The shame of living on the dole, but not what you think

June 28, 2010

This post will probably infuriate some readers and reinforce strongly-held opinions of others. Just don’t skip the nuances. My hope is that it’ll start a conversation. So whether you agree, disagree or just want to rant, I hope you’ll leave a comment with your thoughts.

Guess what? You probably know this already, but the unemployment insurance extension failed to pass. If you’re unemployed, you still get half a year, I believe. But after that–you need to get a job. More than a million people are going to be actively looking, starting right now.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing, either. I see signs everywhere: there are jobs to be had, just not necessarily the jobs people “want.” And half a year–six months–is long enough to find something. Frankly, I believe most aggressive job-hunters are going to find work.

Like me, I’m sure you know able-bodied and able-minded people who have been living off unemployment benefits for well more than six months. And who have not been looking for a job. I know too many of them and that’s the subgroup I’m going to talk about first. Some of them think they’re entitled; that taking unemployment and doing nothing is their right.

But really, it’s not so good. Here’s why:
If you’re sitting on your ass day after day, doing nothing to find work or to learn new skills, you lose motivation. It’s harder to get off that sofa and find work. And why should you? The government is paying you enough to scrape by and you don’t have to do a thing. To my surprise, there is an entire sub-group of people for whom scraping by on unemployment is a better alternative than working.

And yet, drive by any big hardware chain and you’ll see a couple dozen illegal immigrants standing outside, hoping to be hired for day work. So they can live, but also so they can send money back to their families.

So which of these groups do you respect more?

Did you know that the original stimulus package was far different than the one that passed a while back?

It’s clearer than ever that stop gap methods just aren’t working; we need a systemic fix. One was offered, but not passed.

So follow along:

Because of limited funding, government services are being slashed. Library hours, school funding, parks and rec–these are just a few of the “niceties” that many communities can no longer afford. I’m sure your community has felt it.
And yet, millions of unemployed have plenty of free time; they are not spending every waking hour seeking work.

So, you might wonder, why can’t we come up with a cross between workfare and the old WPA program and put these people to work part-time, while they hunt for a job, to keep some of these services going?
We’re paying the unemployed already. It would give them something to do that contributes. It might help them acquire new skills. Or might even be strong motivation for them to look for work they like better.

Actually, the original stimulus package was supposed to do something like this. But it’s not the package that passed.

The package that passed was significantly diluted and had a whole lot of pork in it. Because that’s what our elected officials do. They are pork barons.

The greater good? It doesn’t much matter to our elected officials, I guess. Helping people in need and assisting communities to regain their footing? Not that, either. t

Our government is not working for the people. It’s pretty screwed up and frankly, it’s partly responsible for this mess. Elected officials would rather posture on TV than actually do something strategically positive. And work across party lines? Rare. It’s dysfunctional. And oh, by the way, it’s not President Obama’s fault. He inherited this situation. But he’s also a part of it.

Maybe another reason we can’t put a program like this together is that it wouldn’t be popular. Not with the current mindset.
Back in the old WPA days, honest work had more cachet. In that program, hourly wages were paid at the prevailing local rate. Workers could not work more than 30 hours a week. Surely, today, a 30-hour a week job is not heavy lifting and would allow people time to job hunt AND work. Wouldn’t it?

But many WPA projects included long months in the field, with workers eating and sleeping on work sites. Could you imagine unemployed Americans doing that? Only kicking and screaming.

I’m not proposing that. But I am pointing out that there was a day when people thought working was important enough to live with real hardship. But today, many people don’t want to change their living circumstances to reflect the new reality. It’s better, they think, to find a government program to help them maintain the status quo.

Like I said: a systemic fix is in order.

Do I sound like a conservative? I’m not. I’m a raging liberal.
A proud progressive who believes in extending a sincere and effective helping hand to those in need, not a handout. Because I’m a raging liberal with a work ethic. Who has always found ways to make a living, even when finding a job in my own field was hard.

It’s not that I haven’t been there. I have. More than once.

When I first moved to Silicon Valley, it took me two years of actively trying before I broke into the high tech industry. Because I had no tech experience. Despite my master’s degree and PhD work. Two years.

I did not go on unemployment. I actively sought professional work and I do mean actively, but while I did, I was not too good to work temp. To work as a clerk. As a secretary. As an ad salesperson. At other times, I’ve waited tables and worked as a biller in a retail store. These jobs didn’t require a college education.
They were not fun jobs. (That’s why they call it “work” and not “fun.”) And they certainly were not in my field. (A few companies offered me full-time, permanent work as a secretary after I worked a week or two temp. Of course they did–who wouldn’t want to have a secretary with a master’s degree? I politely declined, kept temping and kept looking.)

These jobs were important because they paid my living expenses while I looked for professional work. And they kept me motivated and in the game. I got up every day and went to work. There was structure to my day. Interaction with professional people. I didn’t stagnate. But I certainly did keep looking for work in my field.
I believe in giving people a helping hand. The way some of our social service programs have been implemented, though, works at cross purposes with their intent. Some folks end up feeling entitled to sit and collect government benefits instead of motivated to achieve and there’s something wrong with that.

I know that I’m going to get emails telling me there isn’t work to be had, etc. That many people are actively looking and can’t find work.

I know there are folks making a sincere and active effort and just can not find work. I am not talking about these folks. But based on what I’ve seen, I believe that just about anyone who wants to make money will find a job. It might not pay what they made before or even close. It might mean a reduced standard of living or even a move to a less expensive city. It might mean a cheaper car, fewer restaurant meals or inconvenient hours.

These would be big life changes. But there is work out there for people who want it and who will do what it takes to get it.

So I’m not just ranting, either. Here’s some practical advice, based on experience:

Job-hunting can be approached just like a job. Get up, look for online job ads and other media ads. Apply. Tweak your resume so it better matches each job you apply for. (It works.) Network among everyone you know. Be on the alert for Help Wanted signs at the grocery store, the bookstore, the drugstore–anywhere, really. I can’t be the only one who sees them.

If contemporary skills are lacking, there are a handful of free or nearly free training programs in most communities. Try libraries and community centers for computer and software training. Some nonprofits also offer training. Others offer gently used career-wear at bargain prices.

Can’t afford internet access? Your local library has computers. Don’t know how to use a computer? Either learn, or ask your kids, a friend, a neighbor for help. You’d be surprised at how willing others are to support someone who’s seeking work.

So where did this post come from?

On Saturday, a girlfriend and I were talking about the economic situation and it turned out that we both knew quite a few people who have been playing the system instead of looking for work. And who make no bones about it. Neither of us really gets it, and it makes us both angry. Then a third girlfriend also brought the subject up. We three can not be unique.

Let me be clear. I don’t believe every unemployed person does this. But I do see that many I know do.

Our nation is in a tough spot. Long-standing institutions, including financial, are falling apart. We need to husband our resources and use them effectively for the people who are most in need.

Right now, our infrastructure projects can’t be maintained, our kids can’t get the education they deserve, the housebound elderly can’t be fed, mass transportation is being cut back, poor kids can’t get a healthy breakfast….then there’s public safety ..need I go on? I am mad as hell that there are Americans truly in need who can not get the help they used to because programming has been cut. And people are continuing to take money long after they should have started to get back on their feet.

Here’s the bottom line. Government is broken and unable to get out of its own way to actually help us out of this mess. It’s too corrupt. Elected officials are bleeding us dry for pork.

People who can work but play the system are taking food out of the mouths of children and the elderly. We don’t need leeches draining badly funds that could be used for more critical human services.

And that’s what able-bodied people who play the unemployment system are.

They should be ashamed.

So, that’s what I think–what do you think? Have you ever been unemployed? How did you get back to work? What do you think of the stimulus program?

7 comments on “The shame of living on the dole, but not what you think
  1. Anonymous says:

    I do not live on the DOLE and I do not have a job right now either.

    The one that I was supremely qualified to do (SPANISH SPEAKER/Receptionist in a Dr.’s office) I was told by the person doing the hiring that I was over qualified. Wow who wouldn’t want to hire a person with a college degree who speaks Spanish that use to do medical reporting for television and worked filming patient education tapes for a year and a half for a Orthopedic Surgeon?

    I have to tell you people like me are not infuriated by your post we are deeply hurt. I now live in a country where I am competing for jobs that illegals can get because they are cheaper to hire.

    I have lots of experience in Landscaping I taught Landscaping at the High School level in a Vocational Technical school…do you think I can get a job. 🙂

    Right now they are paying prisoners 11 dollars an hour to pick up debris on beaches because of the oils spill do you think BP will hire me. 🙂 NO. I have applied. Right now what little money I am making pet sitting, working small part time jobs I am paying for illegals to have medical coverage (that I can’t get) to have their babies born for free in our hospitals. I could go on forever. I am not bitter or a hater. I would love to live in a country where everyone INCLUDING ME COULD HAVE A JOB AND MEDICAL INSURANCE but we don’t.

    I have a four year college degree and a 25 year career in an job that is now becoming obsolete. I met with a guy who is unemployed he use to sell real estate…he is having a hard time finding work too…know why? Yeah didn’t think so…OVER QUALIFIED! Not sure what that means but I was told no one wants to train a smart person who will do the job then leave. Oh well. Just one persons opinion.

  2. I appreciate your comment and your situation. But as you know from reading my post, I am not talking about people who are unemployed and seeking work.

    I am talking about the subset of people who have sat on the sofa for a year not searching and collecting money. Of which I know too many.

    I have no idea where you live, but if you send me an email I might be able to help.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Carol ~ Thank you for the thoughtful article. I appreciate your honest perspective from both sides of the coin.

    I offer a couple of timeless quotes:

    The democracy will cease to exist
    when you take away from those
    who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

    It is incumbent on every
    generation to pay its own debts as it goes.
    A principle which if acted on would save
    one-half the wars of the world.

    I predict future happiness for
    Americans if they can prevent the government
    from wasting the labors of the people under the
    pretense of taking care of them.
    Thomas Jefferson

    Alexis de Tocqueville observed over 150 years ago,
    “The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.”

  5. Great quotes. I think the key word is “willing.” I have no quibble with those who are actively seeking work. None. Only that subgroup of people who refuse to leave their life of leisure until they are forced to by the end of the gravy train. I’ve seen it so much over the past couple years but it still shocks me.

  6. Carol ~ Do you fear that human nature – aka, O Fallen One – tends toward hands-out freebies? Acknowledging, of course, that there are No Freebies! You and I are footing the bill.

    That established, do you agree that some “wake up and smell the coffee.” Star Parker comes to mind. Check her out. Some folks – depending upon their character formation – do decide to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. God love ’em!

    What I am thankful for is that you – a self-described Raging Liberal – acknowledge that many folks play the system, which, in the long run, does not serve them well.

    “Teaching a person to fish” is superior to handing out fish.

    We could, to my amazement, have a dialogue. Thanx for entering the fray. This post helped me to know that you are seeing both sides of the proverbial coin. May I do the same

  7. You know, I DON’T think human nature tends toward freebies. I just think there will always be people who take advantage of the system.

    If you are the child of immigrant grandparents and depression era, poor parents who boot-strapped their way to a better life (as I am), it is unbearable to see people not pull their weight.

    As a raging liberal I believe in social services and helping people who need it. But these people do not need me to support them for a year or more. They need to support themselves.

    Ah, they piss me off!

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