A few years ago my husband got laid off shortly after the birth of our second child. After years of never giving a thought to the unemployment system, our family of four was suddenly depending on it to keep our bellies full. It was a struggle, but we made it through those long three months, buying groceries and paying the gas bill only after the unemployment check was deposited in our account.
Were we to face the same situation this year, chances are we’d be living on $300 a month less. Unemployment reform signed into law last year by Governor McCrory both decreases the amount of pay for those out of work and limits the amount of time they can receive unemployment benefits. This new law took effect less than two weeks ago, and I can bet families are already feeling the difference.
Once laid off, the most an unemployed worker can receive in unemployment benefits is $350 a week. In my case, my family had to adjust from already-meager earnings of around $2,500 a month to a number closer to $1,500. If we had to decrease the budget by another $300, I’m not sure what we would have done.
As it was, I was extreme couponing, selling extra goods on eBay, and picking up odd jobs. We had a small amount of savings, so we were using that to pay the mortgage while my husband hunted for a job.
According the North Carolina Justice Center, the new changes to unemployment insurance won’t just affect needy households. The state economy is at risk. Researchers say that a ripple effect from unemployed families will slow the economy, and exacerbate economically difficult conditions in communities where unemployment is the highest.
When my husband lost his job, it wasn’t because he was playing golf instead of going to meetings, or that he was showing up for work in Bermuda shorts. He was laid off from his state job because of across-the-board budget cuts, a situation tens of thousands of North Carolina workers face each year. The unemployment insurance system serves as a safety net for families like mine who find themselves in a dire situation through no fault of their own.
The new plan punishes families and forces them into debt, as they are faced with overwhelming bills and decreasing funds. With only 14 weeks of unemployment insurance—down from 26 weeks from before—unemployed North Carolinians can now expect to lose their meager benefits before they get a chance to find a new job. In some counties, it can take much longer than the paid-for 3.5 months to even land an interview.
As funny as it sounds, I’m kind of glad my husband was laid off when he was. Although the $1,500 a month was a stretch for our families, at least it wasn’t $1,200. Because the truth is, I’m not sure what we would have given up. Would it have been beans, or rice? Because that was pretty much all we had left.