"I hate being unemployed. It is a waste of my abilities," says Stan Osnowitz of Baltimore, 67, a journeyman wireman electrician. Even with the recession, Osnowitz was able to find work on a three-year job that included overtime pay. But a five-month job he held earlier this year ended July 3, and now unemployment benefits are his only income. His savings already have been exhausted.
Osnowitz testified at a House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee today to address the need for extending the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, which will run out by the end of the year without any action from Congress.
The unemployment benefits have helped me just scrape by week to week, but even with them I am not able to pay my full portion of the expenses for the apartment I share. And trying to find a job now is a very difficult thing. Construction work is hard to find in the winter, and outside of my industry, from what I’ve seen, potential employers see my age and look right past me. They see my age, they don’t see me. But I still get up between 4 and 4:30 every morning. I am actively pursuing work through my union and elsewhere. Things should pick up for me in the spring, but I’m looking every day in the hopes of getting something sooner because I hate not working.
Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP), reminded the committee members that federal unemployment insurance is an essential lifeline during economic downturns, boosting consumer spending and keeping unemployed workers and their families from poverty.
If Congress fails to reauthorize the federally funded [EUC] program, more than 2 million unemployed job seekers will lose federal jobless aid by the end of March 2014. That number will swell to 3 million by the end of June 2014. In the week between Christmas and New Year’s, the 1.3 million workers currently receiving EUC will be abruptly cut-off, many of them in cold states, facing the worst of the winter weather without the vital resources EUC provides to meet basic needs, like housing, food and heat.
We still have a jobs crisis. The number of long-term unemployed workers in September 2013—4.1 million—is still higher than in any month during the Great Recession, which ended in June 2009.
Lisa Floyd, who also testified before the committee, shared her story of a grueling job search that took eight months. EUC benefits enabled her to keep her home, and her faith. Thankfully, Floyd landed a job just three days ago:
Without unemployment insurance and the federal EUC benefits, I would have not been able to sustain myself and my job search. So, for me, these programs have done what they are supposed to do—they kept me in my home. I could still buy groceries and pay my bills. My anxiety was kept to a manageable level, and I was able to keep sending out applications and going on interviews.
The Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, said:
While nothing can take the place of a good-paying job, ensuring that out-of-work Americans have the support they need to put food on the table and maintain a roof over their heads while they continue their search for employment is the decent and right thing to do.