I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. - Albert Schweitzer

The day will come when you will trust you more than you do now, and you will trust me more than you do now. And we can trust each other. ... I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous – and people are not yet willing to pay it. - James Baldwin

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Let Them Eat Seed Corn

The other night I tuned into Chris Matthew's show and caught some low-level Heritage Foundation apparatchik defending the notion that unemployment insurance is reducing the incentive for people to find work. Chris and his other guest were doing a pretty fair job of pinning this guys ears back, but I really wanted in on the fight. This same talking point is really making the rounds.

They won't come right out and say it, but they keep implying that the long-term unemployed are simply malingerers who are using their weekly check to hide from the new realities of the job market. Maybe they think getting this line out there will help them defend the ridiculous string of votes that the Republicans have taken on this issue. This guy, James Sherk on Matthew's show kept insisting that “science” shows that with unemployment benefits “workers spend more time unemployed and take longer to find work.” He goes on to say that it encourages people to look for better jobs that pay better wages.  I don't doubt it, but more to the point, so the hell what?

I don't need a study to know that a population experiencing a famine is less likely to consume the seed corn that they need for the next year's planting if they are getting some sort of emergency food relief. I guess if the Heritage Foundation were to analyze that phenomenon, they would conclude that people suffering through a famine would rather just sit there with their hand out than rely on the resources that they already have.

I've got a friend who is an architect. He is one of the finest men I know. He's not a great self-promoter, but he is the ultimate team player. He has been out of work for about 18 months and he has just lost his jobless benefits. I imagine that if he had really hustled from day one, he could have, in fact, managed to find a job as a stock clerk or fast food cook by now, but the way things are that's hardly a sure thing. Instead, he has been actively networking with everyone he knows in the building trades. He has taken community college classes to upgrade his drafting skills to the latest software. He has gotten his LEED accreditation in the use of green technologies. He has resumed work on his Masters degree. Those are all the right moves. Snatching up the first paper-hat job he could find is not. The seventeen years that my friend has invested in his career as an architect, represent not just the seed corn of his own life, but multiplied by the millions, they represent the seed corn for our entire nation.

I know something about the cost of aiming low out of expediency from my own life. When my wife and I were expecting our first child, we moved from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City to take up a new job just as winter was closing in. Two days before I was supposed to start, my new company filed for Chapter 11 and informed me that there was no job. I have had the experience of sitting across from one hiring manager after another and trying to convince them that I really was a talented programmer who just happened to be driving a taxi to make ends meet. It is not an easy sell. You are damaged goods. I was very, very lucky that I was able to rebuild my career from that point, and though I worked very hard at it, hard work was not nearly enough. It set us back for years. It is just a fact that if we push a substantial number of our fellow citizens down that path, some of them will never recover and we will be the poorer for it.

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