Jul 30, 2014
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Washington Inaction Impacts Local Families

While Congress debates restoration of long term unemployment benefit, local job hunters make adjustments.

Washington Inaction Impacts Local Families

When a  compromise-laden act of Congress hurts 1.3 million Americans removing long term unemployment payments while leaving the  other roughly 314.8 million unscathed few people pay much attention.

When your source of groceries changes from Sunset or Jewel to the Shields Township Food Pantry like it has for a Lake Bluff single mother, the loss of long term unemployment benefits became acute.

When your employer picks up stakes from Northbrook and takes only a few of those jobs to Florida, a the loss of long term unemployment benefits dramatically changes things for your school age children.

When your employer downsizes you out of a job after more than 11 years as a key account manager, the loss of long term unemployment benefits makes a major change in your shopping habits.

For Gabrielle Jacobson of Highland Park, Summer Gerber of Lake Bluff and Becky Melka of Riverwoods, the loss of long term unemployment benefits Dec. 28 has not only altered their families’ lifestyles, it has made their job search that much harder.

Round Table Offers Chance to Share Stories

The three women were part of a round table discussion with  Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) and others Friday in Waukegan where they shared their stories, talked about the impact of the loss of income from unemployment insurance and the difficulty of finding a new job.

“It’s a huge circle of what you have to do,” said Melka, who was downsized out of a job as a key account manager in June 2012, after more than 11 years with Laura’s Lean Beef. “I can read 150 jobs a day or more just to apply for one where you’re really experienced.”

All three women say looking for work is a full-time job. The income from unemployment benefits helped them seek work at a time numerous people apply for every opening. Not only are computer skills part of the hunt, but also comprehending how to help a machine read your resume.

“You have to go through a set of algorithms to pull up key words (in a resume),” Melka said. “As long as you put a ton of key words in your resume they’ll pull you. I have 18 resumes. Usually one will fit.” If not, she creates another. Meanwhile, frugal shopping has become the norm for Melka.

Benefits Provided “Very Basic Essentials of Life”

Gerber, a 29-year-old single mother who put herself through college while raising her children, was a manager at TGI Fridays with four years on the job until May when surgery came between her and her job. The long term unemployment payments were crucial to her job search as well.

“They allowed me to put food on the table, pay the rent and keep the utilities on, the very basic essentials of life,” Gerber said.

While working, Gerber earned a degree in restaurant management. She started as a server and will do that again. “I’ll work as a server or a bartender and show them what I can do,” she said. “Some job is better than no job.”

Jacobson, who lost her job in the travel industry when the company left town, was delicately balancing her husband’s decreased income, the needs of her children and her own job search while her family had the benefit of unemployment payments. Now she will be forced to spend less hours looking for a full time job.

“I’ll have to start doing temp work, not necessarily in my field,” Gerber said. It takes time away from a job search maximizing her talents. “It creates a cycle making it harder to get a job offer. I feel I have to complete my contract to show good faith.”

Schneider, Dold stake out similar positions

Schneider wants to see Congress restore long term unemployment benefits for at least three months. A bill is currently being debated in the Senate but has been stalled the last few weeks. He sees the benefits going beyond the individuals who lost the payments.

“Every dollar in unemployment benefits puts $1.60 into the community,” Schneider said. “A three-month extension will let the people who lost benefits stay focused looking for a job. In the long term we need to grow our economy and do it in a fiscally responsible way.”

Former Rep. Robert Dold (R-Kenilworth)who is running against Schneider in the November general election to regain the seat he lost to the incumbent in 2012, also favors an extension of long term benefits.

“We cannot turn our backs on the hardworking men and women who have been cut from the labor force due to the limping economy,” Dold said. Extending the unemployment insurance program in the short term is critical for local families.  However, Congress must do it in a fiscally responsible way, and closely connect it with job creation polices and new job training programs.”

Is the lack of long-term unemployment insurance impacting you or someone you know? Tell us in the comments. 

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