HARD-WORKING PEOPLE LIKE CHUCK NEED BENEFITS LIFELINE

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My friend Chuck returned from a two-week vacation recently to discover he no longer had a job.

Nice company, huh? Chuck (not his real name) is a 30-something investment broker with a wife and young children. His youngest boy is less than a year old and recently underwent a seven-hour back surgery.

So Chuck, who worked for the company for six years, now has mounting medical bills to go along with his new mortgage. He finds himself with no insurance, although the kids are covered under the New Hampshire plan. He has a interview for a part-time job and is looking for full-time employment. He’s a smart kid and I’m sure he’ll land something. Plus, he and his wife have great faith in God. You never see them down. And they pass that attitude on to their kids.

Chuck wants to work, He doesn’t want to have to collect unemployment compensation. And while he looks for work and waits to see if he even qualifies for unemployment benefits, the U.S. Senate is taking a much-needed summer recess and will deal with the issue of extending unemployment compensation when they get back. Meanwhile, people like Chuck are in real pain.

President Obama recently announced that the jobless rate has dropped, and while that may be true on paper, he’s having a little fun with the numbers. When people stop looking for work or when their unemployment benefits run out, they are no longer on the books, meaning they are no longer unemployed. Well, they’re still unemployed, but they’re not counted as unemployed.

And while pundits on those Sunday-morning talk shows make mention of the 100,000 new private-sector jobs, that’s not an awful lot when you have 2 million Americans out of work. Plus, many of those 100,000 new jobs are seasonal jobs in the hotel and hospitality industry.

An unemployment check is available for 26 weeks. The average unemployed person is out of work for 35 weeks. The extension would have bridged the gap.

I have known many people whose work week consisted of going to the mailbox and saying, “Hello, check.” They reasoned that the only jobs they could get paid them just as much or less than unemployment. Why should they have to go to work when the government would pay them the same amount to stay home and watch MTV?

I collected unemployment for 10 weeks back in the summer of 1975. I feel like I should give some of that money back to the government because I really didn’t deserve to be on unemployment. I was 20 and the sheet-metal company for which I was working folded. I could have gone to any number of places and got another job that afternoon, but it was early June and my friends were out of school for the semester and headed up to the beach.

So I signed up for benefits and every two weeks that summer, I made my way back to Lowell from Hampton, Seabrook or Salisbury to pick up my $340 check and fill out the form saying I was dutifully looking for work. If playing my guitar for spare change is looking for work, I guess I was being truthful. It’s the one and only time I ever scammed the system. I swear.

But Chuck’s situation is different. Here is a guy who has done all the right things his entire life and his company was just looking for a reason to streamline their work force. Before leaving for vacation, and maybe because he was thinking about his baby’s impending spinal surgery, Chuck made an technical error that cost the company a little money. The problem was squared away before he left, but that pink slip was still waiting for him when he got back.

Dennis Shaughnessey’s e-mail is dshaughnessey@lowellsun.com.