Thursday, May 15, 2008
Unemployment and My Depression Mentality
By Richard E. Noble
A friend of mine just lost his job and went to Tallahassee and filed for unemployment. Even though he had worked steady for the last five years, he didn't qualify.
Less than 30% of those who lose their jobs in the State of Florida qualify for unemployment. On a national basis the figure is pretty much the same. A few states are better but most states are the same as Florida or worse.
The rules for collecting unemployment have been changing ever since the Reagan revolution in the 1980s. In most states you can no longer collect if you were fired, or let go, or you quit. The period of required working time has been extended. You can't collect if you have been working part time - even if you have been working 90 hours a week at 3 different part time jobs. The amount of the compensation checks has been cut and the length of time that you are allowed to collect has been cut. The current administration wants to lower (or already has) by 75% the employer's contribution to the fund and turn over the administration of the program entirely to the states. Staffing has already been cut to a minimum and retraining programs and finding jobs for people is secondary or nonexistent.
I have what is termed, sociologically, as a "Depression Mentality." I was not a "Depression baby," nor was I a child in the 30s. But my Mom and Dad were, and to add insult to injury in the late 40s and through the 50s my hometown suffered through Great Depression unemployment rates. During the 50s in my hometown unemployment was between 30 and 40 percent.
Many people in my old neighborhood didn't consider the 1929 Depression to be an accident. It was considered to be retribution against the workers by the powerful big business owners of the period. The 50s depression in our mill town was considered to be more of the same. The mill owners didn't want to pay the local workers so they shut down the mills and took their equipment and machines elsewhere. They left us the polluted waterways and the redbrick monster mill-buildings to clean up or dismantle. This is much the same as what is happening today. The industries and the explanations have changed but the tactics are the same.
But even though 4 out of every 10 workers were unemployed in my hometown, 6 out of every 10 still had a job. When I talk with many of my old friends about those times, only those whose fathers didn't have a job remember those days as hard times. And in reading about the Depression I find that the same obliviousness applied to the people of that era.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt actually hired newspaper photographers to go out and take pictures of soup kitchens and people sleeping in the streets and under bridges, and children living in squalor so that the Americans who still had their jobs could see and then believe the extent of the economic collapse. It seems that if the flame wasn't burning their fanny they couldn't see it. They needed pictures.
My Dad was one of those who worked most of his life in one of the mills. When he lost his job, he collected checks. Those checks were a life saver.
It is beginning to look to me that the good old unemployment check is on its way out – it has morphed into another “entitlement” as opposed to a benefit or right or a social responsibility.
It does seem that there are a lot of things that are now on their way out: college education for regular folks, retirement pensions, social security, health care, savings accounts, home owner's insurance, immigration, the bill of rights, free flu shots, low income housing, affordable drugs, good government jobs, mental health institutions, fathers, good paying jobs, American Industry, American exports, free public education, freedom from torture, a right to privacy and the sanctity of your home and your personal possessions, safe and honest banking, the volunteer army, the middle class, income tax, nursing homes, a skinny Oprah, a stable economy, local government, federal spending on anything but war and active duty personnel, aid to dependent children, racial tolerance, religious tolerance, peace, security, a roof over one's head and hope for the future.
But being an optimist, I always turn to the positive. There are today more millionaires than ever before in American history, gated communities are growing in leaps and bounds, tummy tucks, liposuction and nonessential plastic surgery is booming and I have heard recently that an updated version of Queen for a Day is in the making.
For you young folks who never saw Queen for a Day, I think you guys will love it. This show would gather up all these desperate, poor, distraught, women - pregnant, husbandless, abused and battered. They would bring them out onto the stage to relate their tragic stories. The one with the worst, most degrading, humiliating, depressing story as determined by an applause meter would be crowned Queen for a Day. She would usually win a new washing machine, a stove or a refrigerator. Everyone watching at home would be in tears because they also needed new kitchen appliances. It was a wonderful show, and it looks like the times are coming where it will be considered wonderful once again. I can hardly wait. Let’s all follow the bouncing ball and sing along! Happy days are here again …
Hobo-ing America and A Summer with Charlie are books written by Richard E. Noble. They are now both available on Amazon.com. If you would like to stock my books in your store or business, e-mail me at email@example.com