Insights on Unemployment

One wonders if Tom Corbett, Dean Heller, Rand Paul, Jon Kyl, Sharon Angle, Tom DeLay, Judd Gregg, Steve King, Orrin Hatch and the abominable Andre Bauer have ever been unemployed.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, graph by The Atlantic

If they had, they might be a bit more hesitant to refer to them as hobos and stray animals*, but that’s not what I want to focus on. I’m interested in the constant drumbeat that unemployment benefits make people lazy. By now, scarcely a conservative in or running for office remains who hasn’t repeated the line that unemployment benefits are preventing the economy from recovering because people who receive benefits won’t look for jobs. I could insert a bunch of charts and graphs here showing how the unemployed aren’t getting jobs because there, in fact, aren’t any jobs, but I’m also not going to do that (well, okay, maybe just one graph). Instead, I am going to share a special insight I’ve gleaned from the insider knowledge that supposedly populist politicians lack.

BEING UNEMPLOYED SUCKS. It’s terrible. No one in his or her right mind would stay unemployed if he or she could find a job, even if they didn’t need the money.

“People are too lazy to get jobs” is the mentality of an employed person. You’re having a long day at work. There are boring meetings, irritating bosses, and unreasonable expectations. You can’t wait to get home. Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to work? You could sleep in, relax, spend time with your family, read magazines or watch sports or play games or whatever your most useless guilty pleasure happens to be, secure in the knowledge that you have nothing better to do.

Of course, if you’ve ever done an extended stint of unemployment (while not attending school or raising small children, thank you), you know that this feeling remains for about a week. After all, I’m lazy, but the kind of person who is happy to hang out at home doing nothing for months at a time probably buys peanut butter and jelly in the same jar. Turns out that, even if you have spending money and a car and the other amenities that expand one’s range of recreational activities, being unemployed will still not be fun. Especially if none of your friends is unemployed. Doing nothing turns out to be predictably dull and surprisingly taxing.

Even more of a problem than the boredom is the impotence. While many people would like to choose not to work, it’s a whole different matter to be forced not to work, as is the case for everyone who receives unemployment benefits. No one wants to feel that their talents are not needed. Even if you are receiving enough money to live on from other sources, be they savings, government benefits, or employed family members, knowing that you are not supporting yourself is an incredibly helpless feeling. I hear that it’s even worse for men, parents, and older people (older than me, that is), who are traditionally expected to support themselves and their families. And then there’s the inevitable skill loss. And the knowledge that, the longer you remain unemployed, the less employable you become. The problems go on and on.

In summary, Corbett et al can die in a fire. That is all.


Other thoughts on unemployment by bona fide unemployed people are here.

UPDATE: For some more real stories about the problems that real, hardworking, unemployed people face, see Miss Displaced Worker. Be sure to read the comments.

*It’s a mark of the sad state of politics today that that statement wasn’t a career ender. I’m not a fan of crucifying politicians over a single faux pas, but the attitude that statement reveals about poor people (including constituents, not that it should matter in this case) brings to mind words like “inhuman,” “sociopathic,” and “evil.” And no, he doesn’t get brownie points for sort of apologizing later. Everyone regrets a statement that gets a backlash, and Bauer clearly still believes what he said.



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7 responses to “Insights on Unemployment

  1. This is a really interesting and articulate insight. I’ve just graduated and the feelings of impotence regarding an immediate career are rapidly mounting.
    I’m glad I stumbled across your blog!

  2. :-/ I know that when I got laid off in October, even though I knew I had something lined up, it didn’t start until January, and the time in between felt bizarre and uncomfortable. I ended up volunteering quite a bit.

    I think that people simply are not meant to do nothing. In Genesis 2:15, the Bible says that God put man in the Garden “to work it and take care of it.” I’m not saying this literally happened, but I think there’s definite truth in the idea that God gave us each skills and interests so that we could use them to bring Him glory.

    That said, I wish I could help somehow.

  3. PS – Have you looked at AmeriCorps? I won’t pretend it’s heaven, but it’s a pretty decent program and they got a crapload of government money for this coming year.

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