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The Unemployed Aren't Invisible: Washington and the Media Just Aren't Paying Attention

America's 14.1 million unemployed aren't voiceless; it's just that no one is listening, and no one's got a plan to help them.
 
 
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It hits you like a punch in the gut, losing your job. Being laid off. Being fired.

It stops you cold in the middle of your day even if you've seen it coming. Even if you hate your job and being out of it will be a relief. If you love your job, it hurts like a bad breakup—it's heartbreaking.

I was laid off not long ago, and I know all too well the mix of panic and hurt that comes with the news. I know the jumble of thoughts that come rushing in— how will I pay my rent blending with  I'll never find a job I like this much again, worst-case scenarios and ways to make money and plans I'll have to cancel all at once.

I was one of the lucky ones. I found a good job quickly. Millions of others, though, are still struggling to pay their bills, ignored by politicians too busy pandering to deficit hysteria to listen to their stories. 

The New York Times said the unemployed have become invisible. Maybe in Washington, in political circles where the question is not what to spend to put people back to work but which programs to cut. But there are 14.1 million unemployed right now, scattered around the country, many of whom have been out of work for months or years.

The Times asked, “And where, if anywhere, is the outrage?” But instead of asking unemployed workers, they sought out the usual panel of experts, professors, historians, economists, lawyers, even an organizer. The unemployed themselves are as invisible in the  Times story as they are in Washington, good for a quick mention but not to be listened to.

The outrage, if you bother speaking to those out of work is easy to find.

“People are the most precious resource that this country has; the determination that people have makes this country what it is. But they continue to step on the backs of people who have given their all, not just for one generation but for generation after generation, you work and pay taxes and try to live in a decent home, and then they say, we can't help you,” Benita Johnson of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania told me. She's been out of work since May 2010, and has only been able to find temporary positions since 2006—after taking a serious pay cut to get a job that would allow her to get her bachelor's degree at night.

Nicole Sandler, a progressive radio host who lost her full-time position when Air America went under, has some anger at Democrats as well as the Right. “They let Republicans frame the discourse,” she noted, while Republicans “ran on creating jobs but they haven't passed one jobs bill since they've been in power. They're limiting women's rights and busting unions. Where are the jobs?”

Sandler relies on odd jobs to pay her bills at the moment, doing voiceover work and filling in for radio host Randi Rhodes, and hosts her own show online at  RadioOrNot.com. “I live in South Florida, there aren't many places for people to go,” she said.

The stories at HelpThe99ers.com, a site Sandler founded as a sort of social network for the unemployed to find work or help, range through all types of careers and across the country. The 99ers are those whose unemployment benefits have reached the maximum, 99 weeks, and have run out. The long-term unemployed are left dependent on relatives, friends, community, and any income they can scrape together—Benita Johnson operated a gypsy cab between temporary positions, when her unemployment benefits expired.

 
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