Op-Ed, 657 words

What is this Country about Anymore?

When Congress cut off long-term unemployment aid, it left more than 3 million people in the lurch.


Meet Mark. He’s a 58 year old, college-educated veteran who lives in Oregon.

He was laid off last September and has been unable to find work since. Mark’s state unemployment benefits ran out in May. Since funding for the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program was cut last December, Mark and more than three million other Americans, including nearly 300,000 veterans, have been denied access to a second six months of support — a vital financial lifeline in this tough economy. Mark is way behind in his rent, is selling everything of value he owns, and fears he will be homeless soon.


Ed Yordon/flickr

“We spend trillions bailing out banks, and provide Wall Street bonuses for those that created this challenging economy, but for a highly skilled worker, a veteran with a family, this country has nothing,” writes Mark. “What is this country about anymore? Our military service personnel risk their lives to save and protect the freedoms of our country and this land, but when we need help there isn’t enough?”

My organization, the Center for Effective Government, is collecting stories from people like Mark reporting how the loss of emergency unemployment benefits is wrecking their lives. Unemployment benefits only provide about $300 a week, barely enough for the rent or mortgage in many places, but it keeps the utilities on, pays for a phone, gas money, and an internet connection — so the job search can continue. Employers won’t hire someone without an address and phone number.

The stories follow a common trajectory. First, families drain their savings. Then, their retirement accounts to keep paying rent or the mortgage. That’s followed by resorting to credit card debt to buy food, keep the phone and utilities on, and pay for gas money. As families become more desperate, they start selling their possessions and move in with friends and relatives, if they have that option.

Some families end up sleeping in tents and cars, leaving parents to worry that the authorities will take away their children until they’re back on their feet.

Almost all our stories end with some version of Mark’s question, especially the stories from veterans: What is this country about anymore? They feel betrayed by elected officials who put partisan politics above their needs, betrayed by the nation that ignores their plight.

In April, the Senate passed a retroactive extension of emergency unemployment assistance. House leaders refused to allow a vote on the bill, so it expired.

A more modest proposal has emerged: It would provide assistance to those who apply for emergency aid in the future. It would provide no retroactive relief to the millions of workers who have exhausted their resources as they continue to search for work. But those jobless Americans need retroactive benefits to catch up on the rent and pay off their credit card debt.

It looks like this bipartisan new bill co-sponsored by Reps. Dan Kildee (D-MI) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) could garner a House majority. That would mark a step forward.

But this “half a loaf” won’t be enough to stabilize the lives of the millions of Americans who worked hard, played by the rules, took care of their families, and have been felled by a poor economy.

This Independence Day, let’s all ask ourselves: “What is this country about anymore?” What country allows almost 300,000 unemployed veterans and their families (and another 2.9 million Americans) to sink into poverty?

The Declaration of Independence begins by asserting our right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” For the long-term unemployed, the ending may be more relevant: “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

The pledge to support and protect each other captures the essence of patriotism. This Independence Day, we need to open our hearts to our neighbors and honor our common humanity by extending a hand to our fellow Americans as they struggle to navigate our tough economy.

Katherine McFate is the President and CEO of the Center for Effective Government, a nonprofit public interest organizationForEffectiveGov.org
Distributed via 
OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

  • Georgia Bronson Becker

    However we can ask Congress for 2 BILLION to take care of the illegal women and children that have come across the borders, while forgetting about the LTU would have worked hard here all their lives, and lost their jobs through no fault of their own? YES what is this Country doing to us?!

  • Walter Littleton

    I am a veteran and have a story for your organization. As an unemployed veteran I have personal stories about the VA, IRS, and Social Security.

    Statement: we live in the richest country in the world yet we can’t even be in the middle class unless husbands and wives work hard to make ends meet. Children are warehoused in day care centers and for what. Because the middle class had to bear the brunt of providing money to fund the government. No one wants to talk about raising taxes so they don’t tax you they raise fees so that the tax payer doesn’t realize that they are getting the money anyway. It’s a shame that we live like this. How can government sit by and allow our money be used to pay for people who don’t work and refuse to work and they have the nerve to complain because we require them to take a drug test. Sure would be nice to know that my money given to them is not going for drugs and alcohol. We have asked for voter ID so we can at least have a fair election and offered the ID’s for free and they still don’t want it. Why do we pay countries that hate us? Pakistan held Bi Laden for years right down the street from their government offices and yet we pay them billions even though they are not our allies. I won’t even mention the VA, IRS, Bengazi, guns to terrorist, border crises and a president who continues to break the law and the FBI doesn’t even investigate. Boy could I vent on these others.

  • MARY

    The situation is horrible and getting worse by the day. We just got the certified foreclosure letter from out lender and I am ready to simply end my own life over this situation (the fact that I have a 10 year old who needs me stop. My husband has searched for work and searched for work and searched for work and other than a few temp jobs, he has had no bites on the employment apple. I am told by others that he has done pretty good in the jobs department with getting a few temp jobs (many of his coworkers who were laid off at the same time have received NO interviews and it is becoming more apparent every day that the problem is the AGE — he is 50 years old and a master carpenter and the companies want younger men and women to enter the new computer age of employment — and we are left behind) !!! CONGRESS MUST DO SOMETHING BEFORE MY 10 YEAR OLD STARVES TO DEATH AND IS HOMELESS IN THE WINTER !! IT IS SICKENING !!! DO WE HAVE TO START BEGGING IN GROUPS ON STREET CORNERS TO GET THE MESSAGE ACROSS THAT WE HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE ANYMORE ?? WHAT DOES CONGRESS EXPECT US TO DO ?????

  • Cyber Guru

    Wow – this subject is so dead that even the bloggers don’t carry it any longer…