I’ve spent the last six years writing about public policy decisions that impact “them.” “Them, their, those, they” – that safe collection of pronouns that indicates I do not share in the object’s misfortune. It’s insulating; it was just the bubble wrap I needed to keep my empathy at a safe distance.
Three weeks ago, “them” turned into “us” when my husband was laid off. Boom. Those words resounded loudly in my ears and rattled through my brain. After more than a decade of secure, reliable employment with benefits, our feet were securely placed in the shoes of the people I’ve been writing about.
As our wheels turned evaluating next steps and implications of the news, I remembered a story I recently did on the drastic reduction our state has implemented when it comes to unemployment benefits. Thanks to changes at the state level, my husband will have just 13 weeks to find a new job before the benefits run out. On top of that, the maximum he’ll receive is $350/week. Hardly enough to supplement the income lost after his severance is gone.
When I wrote that story, the numbers were just numbers. I didn’t get angry. I didn’t feel wronged. Applying for unemployment was something “they” would have to do, not us. But now – here we are.
On top of that, at $350/week (without considering my income), that puts our family well below the federal poverty guidelines. We’ve let our lawmakers set up the perfect storm for pushing families into poverty. Jobs – especially mid to high level jobs for people with experience – aren’t easy to come by these days. And when a family experiences job loss, not all monthly expenses can immediately be shrunk down to absorb the income differential.
So here I sit in MY shoes. Before you send in your spare change, we will be fine and have already found the silver lining of the lay-off cloud. We are entrepreneurs and already have a plan in place to sustain our family. However, I recognize not everyone is in that situation. Not everyone has marketable, valued skills they can easily turn into income.
So now I share this: do your best to turn “their” into “my,” and invest yourself in considering what our state has done to public programs such as unemployment. This system, which employers pay into on your behalf every pay period, is now shorting the very people it is meant to serve. Generally speaking, unemployed people want nothing more than to get on sure footing, and continue their family’s forward motion. Our state should support that so we all can move forward and upward.