Long-Term Unemployed See Lives as ‘Scary,’ ‘Nerve-Wracking,’ ‘Falling Behind.’ They Don’t See ‘Recovery.’

Americans out of work six months or more see the Obama recovery as a statistic wrapped in a rumor inside a mirage.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 14: Senate Budget Committee members (L-R) Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) make brief statements to the news media before the second day of markup hearings in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 14, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Republican senators were unified in their criticism of the federal budget proposed by the majority Democrats on the committee. This is the first budget proposal the senate has worked on in four years.
National Journal
Major Garrett
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Major Garrett
Jan. 14, 2014, 5:10 p.m.

Three Amer­ic­ans. Each job­less for more than six months. Each liv­ing now without ex­ten­ded un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits. That means tak­ing out loans on 401(k) ac­counts, miss­ing a mort­gage pay­ment, or won­der­ing if they will soon face evic­tion.

By defin­i­tion, they are look­ing for work. To them, the Obama re­cov­ery is a stat­ist­ic wrapped in a ru­mor in­side a mirage. Their pain is palp­able.

“It’s very nerve-wrack­ing and I’m very anxious,” Clarissa Gar­cia Jew­ett, 46, of Miramar, Fla., told me last week. “I really don’t know where to go, be­cause what little in­come we had com­ing in is gone. I don’t know what we’re go­ing to do. You go from it be­ing bad to be­ing dire. What do I do? It’s not from not want­ing to find work. It’s about not get­ting called back.”

Jew­ett lost her job in May. She’d been a re­gistered home-care nurse for 22 years. Her ex­ten­ded un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fit was $275 a week. It covered her mort­gage. Jew­ett’s new hus­band, Jason, is per­man­ently dis­abled as a res­ult of a 2010 mo­tor­cycle ac­ci­dent and he re­ceives a monthly dis­ab­il­ity pay­ment of about $700. Jew­ett also re­ceives $648 a month in child sup­port from her first hus­band.

“I feel isol­ated and aban­doned,” Jew­ett told me. “I feel neg­lected. Some days I don’t sleep at night. I won­der if we’re go­ing to have food to eat. I can’t ima­gine that any­body in Con­gress or Sen­ate can be look­ing at this think­ing that I don’t want to work or that any of us that are out here in this situ­ation don’t want to work. We’re look­ing for work; we’re just not get­ting it.”

Jew­ett’s still un­em­ployed, find­ing no new pro­spects in the week since we spoke. Her hus­band had his third back sur­gery Wed­nes­day.

Lynn Richards, 30, from El­gin, Ill., lost her job as a pur­chas­ing agent in April. Her hus­band works for the same com­pany that laid her off. They have health in­sur­ance. Richards has a 14-year-old son and is ex­pect­ing her second child in Feb­ru­ary. Her now-ex­pired ex­ten­ded job­less be­ne­fits provided about $500 per week. I first spoke to Richards in late Decem­ber, when she ap­peared in a piece for the CBS Even­ing News. She’s still job­less now, her trav­ails typ­ic­al for the chron­ic­ally un­em­ployed.

“I re­ceived a few calls about ap­plic­a­tions I had filled out, but once they learned I was ex­pect­ing in the be­gin­ning of Feb­ru­ary, they did not pan out,” Richards told me. “One temp agency told me to call back after the baby is born to see what is avail­able in early March. To keep afloat for this month and next, I had to take out a loan from my 401(k).”

As for her odys­sey of job­less­ness, Richards ques­tions everything. Even her­self.

“It’s hard on your self-es­teem,” she said. “You don’t feel like you’re con­trib­ut­ing to so­ci­ety. It’s very frus­trat­ing feel­ing es­sen­tially use­less — that you don’t have a job and you just can’t find any­thing. It’s scary.”

A view­er who saw Richards in my CBS piece offered her food and cash. Richards turned it down, de­term­ined to make her way with her hus­band.

“There are people out there that are in great­er need than I,” Richards said, adding that the per­son who offered her as­sist­ance also runs a vet­er­ans’ min­istry. Richards asked him to give the food and money to the vet­er­ans.

I also have come to know Paul Hal­lasy, a 52-year-old Man­hat­tan writer and act­or who in June lost his job in edu­ca­tion­al pub­lish­ing. By late Decem­ber, Hal­lasy had sev­en job in­ter­views and answered more than 500 want ads. He col­lec­ted $375 a week in ex­ten­ded job­less be­ne­fits.

They ex­pired two weeks ago.

“I have had a few leads in the last week, but no job of­fers as of yet,” Hal­lasy told me, adding that he uses Twit­ter and Face­book to look for work and urge Con­gress to re­in­state ex­ten­ded job­less be­ne­fits.

“I’ve been look­ing for work every day for the last six months,” Hal­lasy said. “It’s cer­tainly not be­cause I haven’t been try­ing to get a job. I really want to work. But it just hasn’t happened. I think that that’s the real­ity for a lot of people.”

I asked Hal­lasy how he in­ter­prets re­ports of eco­nom­ic growth and a lower na­tion­al un­em­ploy­ment rate.

“I think that’s ac­tu­ally not even true,” Hal­lasy said. “In fact, I think that a lot of the reas­on why the un­em­ploy­ment rate has come down is be­cause a lot of people have simply stopped look­ing for work — they’ve giv­en up. It’s true that the people at the very top of the in­come brack­et are do­ing ex­tremely well. But for the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of people, we’re just strug­gling to stay in place and a lot of us are fall­ing be­hind.”

Jew­ett and Hal­lasy also agree on a ques­tion now be­fore the Sen­ate: Should Amer­ic­ans who re­ceive So­cial Se­cur­ity dis­ab­il­ity be­ne­fits (be­cause they can’t work) also re­ceive ex­ten­ded job­less be­ne­fits? Their an­swer is no. Both con­sider it un­fair. Richards is sym­path­et­ic, fear­ing that any­one col­lect­ing both be­ne­fits — even if do­ing so is openly con­tra­dict­ory — is prob­ably as eco­nom­ic­ally dis­tressed as she is.

A 2010 Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice re­port found that 117,000 Amer­ic­ans col­lec­ted So­cial Se­cur­ity dis­ab­il­ity be­ne­fits and un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fits. Sen. Rob Port­man, R-Ohio, has pro­posed ban­ning this double-dip­ping to pay for a three-month ex­ten­sion of job­less be­ne­fits. GAO found that be­ne­fits paid in 2010 amoun­ted to $856 mil­lion ($281 mil­lion in dis­ab­il­ity be­ne­fits and $575 mil­lion in job­less be­ne­fits). Port­man’s amend­ment seeks $5.4 bil­lion in sav­ings over 10 years.

Port­man’s not alone. Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2014 budget sought $1 bil­lion in sav­ings over 10 years by re­du­cing dis­ab­il­ity and job­less-be­ne­fit double-dip­ping. This ap­pears to be the place where ser­i­ous ne­go­ti­ations — in­stead of mind­less and heart­less pro­ced­ur­al snarling — could be­gin on a three-month ex­ten­sion of ex­ten­ded job­less be­ne­fits. Jew­ett, Hal­lasy, Richards, and 1.5 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans who have lost their ex­ten­ded job­less be­ne­fits de­serve no less.

The au­thor is Na­tion­al Journ­al cor­res­pond­ent-at-large and chief White House cor­res­pond­ent for CBS News. He is also a dis­tin­guished fel­low at the George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity School of Me­dia and Pub­lic Af­fairs.

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