There’s a unique feeling of bemusement one feels seeing a self-professed expert say with impeccable authority things you know are complete bullshit. He may be fooling others, but you know for a fact he’s a complete idiot.
I first experienced that feeling around 1974. There had been a spring thaw after a major snowstorm. The Shiawassee River was rising dramatically. An unusually large volume of water was spilling over the Fenton millpond dam, but it was holding out just fine. Then, however, an “expert” noticed that there was a crack in the dam! It must have been caused by the flood waters! This “expert” soon was on the radio and TV warning the dam was about to burst and people downstream of it were in danger! I was 11 years old and knew he was full of shit. That crack had been there as long as I could remember. It had been there as long as my dad could remember. And the old-timers in the area knew that crack had been there since at least the 1940’s and had been caused by routine settling of the concrete and that the dam was as structurally sound as the day it was made.
Needless to say, despite the expert’s prediction of calamity, the dam didn’t burst and, in fact, is still sitting there serenely – settling crack and all – over 35 years later.
I learned a valuable lesson: just because someone says they know what’s going on doesn’t mean they do.
I am torn between that strange feeling of bemusement and just plain anger when I now hear other self-professed “experts” – most recently conservative commentators George Will and Tom DeLay – say that unemployment benefits are a disincentive to people finding work and are somehow “promoting laziness”. As someone who now depends on unemployment insurance to keep paying the bills to maintain food and shelter for my family and myself, I would like to make a few observations.
First of all, despite the stereotype, a vast majority of people on unemployment not only WANTS to work, they WERE gainfully employed... most for many years. We are not collecting unemployment because we thought it would be fun to sit around the house all day doing nothing… we’re collecting it because our jobs were eliminated! If I was offered a choice between collecting unemployment and a job, I would take the job in an instant…even if it paid the same or even less than unemployment. But that’s the problem. There are no jobs out there. I know because I have been looking for months and have sent out countless resumes for any job for which I was even remotely qualified. I have a college degree, a great work record and excellent references. Still no job offers.
Second, in Michigan at least, collecting unemployment insurance is contingent upon posting a resume on the Michigan Works website, which may be accessed by employers throughout the state. One must post the resume and have it verified in person at the Michigan Works office before you can even be considered for receiving unemployment insurance.
Finally, and most damning to the assertions of Will and DeLay, if you are offered a job and you refuse it, you lose your benefits. Simple as that. When one verifies their unemployment status every two weeks under the Michigan system, one of the questions asked is: “Have you refused a job offer in the past two weeks?” If you have, buh-bye unemployment benefits. And making a false statement in that regard makes one liable to criminal prosecution.
As I have stated before in this blog, given the high unemployment rate, conservatives are faced with a choice: they must either concede there is a problem with the system or with the people who are unemployed. The last thing they would want to do is admit there may be flaws in unregulated free-market capitalism, so they claim it must be the fault of the (ex-)workers.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s libelous. I would invite either Mr. Will or Mr. DeLay to spend a day with me as I take hours doing a job search and filling out applications when there are possible openings. I’ll show ‘em how “lazy” and “unwilling” I am to find employment!
Instead of bitching about the people who have lost their jobs, why don’t they fix this Capitalist system to which they constantly offer Hosannas of praise? If they can’t, perhaps it’s time to try something else. And if they don't, it'll be a dam shame.