Hey, brother, can you spare a dime? Well, maybe just a little compassion and understanding for the thousands of North Carolinians who, through no fault of our own, find ourselves in the ranks of the unemployed.
Legislative leaders are aching to get tougher on those of us who have been so brash as to seek unemployment benefits at a time when we need a little help.
Not that the rules aren’t already tough enough. In recent years, the state limited benefits to 12 weeks with a maximum of $350 per week, no matter what you made in your former job. Even some of the most tight-fisted states provide up to 26 weeks to help the jobless get back on their feet.
Now, state leaders want to make sure that you’re not sitting on your duff lapping up that $350 to lavish on, say, utilities to power your Internet job search, gas to get you to an interview or ... food?
So they’re ready to require the unemployed to make and record at least five contacts per week with potential employers. Currently, the state requires two such contacts per week.
Simple and reasonable enough? Well, yes, it would be if those contacts were likely to be productive. But even with the current mandate of two, I find myself applying for jobs that I know I’m not going to get because I don’t have the experience or skills that match the available work.
Let me say now that I have no tolerance for fraud. The state should do everything it can to ensure that people who are not eligible or who make little effort to find a job should not get benefits. But I worked and paid taxes for 35 years – actually more, if you count high school and college jobs. And I have been trying for months. At 58 years old, however, and having been in one line of work for three and a half decades, the options are limited unless you’re ready to pull up stakes and throw away all you’ve worked for those many years.
I was luckier than most. My layoff came with a severance package that provided a little time to regroup. And I don’t have young mouths to feed, unless you count the three rescue dogs. At least they didn’t need back-to-school clothes and won’t be headed to college anytime soon.
I’ve made some prudent spending decisions as well – getting cheaper car insurance, forgoing dental appointments and gambling on expiration dates at the grocery store. (That’s called writing a budget, legislators; call me if you need help with that.)
I look at job postings every day and several times a day. There was one recently for vice president of finance at Bladen Community College. Well, no, I don’t have an MBA. Chipper operator at a wood pellet factory in Faison? Thanks, but I like my fingers and toes – all of them. Then there was the listing for “exotic housekeeper” in Greensboro. Trust me, no one wants to see me dusting the dining room in a pair of Daisy Dukes.
I have not received a dime in unemployment benefits since I applied in July. The state has been “processing” my claim and has a question about vacation days, and that could take six to eight weeks, I’m told. Well, I get it that the processers are busy. But process this: No job means I have no vacation days.
The “NC Works” website has lots of tools intended to help job seekers find their match. Some are actually useful. But I don’t need a cute graphic to tell me that I’m not qualified to be a defense analyst at Fort Bragg.
Of course, the now-hear-this message of NC Works is that fraud is against the law and, if you don’t tell the truth, you could go to jail. As every new page of the site opens, with every form you’re required to fill out and every mailing, the state waves a “fraud warning” in your face.
It’s illegal. I get it. Enough.
Legislative leaders love to tout “common sense” solutions on the campaign trail and before TV microphones. But it doesn’t make sense to spend so much effort trying to score political points at the expense of people who have done nothing wrong or to beat down on already bruised egos.
Just help me get a job. Give me a bridge to the future.
I don’t want a handout, just a leg up.
Bobby Parker lives in Salemburg.