Speaking of Personal Responsibility

I’m telling you know that this is one of those posts that is going to leave some of you thinking I’m a heartless capitalist. 🙂

Think what you will, but it is not true.

Personally I found this article, posted by CNN a day ago and copied below for reference, to be fairly representative of critical failings in Corporate America, the Government, and ourselves personally. Like I do with speeches, the indented portions are the original text and the non-indented portions are my commentary.

Time Runs Out for 1.2 Million on Unemployment

With her unemployment benefits coming to a halt, Miriam Cintron is forced to make a difficult choice between health insurance and daily expenses.

Signing into her unemployment benefits account last week, the New Yorker was horrified to see she hadn’t received any money for three weeks, she says.

What would the four-year cancer survivor do if she couldn’t afford to pay her $650 monthly COBRA payment? Her health insurance helped pay for life-saving treatment before, so giving it up is not an option, she says.

I’m certainly not going to argue the importance of health insurance, but I want you to pay close attention here to a few things:

  • The cost of the insurance
  • The absolute committment to maintaining said insurance
  • The three weeks it took her to realize she wasn’t receiving benefits in spite, as we learn later, of a requirement to report and login to the site weekly

Okay? Let’s continue.

When Cintron was laid off from her job as a case worker at a homeless shelter in late 2008, she never imagined she’d go on unemployment. But even with 17 years experience, she’s been unable to land a new job.

When you say “a” new job, are you talking only a job you want or just any job? As we’ll see later, she’s really unable to land only a job she wants. Desperate times call for desperate measures, maybe even *gasp* a job you don’t like.

Cintron isn’t alone. Unemployment benefits are set to run dry for 1.2 million people nationwide Friday after the U.S. Senate decided not to extend a deadline for these benefits last week, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Come Saturday, the number of people cut from unemployment benefits will surge to 1.63 million, according to U.S. Department of Labor estimates. By mid-July, about 2 million unemployed Americans could lose their benefits.

Outside the focus of this conversation, but this is somewhat scary to think about. If we consider that unemployment benefits have, in the fact that they put money into the economy, been part of the growth we’ve recently experienced, we can expect a slip in the future. Even if we consider the average benefit to be only $500 a month, we are talking about removing a cool $1 billion from the economy monthly. Then again, this brings into question if the insertion of that capital by the government is really an effective program in the first place. True, the program is largely funded by taxed contributions from the time you are employed, but there you go….

Before last month, out-of-work Americans were eligible for extensions once they maxed out at 26 weeks of state benefits and 73 weeks of federal benefits — a total of 99 weeks. But, Senate Republicans blocked the extension with a 57-14 vote last week.

Really? Only Senate Republicans blocked it? How about a reason why it was blocked. You don’t even talk about that.

The House failed Tuesday to pass the bill and it’s unclear whether House Democratic leaders will take another crack at passing the legislation before they break for the July Fourth weekend.

“The reality is that we have the worst job market on record going back to the Great Recession,” says Maurice Emsellem, policy co-director at National Employment Law Project.

“There’s only one job available for every five unemployed workers.”

For people who are apt to say, “Go find a job,” Emsellem says the predicament of the unemployed isn’t easy to escape.

“For anybody that has a thought in their head that unemployed workers are to blame for their situation, the reality is that workers are struggling hard to find work, but the jobs are just not there.”

Uh… I actually do say “go find a job,” but I’d change it slightly. Go make a job. You cannot tell me that you can’t do anything to make any money.

This concept of a job is a modern creation. As recently as 100 years ago, many people didn’t have jobs. They just worked and either created something that they then sold or provided a service that was sellable to another person. This concept isn’t new or foreign. It’s what the neighbor kid does when he shows up on your door and says the he’ll wash your car for $5 or mow your lawn for $20. True, you may not want to do this, but are you responsible or not?

By the way, I have a good friend who makes very good money in his own business, but recently he decided to see if he couldn’t make $100 every Saturday for about 8 weeks. Each Saturday he woke up without a plan and committed to going out and doing something that, by the end of the day, made him $100. One day he mowed a bunch of lawns in the neighborhood. Another time (while on vacation in another city, I might add), he went into a local neighborhood, painted house numbers on the curb for all the houses, and then went around asking donations. He made over $100 in about two hours. You can’t tell me that you can’t go make money.

Take your mind from the modern, restrictive mold of “a job” and go find work. Go create work.

While Cintron has been struggling to make ends meet for the last year-and-a-half, she worries about other people in the same predicament.

“My story is one story and it’s unique,” she says. “But, there are so many people with children, other issues, that are in dire situations.”

I at least appreciate her candor and honesty that she is a unique situation and that she recognizes that others are suffering as well.

“I’m just shocked that more attention isn’t being paid to this story.”

And then she throws that out there…. Sorry, but this seems to be at least in the top five news stories daily.

She’s thankful she doesn’t have any children relying on her for support right now. But, she does care for her mother. Part of Cintron’s unemployment checks have been going toward her mother’s expenses since she moved in with her a few months before Cintron lost her job.

I never quite understood who moved in with who…. I think the article eventually implies that she moved in with mom. Not really relevant to the story, but….

Cintron’s $425 unemployment check each week — or $1,700 each month — has to stretch a long way. She pitches in for appliances, groceries and whatever else her mother needs. Health insurance payments burn a hole in her wallet at a whopping $650 per month. And then there’s the storage fee of $300 she pays for all her excess furniture from her old apartment.

And this is where I start fuming…. You’re single, living with your mom, and you can’t make $1,700 “stretch” for a month? I have a family of four, make my own house payment, and live on about $2,500 a month while saving the rest, and we live great. Do you have a cell phone? Do you have cable? Do you have anything more than the most basic internet? Netflix? Do you still eat out?

And why are you paying $300 a month (more than 1/6 of your TOTAL income) to pay to store furniture you don’t/can’t use? Sell the furniture and pocket the money! Surely the value of that furniture would pay your COBRA payment for at least two or three months, and the savings on that $300 storage fee would be a big help, too.

Now for those who claim that selling that means she’s starting over, yes, she is. This is a crisis. During a crisis, you cannot maintain what you used to do. She has a choice, really: Sell it all now while she has the power to control it or lose it all later when she’s forced to sell it to avoid even worse problems. If you were her, which would you choose?

If Congress fails to pass the bill granting the unemployment benefit extensions this week, Cintron says she will only be able to stay afloat for a month. She will have to dip into her 401(k) retirement plan to continue to pay for health care, she says.

And I’m sorry to say, but you should be responsible for you. I’ve already outlined several things you could do to probably make it on your own. By the way, if anyone ever comes to my door who is obviously making the effort to fight there way through a situation like this, you can be sure they will find my help.

As to what happens after that, Cintron says she just doesn’t know.

“I will try to survive and see what I can do for paying the health insurance for at least another few months with my 401(k).”

“I don’t qualify for Medicaid, I make too much money. I have to pay the $650 to a private health insurer.”

WHOA!!! You make too much money to qualify for Medicaid?!?! I thought you were out of a job? How much money is this? Where is at all going? Oh, right… supporting your hutch sitting in a storage closet somewhere…. Sorry, my sympathy strings just aren’t playing for that hutch.

Finding the income to support her expensive health insurance hasn’t been an easy task. For the last year-and-a-half, Cintron has been applying to jobs at homeless shelters in New York. Even though she has landed several interviews, they haven’t amounted to anything.

Again… Apply for ALL jobs, not just the jobs you want. Or better yet, go create your own work.

“The agencies where I’m applying to, they’re all cutting back too,” she says, citing city funding cutbacks.

So you yourself admit that you’re barking up the wrong tree? What’s wrong with this picture?

Cintron is considering part-time or customer service work as a last resort, but she’s worried she may be worse off.

So, after exhausting your unemployment benefits (which last 99 weeks by the way), you are finally considering other work options? Oh boy… When I was laid off two years ago, I began looking at other work options the same day I was laid off. Again, where is the personal responsibility?

“I certainly don’t want to live on unemployment,” she says. “The customer service jobs don’t pay well, don’t have health insurance. I really need insurance because I’m a cancer survivor.”

No… but they do pay. Like Dave Ramsey once said, making $8 (or whatever) an hour is certainly better than $0 an hour.

For now, Cintron keeps logging into the unemployment benefits website, typing in her account number and trying to claim benefits.

Cintron says the New York State Department of Labor has instructed her to keep logging in as normal, even though she’s not getting a dime. Cintron says the website is confusing and she’s unsure of how many extensions she’s had.

Now here are two points:

  • Why is the government managing this crisis for her?
  • Why is she letting the government manage this crisis for her?

Again, take personal control of the situation and go make work.

With all the stress and lack of income, Cintron’s been relying on hobbies to try to keep her spirits up.

Could you sell that hobby? If it is interesting enough to you that you would do it for free or pay money to allow you to do it, why don’t you find a way to market that?

Ever since she lost her job, she’s been an active iReporter, scouting events and stories in her native New York. Videography and photography have become her focus. In this digital age, it’s free for her to upload her images, so it’s a cheap hobby.

A perfect example…. Contract out with a news service and do small stories for a small fee. Post your videos in a manner that generates a small side income. Could you sell the photography?

Her other passion is music. She’s sad she’s had to nix going to concerts, but says she’s lucky to live in a city where so many free shows are going on at any time.

Even though she’s found ways to lead a semi-normal life, her time being unemployed is starting to wear her down.

And this is, in my opinion, one of the fundamental problems of government-supported unemployment. Without the personal responsibility to quickly grapple with and resolve the situation yourself, you find yourself bored. You’re stymied. You’re negatively effected.

Every professional work I’ve ever read on unemployment councils you to stay busy, but the motivation to stay busy dies when those government-stamped checks start flowing. It gives us the perception of false security. It keeps us, as in the case of Cintron, hunting for opportunities in the same areas that led us to where we are now. It keeps the doors that might have been rattled open by the layoff closed.

Personally, I’ve experienced unemployment two times in my life. The first was arguably one of the most stressful experiences of my life. I blamed others. I waited on that government check. I allowed other people to make those decisions. I was unemployed for just over a month, and it was awful. I vowed that if it ever happened again, I would guarantee that it was a different experience.

The second time I was unemployed, it was one of the most relaxing experiences of my life even though, on the surface, it should have been dramatically worse. This time, I had a new baby on the way and no insurance. This time, it lasted almost three months instead of one. I remember the first day… I went outside and planted a garden so that every day I would have a reason to be busy and a reason to work. I remodeled our basement using spare parts I scavenged from around the house and from neighbors. I did odd jobs. Honestly, the net result of all that work didn’t really put any money in my pocket because I didn’t really push for it, but the knowledge was always there that I could. And I came home each day satisfied that I had worked, that I had done something worthwhile, and that I had made a contribution.

“I’m a glass half-full kind of person. I’m a very positive person. It’s very hard for me to get into this feeling sorry for myself, what-am-I-going-to-do mode,” she says.

“But I am getting there.”.

Because you’re not taking charge of this crisis.

I feel sorry for her. I really do, and I certainly hope I didn’t come across too strongly. The point is this, though, are we or are we not responsible for ourselves? Does government exist to support us or provide the infrastructure in which we can support ourselves? Do you wait for corporate America to create a job for you or do you take control of your life and create work for yourself?

At the end of the day, are you responsible for you?

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7 Responses to Speaking of Personal Responsibility

  1. Sarah B. says:

    So, I have a question not related to your post, but the post reminded me of it. When you were expecting Myron, you stated on your blog (or did you email me?) to say that the family was moving to Alaska to use Courtney’s Alaska Native benefits. I’ve always wondered what ended up happening since I never saw Courtney up here. Did you get a job before Myron was born or were you able to get coverage some other way?

  2. daveloveless says:

    Ah the memories of that fiasco…. No, we ended up not doing that because of the layoff. It actually worked out perfectly for us, but that is a VERY long story for another time I think.

  3. Sarah L. says:

    That does surprise me that the woman wouldn’t just sell at least the majority of her stuff (I can see why she would want to hang on to some heirlooms or something).

    My friend Yvonne has had a terrible time. She couldn’t find a job similar to what she had and she tapped out her 401k. At the same time, she was applying to places like Fred Meyer, but they wouldn’t hire her because she was over qualified. They said, “You’ll just quit as soon as you find something better.” So she finally found a part-time job so she could continue to job hunt for something better, doing side work too, but she has barely scraped by. Then she took a really crappy job for minimum wage. She’s still looking for a computer programming job like she used to have, but she’s not up to date with the latest code. And if she were to sell her place, she would owe money. Same with her car.

    What really ticks me off – Matt could rake in a lot of money if it weren’t for laws that limit people. He wanted to start his own business as a handyman, but in our state, you can’t even touch a toilet kit unless you’re a licensed plumber (and the licensed plumbers don’t want small jobs like that). Also, you aren’t allowed to make that business grow. You can’t hire people under you. If you want to do that, then you have to be a general contractor, which is way more expensive. The bonding and insurance is crazy expensive – less so as a handyman, but to do it as side work, it would be hard to make enough to pay the bonding and insurance.

    As a homeowner, you are allowed to do what you want to your own house. If you suck at repairs, oh well. I think as a homeowner, you should be able to hire friends to do things whether they are bonded or not, taking the risk just as you do on your own. I know the laws are there to protect people from shady contractors, but come on! If government wants the economy to thrive, don’t make it difficult for people to support themselves. (I know protecting union jobs is part of the regulations too.)

    Also, another aspect of the economy – it’s not just the unemployment. People have taken significant pay cuts. My dad is close to retirement and his pay was cut by 28% to prevent laying off other people. We make at least $1000 less a month than we used to because Matt took a more stable job rather than risk unemployment. There is no way we could live on that. A friend of ours was unemployed for a long time, did side work for our bishop, shattered his ankle in the process, finally got another job, but then he was fired soon after. Construction just isn’t a stable industry right now.

  4. Sarah B. says:

    I’m excited to hear the story, on this the roll-out day the Federal Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. Show us how you’ve walked the walk as far as personal responsibility is concerned.

  5. Sarah B. says:

    Hope that last post didn’t come off wrong. I typed it as I was running off to a tele-conference about the new Federal High Risk Pool.

  6. daveloveless says:

    Not at all, Sarah B. Not at all. I’ll have to debate whether to post it online because it involves some fairly personal and spiritual experiences that I probably don’t want that public. Among friends and family is one thing, but an online public blog? Not so sure.

  7. aleisha says:

    sarah l., you have some good points and yet so does dave’s article. it is a difficult situation to always know what to do because i think there are generalities i agree with and then i know individual cases. sarah l i hope you and your matt can find work and a job that can support you and try not to let too many “laws” get you down….for the rest of us, i hope that we can always encourage re-thinking our own behavior and expectations of ourselves when we find ourselves in a situation like that. what really is our minimum comfort level? what could we do without? what attitudes of entitlement are we holding on to and how are we a victim of our own wealth? and i always try to perceive everything we do receive as a blessing and be thankful for what we have. thanks dave for posting such passive, non thinking stuff for us to comment on!

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