This morning, President Obama made remarks supporting the unemployment benefits extension. On Friday, July 16, about eighty unemployed people and their supporters turned out in downtown Pittsburgh to rally for that extension. I had hoped for at least twice that number, but those who did attend were strong and determined. The reaction from passers-by drove home the unfortunate point that the Republican politics of distraction is in full force.
Mostly, we met with blank stares, as if those around us were oblivious to the economic crisis and the unemployment issue. The Republicans refuse to extend benefits, refuse to extend policies to create jobs, and are the first to whiiiiiine when the victims of their greedy, abusive policies need public assistance merely to exist.
Considering that both major candidates for governor made unemployment gaffes last week, and the conservative spin machine whirls away, it’s time to set the record straight.
• The practice of counting only those people collecting benefits as being unemployed began during the Reagan administration, not with President Obama. Yes, really. I was a social services provider at the time and I remember it well.
• Tom Corbett, Republican candidate for governor, hemmed and hawed when pressed about his statement that companies can’t find workers to hire.
• Dan Onorato, Democratic candidate for governor, said he would support a job search requirement as a condition of collecting benefits. Why doesn’t he know that such a requirement has been in effect since 1982?
• No one gets rich on unemployment checks. Benefits are about half of prior wages. They are not based on family size. The average unemployment check in Pennsylvania is $350 per week.
• The maximum unemployment benefit in Pennsylvania is $564 per week. Those on extended benefits did receive an additional $25 per week through the Recovery Act – the stimulus – but the Republicans are obstructing that with the rest of the extension.
• Unemployment compensation is insurance. It is not welfare. Employers contribute to the fund for each employee. Employees contribute when the state fund reaches certain trigger points. Yes, really. Look at your pay stub, if you’re lucky enough to have one.
• Standard unemployment benefits last for six months, but forty six percent of all unemployed people have been unemployed for more than seven months.
• The average jobseeker is unemployed for eight months. How long can YOU live with no income?
The Mon Valley Unemployed Committee and ACTION United sponsored last week’s action. They chose the Regional Enterprise Tower as the site because PA Senators Robert Casey (D-Scranton) and Arlen Specter (pretending-to-be-a-D-Philadelphia) maintain offices in the building. Casey and Specter support the extension, but the Republicans continue to obstruct social justice. More, bigger, and better actions are surely on the horizon. If you are unemployed right now, it is YOUR responsibility to make change. Take control of your own life. Tell Congress what you need. And if you think it doesn’t concern you, or it can’t touch you, look around. Think again. You could be next.
The Allegheny County Labor Council sponsors the Labor Day parade in downtown Pittsburgh every year. It’s a great time and a great opportunity. If Congress doesn’t pass the extension by then, come to the parade and bring a sign. Tell Congress what you need.
Contact Senator Robert Casey
Contact Senator Arlen Specter
Contact other senators
For more information:
• PA Unemployment Compensation Law
• PA Department of Labor and Industry: Unemployment Compensation
• Mon Valley Unemployed Committee
• ACTION United
• Allegheny County Labor Council
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