Civil Discourse Now

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An unemployment benefits check is not incentive to remain unemployed.

   After I graduated from DePauw, I worked for my father's construction company for about eight months, until he retired and closed the business. I went on unemployment. The first week I walked the ten blocks up Washington Street to the office of the unemployment folks on Sycamore Street. After I filled out the forms, I was told my pay would be skipped one week to process my account.

   I was fortunate because the place in which I lived---a basement apartment in a building my parents owned---was one in which I paid no rent. The place was not habitable. The kitchen sink did not work. There was no stove. The water heater was of such tiny capacity one only could shower for two minutes before the hot water was gone. The main room of the apartment was lined with shelves, floor-to-ceiling, on which industrial tools had been stored. I could heat food in the popcorn popper I had from college. The only luxury was cable for my ten-inch, black-and-white TV. Cable ran $16 per month.

   When I received my first check, the $78 did not go very far, even though I paid no rent or utilities. Food was a necessity then, as now. Existence was dreary. I checked out employment opportunities in other places.

   I should point out: I lived in Kokomo and the year was 1979. Kokomo, Muncie, Anderson and Elkhart jockeyed amongst themselves in the power-rankings (if such would be the term) for highest unemployment rate in the country.

   Madison, Wisconsin, seemed like a good possibility. A fraternity brother of mine had transferred there. Unfortunately for me, everyone who went there seemed to want to stay there. I spoke with a guy who had an MBA who was ecstatic over his promotion to assistant manager at Burger King(r). During college, I always had liked Bloomington, so I checked out the employment scene there. I interviewed for a job at---no kidding, I mean it---"The American Spectator."    ,  

   Each foray was quick, my return to the hovel in which I "lived" all too quick. I forget what day of the week I was required to go to the office on Sycamore and answer the same three questions: Have you worked this week? Were you available to work this week? Were you offered work this week but turned it down? Sign here." The questions and demand for signature felt demeaning. The ten blocks up and ten blocks back in the February, March and April weather were good exercise, but the whole experience was depressing, especially standing in line with people also seeking their benefits, but who had families to support. I stopped going after only five or six weeks.

   Eventually another fraternity brother convinced me to move to Laughalot, Indiana. I obtained a job at Purdue.

   Unemployment benefits are not luxurious. The weekly amount received has risen since I drew my spare weekly check, but those numbers have not risen sufficiently to keep up with inflation.

   The people who decry the notion of extension of unemployment for people who have been unemployed long-term probably have not drawn unemployment checks. If they had, they would know people hardly can survive on the amounts paid.

   There is anger in our society given expression in so much of the rhetoric of what is called the "right wing." A Calvinistic chord is struck when someone wants to treat the poor as guilty of a transgression. The urge to treat the poor some sort of lesson almost is gleeful. That weekly unemployment check was incentive---either to get a job in a place where jobs did not exist or to move.

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