As of Decemeber 28, 2013, just a few days after Christmas, Congress’ extension of Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) expired, after not being reauthorized in the budget bill before Congress went on their holiday break. That means my unemployment benefits, which had five months left, suddenly stopped. I and 1.3 million people were immediately impacted by this, with more to follow as long as the EUC is not reauthorized.
People are scrambling to pay bills, rent, to buy food and gas, and to heat their homes — with temperatures below freezing in many areas. Some people even returned Christmas presents they had purchased just so they could pay for bills. Some people, like myself, have borrowed increasing amounts of money from family. As generous as my family can be, I can’t help but feel some resentment brewing while at the same time my guilt is growing. It’s not a good feeling. “Get a job” seems to be the resounding message everywhere I turn.
If only it were that easy! I have had seven interviews, and even some second interviews. But it seems as soon as folks found out I had been let go from my last job, I became untouchable. I have been told that having a Masters degree in social work guarantees you a job. Not so much. Especially when you’re a newbie and there are tons of seasoned veterans out of work competing with you, and you were let go from your last job (unfairly in my summation, but that never seems to matter to anyone but me).
I want to work for a non-profit, but they all seem to think I am too much of a liability to hire. Their budgets are stretched too thin and they have limited resources and employees. No one wants to properly train or mentor me; they expect perfect people who never make mistakes and never need any guidance. In social work, it is dangerous not to have any guidance. Having a good supervisor is key to success in social work, and it’s the most ethical thing to do too. But as budgets shrink and personnel are let go, the few people who are left have to do more. Which leaves little time for supervisors to help you be successful. Their time gets spent micromanaging you and breathing down your neck to avoid mistakes– because that is seen as too much of a liability. But they never have any time to support you and help you grow. This is a recipe for disaster in my book.
People just don’t have many choices left in this capitalist economy. I believe that people shouldn’t cut corners, like providing proper supervision. But people are. And people like me are taking jobs without proper supervision because we don’t have much of a choice. We are taking lower wage jobs with fewer hours, which makes it harder to live. People are trying to survive on less income and Congress is no help. They not only recently cut food stamps, but now they have also cut unemployment insurance — the last lifeline left.
This left me no choice but to go for a job I wouldn’t typically consider. Yesterday, I got that job, which I suppose I should be grateful for, as it’s better than nothing. But it’s a contract position as a home health social worker – with no benefits — at a for-profit home health corporation. This is something I’ve never done before and, thus, have no real experience doing. And the ethical side of me cringes that I will be working at a for-profit health company, which is something I don’t believe in. But these are the choices in a tough economy caused by the capitalist system. Non-profits don’t feel they can take a risk on someone like me, and for-profits just see me as potential to make more profit but still pay me a fraction of what they are making off my work.
And then there is the prospect of starting a job I know barely anything about and being an independent contractor. I’m theoretically my own boss, but I am still accountable for my work, which has to meet quality standards. I am on shaky ground at this point and don’t know how much guidance or support I’ll get. All I can do is take it a day at a time and see if it can work out — at least for now.
The alternative was to move into my parents’ garage with my partner. It has no bathroom, no heat, and only a small space for my partner, our four cats and a dog. Not an ideal situation by any stretch of the imagination. The hope is that this job keeps us in our home. The future is anyone’s guess, however. Eventually, I want to get back to working for non-profits. But in the meantime, I hope working with seniors who have health challenges is rewarding work and that I can help rather than involve myself in exploitation. And I hope I can figure the rest out. I find I have to believe in myself more than ever before, because I’m the only one I can rely on.
This is not the situation or condition I believe human beings need or deserve. I have stated in the past that we need each other; that jobs should be cooperative and that those with more experience should teach those with less experience. I have stated we need jobs that fulfill us, are meaningful, and purposeful. I have said we need jobs where we have an equal say in decisions and earn all of our wages. I have said we need choices in our work so that we do not have to compromise ourselves or others ethically. What we really need is socialized jobs, but the types of jobs we need can only truly exist if we become a democratic socialist society.
I am a social worker, and I do not feel I can properly do social work under a capitalist framework. I can’t help the most needy people as effectively as I could if I had the proper support and conditions. For now, we try to do good enough. Everyone is trying to just get by another day. But people deserve better. People deserve democratic socialism.
Hopefully, Congress will reauthorize emergency unemployment insurance soon because the consequences on individuals, families, and society will be drastic. In addition, when unemployment benefits are spent, they create jobs. Without them, people will continue to lose thousands of more jobs, which will have a huge impact on our economy. Please read the stories of others struggling without unemployment compensation: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/01/unemployment-benefits-stories
It is estimated that there is only one job for every three unemployed people right now. Maybe Congress should start thinking about how to create more jobs, instead of cutting everything.