A reader writes:
The letter you posted complaining about individuals "milking" unemployment rather than taking undesirable jobs is absurd. For most of the letter, I disagreed with the writer but sympathized with his or her attitude. When I was laid off in 2002, I had too much pride to apply for unemployment benefits, and ate up my savings while looking for work. In retrospect, that was idiotic; I had paid into the system, I was legally entitled to the benefits, and taking advantage of them would have been no more disreputable than requesting my annual income tax refund.
So now that I am laid off again, I am actively looking for work, but I am also taking full advantage of unemployment benefits. Not only am I simply entitled to these benefits, but they enable me to look for work in the field I am actually trained in, to spend time gaining new skills, and, yes, spend time with friends relaxing after getting royally boned by the job market.
Even as the reader attacks those receiving unemployment he confesses to working "under the table." So here we have someone attacking those who receive benefits from a government program even as he defrauds that and other government programs avoiding legally-mandated contributions. Perhaps the post should have been titled "Bilking the System."
I'm sympathetic to the idea that one needs to do scrappy in this environment, and that may involve cutting some corners in order to put food on the table. But if that's the case, please don't throw stones, particularly if you're the one who's actually breaking the law. People drawing unemployment are receiving benefits from insurance paid for with premiums taken out of their wages--premiums which will only go up when employers employ people under the table rather than pay their share. A person not legally employed, like the reader, will probably be more likely to have to fall back on government assistance if laid off, funded by taxes the person hasn't been paying. A little more perspective and a little less knee-jerk libertarianism, please.
I understand the idea that possibly some laid off people are "milking the system" to seemingly enjoy the things that make life better. However, there is often another side to that same coin. When I was laid off, I was unable to get a job at my salary level, and to take one with much less pay would be less than unemployment was paying. Another thing one should realize is that with modern technology one can job hunt literally 24 hours a day. So while you may see your out of work friend "Joe" during the day, please realize that there are plenty of hours a week that you're not seeing that friend.
I spent years on and off unemployment, being denied jobs because I was “overqualified,” being passed over because I was a college grad and would leave the factory for an office job before my employer could recover the cost of my training, etc., ad nauseum. I spent 5 years working at jobs ranging from janitor to welfare examiner, before finding my current professional position, a job I never dreamed I’d find, distantly related to my degrees in liberal arts and chemistry.
You don’t “milk the system” on unemployment. The money is barely enough to subsist, and it’s cut off as soon as you get a job, even if you won’t get a paycheck until after you complete two weeks of work. You spend your time alternating between worrying whether you’ll ever get anything and questioning your worth as a human being. Don’t tell me how easy it is, how it’s a free rideI’ve been there a few times, and each time it’s been hell!
I guess I get the point about how the non-virtuous unemployment recipients are taking their fellow citizens' tax dollars, but really, isn't there something more fundamentally humane about the notion that it's okay, given the opportunity, to just take a breather for a scant few months out of what is likely to be, for most of us, a pretty long hump of a hard working life?