Two dead. Hundreds injured. What if this was the lead story over the national airwaves when you turned on your radio this morning to drive to work. Would it catch your attention? Would it elicit a level of concern in you that something must be done? Would there be a new national movement for government control and oversight? Would we be talking about how the media and our political representatives need to ratchet down the vitriolic rhetoric that is so prevalent in our society today? How surprised will you be to find out that I am not talking about gun violence, but unemployment? Our unwillingness and rhetoric about expanding unemployment benefits for millions of America’s long term unemployed, often referred to as 99ers, is taking its toll.
I have a close friend that works as a volunteer with a community action group in the Boston area. He predominately works with the long term unemployed trying to assist those that are experiencing extreme financial duress with issues like negotiating with landlords to try to keep a roof over these people’s heads or trying to provide assistance to someone that has “more month than food stamps.” To say that he is over-worked and under-paid would really not provide a description that does his situation justice. His job is difficult and heart-wrenching. It is full of slim hopes and failure after failure. His efforts to help are often nothing more than doing the best he can to refer people to charitable organizations with the slim hope that some additional assistance can be provided or that sympathetic ear that everyone needs once in a while. Sometimes sympathy is just not enough.
In the last two weeks, my friend has reported to me of two individuals; 99ers. Part of the ignored long term unemployed just trying to get through the day; day after day, that grew too despondent to go on. This is not an aberration in the world of the long term unemployed. Two people have taken their lives in a matter of weeks in an isolated area of the country. These people grew so tired of having no realistic hope of ever getting out of their personal tragedy, or of ever seeing any assistance from a nation that continues to call itself the richest in the world, that they took drastic action. Yes, these two people took their lives out of despondency, desperation, and a sense of futility that only those in the deepest depths of despair can truly understand. There are thousands more in the Boston area alone that are in this same situation. There are millions across our great country in this same situation. And our response is to ignore them.
If the plan is to do as suggested in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol “…and reduce the surplus population” we are well on our way. I strongly doubt that suicides due to economic morose are limited to the Boston area alone, in fact I would expect that, if properly reported by the media, that this is America’s true emerging human disaster. There is a cost to all of the rhetoric about the unemployed being lazy, just living off the government dole, or just druggies working the system. This type of vitriolic language turns once hard working American citizens that have lost their job by no fault of their own, that cannot find a job because there are none, into slackers, ingrates, and sub-human individuals. And we wonder why some once proud people have now decided that their only option is to end their life.
Wake up America! There is a human disaster falling down all around your feet. How can you not notice? It is time to drop all of the rhetoric and to face the facts squarely and with some sense of national pride and community. There but for the grace of God go I. As American citizens we must follow the very words written in our Constitution to “promote the general Welfare.” People are dying! It is time to enact some good old fashioned “Unemployment Control Laws” to stop these senseless deaths.