Long-term Unemployed Tell House to Do the Right Thing
Helen Laurusavage and six other unemployed workers told their stories on the Capitol steps on May 6, 2014, in Washington, D.C. (Screenshot, CSPAN video)
By Robin Stephenson
They did everything right. They played by the rules.
Kevin McCarthy, a 38-year-old father of two, got his first job, delivering newspapers, at the age of 12. After six years in the National Guard, the Boonsboro, Md., resident found steady employment in construction and always had good work evaluations.
Helene Laurusavage, 52, of Sanatoga, Penn., has a degree in physics and is proud of having served in the Air Force. She also enjoyed a successful career as environmental health and safety officer.
Then, it all fell apart. In shock, both McCarthy and Laurusavage watched their jobs vanish and their dreams crumble. Each received unemployment for the first time in their adult lives. Each thought finding a job would be easy. Now, they are part of the growing segment of the population referred to as the "long-term unemployed," and they are asking Congress for help. “What we have worked so hard for –our American dream–has turned into a nightmare,” Laurusavage said to those gathered for a briefing on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, May 6.
Laurusavage and six others came to tell lawmakers their stories and urge the House to reinstate long-term unemployment insurance (also called emergency unemployment compensation, or EUC), which expired in December. In April, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill for a short-term extension, but House Speaker John Boehner has showed no indication he plans to bring it to the floor for a vote. Each week that passes with no extension, another 72, 000 unemployed Americans lose a vital lifeline of support as they look for work.
Their stories, which are hard to hear, leave one with a sense that nothing is safe. The old American narrative that promises financial security for hard work is being rewritten. By the end of 2014, the number of long-term unemployed could reach as high as 4.9 million. Unemployment insurance helps job seekers make ends meet as they look for work. But even many of those aggressively seeking employment are not finding work in a labor market still rebounding from the effects of the recession.
Despite a successful history of employment, Laurusavage has applied for 229 jobs and has had 26 interviews, but no offers. Instead, she and her husband have depleted their savings. “Without a renewal of federal unemployment aid, or a job, by the end of May we are done," she said Tuesday. "We’ll have nothing to make our mortgage and we will lose our home.”
McCarthy talked about the emotional toll it takes on a family as he stood at the podium. Even with his wife working, they are barely making it. He doesn’t know how to explain to his children why he can’t find work. “There is no explanation except that we are being let down by the people we elected into office," he said. "You have no idea how soul-crushing it is to listen to your daughter tell you how she is a burden."
Never before in the history of EUC has a Congress failed to extend the emergency aid when unemployment is so high.
McCarthy, Laurusavage, and millions like them did everything right—and now Congress should.
Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior regional organizer at Bread for the World.
House Republicans are not feeling pressure to pass this bill. We must change that. Please call (800-826-3688) or email your representative today and urge him or her to vote to extend unemployment insurance.
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