What does it feel like to be sliding down the economic ladder in America and falling through non-existent safety nets? Beyond the recent headlines suggesting that the worst of America is now being displayed in an explosion of gun violence, there’s a quieter, widespread and equally stark epidemic of downwardly spiraling lives in America.
That epidemic is the slow-motion descent into shame, despair, depression, financial ruin, assaults by predatory lenders, fruitless job retraining and homelessness caused by long-term joblessness. The House Republicans’ refusal to extend unemployment benefits has pushed legions of desperate people even closer to the edge—or over it, into the streets.
The Washington-based Center for Effective Government has been collecting stories of the longterm unemployed for months and has assembled anarchive of testimonials to try to push the House to act. Its most striking feature is that too many entries are from people who played by the rules, worked all their lives, and have now found themselves abandoned in this economy.
“I can’t believe I live in America,” writes one woman from Massachusetts.
What follows are a dozen excerpts from this archive. Their circumstances are haunting, because they are not that far removed from the struggles of millions of Americans.
1. “Constant Fear,” from Baltimore, Maryland: I can’t pay little bills: gas and electric, phone, or car insurance. Also, I am finding it hard to pay my mortgage and I don’t want to lose my home. I am in constant fear of that. I don't want my family and myself become homeless. In addition, I am finding it hard to put food on the table (shameful). We need help and we need it quick, fast, and in a hurry!
2. “So upset, depressed, hopeless,” from Massachusetts: I was just informed the foreclosure process on my home is going to begin. I am a single mother, and I have nowhere to go but a shelter. I cannot believe I live in America. I have always been employed since I was a teen; I have lived in the middle class, but now am close to poverty. I spend every day working to find a job. The jobs are heavily applied for and the interview process is long. The job opportunities have not come back. The mortgage company is hot to sell my home in foreclosure. I am so upset, depressed, and hopeless. I have signed petitions, e-mailed news media, senators, House Speaker Boehner, and President Obama. I don’t know what else to do or say anymore.
3. “No hope of getting a job,” from Pickens, South Carolina: I am a single person who has always worked since the age of 16. I find myself unemployed for the 2nd time since 2011. You spend all day, every day on the computer submitting resumÃ©s, filling out applications, and doing interviews with no hope of getting a job. With no extensions, how do you pay your bills? They don't stop coming in. You have no job, no unemployment, no money coming in... I am 55 and have no retirement or anything to look forward to.
4. Over 50 and “flat broke,” from Bothell, Washington: My husband and I are both over the age of 50 with post-high school educations and on-the-job experience… We went through our $10,000 in savings and have recently had to dip into one of my retirement accounts to relocate in hopes of earning an income again. We were unable to afford payments on our mortgage-modified home due to our over two years of broken or complete lack of work. I am currently in the worker retraining program, updating my education, but I am concerned that even with this, I will not find work that will be sufficient enough to keep the bills paid. My husband and I are flat broke, and last week was his last week of unemployment. My unemployment is due to end shortly after the July 4th holiday this year.
5. “I am financially ruined,” From Warren, Ohio: Unemployment benefits allowed me to keep my head above water and make payments on my bills. My regular benefits ended on Dec. 28, 2013 when EUC also ended. What little money I had available to me due to a tax refund helped me get through January and February, but I have not made any payments on my credit cards in three months. My credit rating has been destroyed and my debt increased by over $1,000 due to late payments, and it continues to rise. I have no savings but have been able to survive from paycheck to paycheck for 20 years working. Now when I need help, it is not available. I did just complete schooling that I started three years ago to make myself more marketable. My children are giving me money to survive, keep my phone on, and keep gas in my car to continue looking for a job. I am financially ruined. EUC was in existence since 2008 and unfortunately ended when I needed the help.
6. Fired at age 70 after 23 years, from Spring, Texas: I had worked for over 23 years with the company that let me go this past October. It was age... I was 70 years old and in good health, always on time, and very seldom sick. As a matter of fact, the company owed me 20 sick days. I have been looking for a job and no luck; with no unemployment coming in, I’m scared. I had always voted for Republicans, but I don't think I will vote for any [more] Republicans as they do not care about us at all.
7. “Running out of things to pay my bills,” from Houston, Texas: I have been forced to sell my jewelry and household items, as well as clothes, shoes, etc. I am running out of things to pay my bills. I am steadily looking for a job but have to do this accordingly because I do not have gas to go looking all day like I used to do. I have to go use the Internet at free wifi places to send out my resumÃ©. I am losing everything and there is nothing I can do about it. Before long, I will not have anything. I have worked all my life, and this was not my choice.
8. “One month away from losing everything,” from Bend, Oregon: I’m unable to meet the daily demands of current bills to keep my credit score up in order to gain employment in my current accounting field. As of Jan. 1, 2014, I exhausted all my 401(k) retirement savings and am now selling my second vehicle to survive and keep up my credit score. I’m one month away from losing everything and am now on Food Stamps. I’m an unhappy Republican facing hard times unexpectedly after over 30 years of continuous employment.
9. “I am now constantly depressed,” from San Diego, California: We are in foreclosure, and no [mortgage] modification is available to us. When I lost my job, we modified and only lowered the payment $54. We have five girls. All of our bills are overdue. I look for work every day, and most days, there are no new postings. I have sent up to triple applications for the same job. I now am constantly depressed and take antidepressants. My biweekly unemployment payment was only $520, but that pays the bills and [for] food. I pray this [extension] passes and becomes law soon.
10. “People are losing their dignity,” from Charlotte, North Carolina: I have had to sell many of my possessions to stay afloat. The state of North Carolina has reduced the number of weeks from 26 weeks to only 19 weeks, and I will receive my last check next week. Why Gov. Pat McCrory has allowed us to only receive 19 weeks is beyond me. People are losing their dignity. I don't know what I will do. I have lost my home and I may lose my car. Surviving on public assistance and Food Stamps is not the American Dream, but you do what you have to do.
11. “The stress is killing me,” from Denton, Texas: On April 25, 2013, the president of our company walked in and told us that our office would close immediately and medical benefits would stop that day. I received severance pay (seven weeks for seven years of employment). Since I am a two-time cancer survivor and had a stroke, I needed my medical insurance. I had to take Social Security early so that I could get Medicare. (I was getting ready to turn 65 when they shut us down.) I could not find a job; each week, I sent out resumes, but my age was apparent and I would get no calls. I now have a part-time job (20 hours a week @ $10 per hour), but I cannot get my past-due mortgage or car payments caught up. If the EUC would be restored, I would be able to get my mortgage and car caught up. I am a single woman and purchased my home eight years ago thinking that I would be working until I was at least 70 so that I could get a larger Social Security check. The stress is killing me. I am living my life in quiet desperation, like all the other people who have lost EUC.
12. “A Homeless shelter, unbelievable,” from Castle Rock, Colorado: All of my reserves are gone and I cannot support my daughter as a single parent. I am a veteran and have worked all my life until getting laid off over a year ago. Like many others, I am older, 49, have a master's degree and many years of excellent experience, but no one will hire me for the obvious reason of discrimination in the form of "too old and expensive to hire," even though I would work for whatever someone was willing to pay. I have been told by interviewers on multiple occasions that I have an impressive resume and skill set, but I've yet to receive an offer. I have yet to get a response from any of the part-time, lower-wage jobs, so I am not sure what I can do to change this situation. It appears I am not alone. I am not paying any bills and holding on to what cash I have remaining so that I can pay rent for April, but that is it for me; after that, my daughter and I will be living in a homeless shelter. Unbelievable.