, to support those who put you in office, I can guarantee that we will fail to support you as well. Say goodbye to your pretty little office, your $178,000 a year salary, and your 22 weeks of vacation every year. Hopefully, you wont find yourself in the unemployment lines, because in this economy, with the failed job market being what it is, you may be in my shoes in 99 weeks. Maybe then, you’ll be more sympathetic to the plight of the 99ers. By then, you’ll be more than happy to vote to grant those extensions we need in order to live. Too bad, because by then, it will be too late, for us and for you.