I am Jeff Grapevine. I'm 51 years old and I was laid off from my job as an analyst 20 months ago. My unemployment benefits are due to expire three days before Christmas. At this point, I don't know if I will be included in the newly agreed-upon benefit extension.
Until Congress works out the details of that extension, I wait in a sort of limbo, like millions of others, to see if I am eligible. If my benefits are not extended, I have a small retirement savings account that will help us for a little while longer. After those funds run out I have no idea what I will do.
There will be very little Christmas cheer at our house this year. A holiday with piles of gifts under the tree is one of the last things I'm thinking about. I want a job.
I don't like being unemployed or being on Unemployment. Not working is not natural to me; it is a violation of my personal ethic. None of the job seekers I know are enjoying this. This is not fun. This is not a vacation. We spend hours every day looking and applying for work, tailoring cover letters and resumes to each application, using every opportunity to network, to unearth any lead at all. Despite all we do, a job seems as hidden and mythical as the Holy Grail.
We're not looking for the ideal job; we're looking for any job. We want to work. We all need something to put our hands to so that we feel useful, that we have done something meaningful, that we have, in our small way, made a contribution. We want to feel a part of something good again. Unemployment benefits can neither take the sting from the disappointment nor blunt the despair of each rejection. When one is unemployed, worry and fear and doubt are constant companions.
I'm luckier than some. My partner has a job with health insurance. State unemployment, the federal extensions and what temp work I can get have helped me continue a job search that is frustrating to the point of despondence. Yet without benefits, we would not be able to keep our home, pay taxes (even unemployment benefits are taxable) or pay bills. Having benefits means I can keep my phone and Internet hooked up, as well as my car running, so I can keep looking for work. They have been a lifeline to hope -- hope that I will not lose everything, that my work, my contribution to the American economy, has not been forgotten and that I will soon be working and contributing again.
As I watch Congress bicker over extending unemployment benefits, I am convinced Republicans and Democrats are not interested in the common weal, but rather in their common goal of winning. The actions of my government say it has no faith in me. Am I not worth the support of my country? It seems those who caused this "downturn" (who are mostly insulated from its financial, moral and legal effects) are more worthy of saving than I am.
Americans out of work, looking for work, desperate for any work, are to be debated but not aided. We have been reduced to abstractions by the partisan dithering of my "representatives" on Capitol Hill and the gasbags of talk radio and TV. It would seem we have no worth except to be used by politicians, talking heads and pundits to win elections, increase ratings and make nice livings.
Our American Dream has been taken from us, while a few thrive on our misery. I ask myself, in the words of Langston Hughes, "What happens to a dream deferred?"
Jeff Grapevine, St. Paul, formerly worked as an analyst in marketing and media research. He is a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.