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Obama's Cuba Plan Turned Some Folks Into Wind-Up-Toys Of Outrage

Jason Linkins   |   December 20, 2014    7:30 AM ET

So, that happened: This week, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would make an effort to normalize relations with Cuba, ending a decades-long policy of distance that had been surprisingly effective in doing nothing in particular. We'll talk about the new plan, and the people who are hopping mad about it.

Listen to this week's "So That Happened" below:

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Some highlights from this week:

"Those two, when they got the news, I don't know. It was like they became weird wind-up-toys of outrage." -- Jason Linkins

Meanwhile, a Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy has been canceled, because North Korea apparently now dictates what movies we watch in our spare time? How did something so simple get so out of hand?

"Films that relate to things in North Korea will not be made now and that is just outrageous. Something has got to give." -- Arthur Delaney

And finally, we're taking a look back at 2014 -- a great year for garbage monsters. What are our least-favorite things about the past year? Well, this is going to take a while.

"2014 has been f*cking terrible and at least in the world of public affairs, there have been almost no redeeming aspects to this terrible year." -- Zach Carter

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We're very happy to let you know that "So, That Happened" is now available on iTunes. We've been working to create an eclectic and informative panel show that's constantly evolving and as in touch with the top stories of the week as it is with important stories that go underreported. We'll be here on a weekly basis, bringing you the goods.

Never miss an episode by subscribing to "So, That Happened" on iTunes, and if you like what you hear, please leave a review. We'd also encourage you to check out other HuffPost Podcasts: HuffPost Comedy's "Too Long; Didn't Listen," HuffPost Weird News Podcast, HuffPost Politics' "Drinking and Talking," HuffPost Live's "Fine Print," and HuffPost Entertainment's Podcast.

This podcast was edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and sound engineered by Brad Shannon, with assistance from Christine Conetta, Chris Gentilviso and Adriana Usero.

Have a story you'd like to hear discussed on the "So That Happened" podcast? Email us at your convenience!

Arthur Delaney   |   January 30, 2013    4:32 PM ET

Mark Zandi does not like the big budget slasher known as sequestration, but he figures the economy could stomach a helping of austerity if it had to.

"I think the economy could digest the sequestration," Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, told me. "It would suffer slower growth, but it wouldn't push the economy back into recession."

News that reduced government spending helped shrink the U.S. economy 0.1 percent at the end of last year has liberal economists warning that more cuts could cause another recession.

Zandi doesn't think so, and members of Congress listen to him. Faced with a choice to avert the cuts now scheduled for March, already lawmakers are saying "meh."

Arthur Delaney   |   January 29, 2013   10:58 AM ET

Every proposal to make unemployed people pee in cups in order to receive benefits, it seems, follows the same pattern: Businesses complain of job applicants flunking drug tests, and then lawmakers react with legislation.

Always absent: data reflecting a drug abuse problem among people receiving unemployment insurance.

Jeremy Hutchinson, a Republican state senator in Arkansas, said he introduced his drug testing bill because he'd heard stories from local business community. The president of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce told me he'd heard the stories, too -- but didn't have anything to demonstrate the prevalence of the problem. "I just have a bale of anecdotes," he said.

Same goes for State Rep. Michael Madden of Wyoming, a Republican who also introduced a drug testing bill this year. "I haven't seen any data," he told me.

In Congress, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), heeding complaints from local businesses, pushed drug testing at the end of 2011. The director of a job training nonprofit in Reed's district told me at the time that the hundreds of businesses he'd worked during the previous three-to-five years had seen job applicants fail drug tests at a rate of 10 to 30 percent. He couldn't be more precise, though he considered it a bad enough problem that his organization ran TV ads warning people they could lose out on jobs if they had dirty urine.

Strangely, drug testing advocates never mention the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which consistently finds that people without jobs are more than twice as likely as people with jobs to have used drugs within a month of the survey. Though there is little to suggest the subset of the jobless population receiving benefits uses drugs at the same rate, and some evidence suggests otherwise: West Virginia and Indiana job trainees have tested positive for drugs at a rate of roughly 1 percent.

Last February, Congress gave states leeway to screen unemployment claimants for drugs, something federal regulations haven't allowed (though the prohibition hasn't stopped state lawmakers from pushing bills). The U.S. Labor Department will issue guidelines to states later this year, which will allow them to test claimants only in certain occupations.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees unemployment insurance, told me 2011 that freeing states to try testing would help clear up the picture.

"I think we do need to get more data," Camp said. "That's why I think letting the states make this decision isn't imposing a set of requirements on them. They'll be able to examine their own policies, and it's going to be different in every state."

Camp said he would hold a hearing on the issue last year, but the hearing never happened. The picture is as unclear as ever.

Follow Arthur Delaney on Twitter:

Arthur Delaney   |   January 29, 2013    9:29 AM ET

The prepaid debit cards that most people use to receive unemployment insurance carry fewer fees than they did two years ago, but some states are likely breaking federal law by foisting the cards on workers, according to a new report by the National Consumer Law Center.

The majority of states have switched their unemployment system from paper checks to prepaid debit cards issued by banks, making for cheaper distribution for the state and saving money for people without bank accounts, since they would no longer have to pay check-cashing costs.

The catch is that consumers pay for the new system through bank fees. In 2011, more than half of the cards came with ATM fees, balance inquiry fees and inactivity fees, according to the law center's report that year. And a handful had overdraft fees as high as $20.

Now the overdrafts are gone and "other fees have come down considerably, saving workers millions of dollars a year," the NCLC's new report says. (HuffPost's Janell Ross reported on the junk-fee racket in 2011.)

Tuesday's report says states don't make it easy enough for unemployment claimants to bypass the cards and have their benefits deposited directly into their bank accounts. Of the 42 states using prepaid cards, 36 also offer direct deposit, but the rates at which consumers use direct deposit vary wildly depending on how easy the state makes it to do so.

Five states -- California, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland and Nevada -- apparently violate federal law by requiring beneficiaries to use the cards, according to the report. (Wyoming doesn't offer direct deposit, but most claimants there still receive paper checks.) California, Kansas and Maryland, however, do allow workers to set up automatic transfers from the cards to their bank accounts, but less than a quarter of recipients do so. The transfers can cause delays as long as four days.

Nevertheless, California joins Pennsylvania and New Jersey as the only states to receive a "two-thumbs up" rating in the report, which calculated that California's system earns Bank of America $1.8 million per year.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill passed by Congress in 2010 is to thank for the death of overdraft fees on the prepaid cards. "That law caps the interchange fees that merchants must pay when they accept debit cards, but exempts prepaid cards from that cap on certain conditions," the law center said. "The absence of overdraft fees is one of the conditions."

HuffPost readers: Unemployed? Back to work but making less money? Tell us about it -- email Please include your phone number if you're willing to be interviewed.

Arthur Delaney   |   January 22, 2013    3:50 PM ET

-- Oklahoma State Rep. Dustin Roberts (R-Durant) has filed legislation to drug test people who apply for unemployment insurance. It's all about confronting addiction, he said.

"We have to do what we can to discourage it as well as ensure we are not actually spending money support it" Roberts said, according to

Last year Congress gave states leeway to test unemployment claimants looking for work in fields that regularly require drug testing as a condition of employment. But the U.S. Labor Department won't issue guidance to states until later this year, and until then, federal regulations just say NO to drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits. If a state plods ahead with a testing scheme that doesn't gel with federal regs, state businesses can lose out on federal tax credits. Unemployed Oklahomans probably won't be peeing into cups anytime soon.

-- Kansas Republicans want testing for people seeking either unemployment insurance or welfare, formally known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It's all about compassion, said incoming State Senate Vice President Jeff King (R-Independence).

"This is not meant to be punitive in any way," King said, according to the Wichita Eagle. "This is to identify people with substance abuse problems and get them the help and job skills they need to get out and be productive in the job market."

-- New Hampshire Republicans want welfare drug testing. State Rep. Donald LeBrun (R-Nashua) said it's all about compassion and fighting addiction.

"I'm not trying to take anything away from anyone who qualifies," LeBrun said, according to the Union Leader. "I'm trying to identify people who have problems and have them treated."

Similar proposals are cooking elsewhere. Most states have seen some form of welfare or unemployment testing proposals in the past few years. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a great background briefing on the welfare proposals; the National Association of State Workforce Agencies has a great one on unemployment insurance proposals.

HuffPost readers: Unemployed? Back to work but making less money? Tell us about it -- email Please include your phone number if you're willing to do an interview.


Arthur Delaney   |   January 18, 2013    2:27 PM ET

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives announced Friday they'll seek a temporary increase in the government's borrowing limit. In return, they want the House and Senate to pass a budget in three months or else lawmakers won't get paid.

"Members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement. "No budget, no pay."

In the recent past, members of Congress have frequently offered to cut their own pay -- just like a cheapskate reaches for his wallet at the end of dinner knowing someone else reached first and will pay the tab.

In the previous Congress, lawmakers introduced at least 27 bills to restrict their own pay, according to the Congressional Research Service. Several bills said lawmakers wouldn't get paid if the government shut down or defaulted on its debts. The Senate passed one such bill, and the House another, but neither almost became law.

Rank-and-file members earn $174,000 annually and receive gold-plated health care and a pension that kicks in after five years. The salary's been frozen since 2009, but it hasn't been cut since 1933.

The biggest perk of all is that members of Congress can cash out and earn bigger salaries as lobbyists pretty much whenever they feel like it. Click here for a story from last year with much more detail on all that.


Arthur Delaney   |   January 18, 2013    8:04 AM ET

-- Report questions food stamps' nutritional value. The Chicago Tribune says that the National Academy of Sciences is worried that the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, does not help poor people eat healthily enough.

Also, this: "Panelists for the academy, an independent group of scientists who advise the federal government, also said benefits lag behind the increasing cost of food and the program penalizes beneficiaries with jobs."

That's interesting -- in 2010, the supposed slowness of food price inflation served as justification for using future food stamp budget allocations on other purposes. Not that it matters, since it's all but certain SNAP will be pared back as soon as Congress can get around to it, possibly at the end of the year.

-- Matthew O'Brien has found some scary charts about European unemployment over at The Atlantic. Before clicking ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough to look at scary charts.

-- The Democratic speaker of the Maine House of Representatives wants to make sure people receiving benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (welfare) "are ready for the workforce." (Never mind that that is already the entire purpose of that program.) The Kennebec Journal suggests the speaker's trying to sound as macho as Gov. Paul LePage (R), who got a standing ovation at the Republican State Convention last year when he said, "To all you able-bodied people out there, get off the couch and get yourself a job."

Remember when able-bodied people ruined the economy by sitting on the couch? Me neither.

Drug Testing The Downtrodden Costs Money

Arthur Delaney   |   January 17, 2013    1:10 PM ET

Politicians across the country like the idea of drug testing people seeking welfare, unemployment insurance, or state-funded job training programs, sometimes saying drug screening will save the government money. Recent experience suggests it doesn't.

-- Since last April, West Virginia has screened 756 people for drugs because they enrolled in a job training program. Seven people tested positive for drugs, one refused, and four canceled their enrollment before taking the test.

At $47 per test, the screening scheme has cost the state more than $35,000. The West Virginia workforce agency doesn't say the cost of not training those 12 people resulted in net savings for the state, and it seems unlikely that it did. But they do say the testing "ensures that the workforce training funding is invested in individuals who demonstrate that they are drug free and good candidates for workforce success."

-- In 2011, Indiana also tested workers enrolled in state-funded job training, and 13 out of 1,240 tested positive. The tests cost $45,000.

Drug screening people in a job training program is different than screening people who apply for unemployment insurance or welfare. Aside from the fact that these are three distinct groups of people, there are larger constitutional and regulatory obstacles to testing everybody who seeks benefits from the latter programs. Just ask Florida.

-- In 2011, the Sunshine State started testing people who applied for welfare (formally known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program), which provides cash benefits and other resources to poor parents. Out of 4,086 applicants, 108 failed tests. The cost of the screening outweighed the theoretical savings of not paying benefits. The state is also spending money on legal defense -- it wasn't long before a federal judge told them to cut it out.

These aren't huge sums in the grand scheme of state budgets, but they sure aren't savings, either. Nevertheless, the proposals will probably keep coming.

Arthur Delaney   |   January 17, 2013    7:38 AM ET

-- Way fewer people lost their jobs and applied for unemployment insurance last week. "In the week ending January 12, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 335,000, a decrease of 37,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 372,000," the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday morning. That's the lowest number since January 2008.

-- Because the story of a New York woman injured after a city sidewalk collapsed beneath her must somehow validate one's own personal politics, Rupert Murdoch had this to say on Twitter Wednesday: "How did fat lady who fell thru street get to 400 lbs? Welfare, stamps, etc? Then leave us all with 20yrs immense health bills."

Murdoch's New York Post reported that the woman is a social worker, and also that the adjacent building's owner had received many citations from the city, "including a 2011 complaint that the facade was coming loose."

Murdoch followed up: "Did not mean to be unsympathetic to 400 lb lady, but fact remains unhealthy eating by rich and poor driving up premiums for all."

-- The North Carolina legislature is mulling unemployment insurance cuts in order to pay back $2.6 billion it borrowed from the federal government. Lawmakers are eyeing fewer weeks of benefits and less money per week. How does a state wind up owing the feds billions for unemployment insurance? By cutting business taxes too much, contrary to the Labor Department's financing guidelines for state unemployment trust funds.

Arthur Delaney   |   January 16, 2013    4:30 PM ET

Drug testing the poor and unemployed has been a popular idea lately. Now that most state legislatures are back in session for the new year, we may be on the verge of an onslaught of new proposals.

Here's some of what's cooking right now:

-- In Arkansas, "Republican Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson of Benton on Tuesday filed legislation that would require applicants for unemployment benefits to undergo a drug test," the Associated Press reported.

-- In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry (R) has support in the legislature for his plan to drug test both unemployment claimants and people on welfare. Once the legislation starts moving, we'll see if State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) follows through on his promise to make Rick Perry pee in a cup, too.

-- In Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has issued an executive order that calls for testing people enrolled in taxpayer-funded training programs. (People in training programs are not the same as people receiving unemployment insurance; workers qualify for the latter only if they lose their jobs through no fault of their own and had been on the job for some time.)

Similar schemes in two other states showed enrollees used drugs at a rate of less than 1 percent. Statistics, data, evidence documenting a widespread drug problem -- that stuff is usually not part of the recipe when these ideas get cooked up.

Arthur Delaney   |   January 16, 2013    7:36 AM ET

-- Las Cruces family still waiting on unemployment benefits. Great story by KFOX14 in New Mexico about how the state's new system for distributing unemployment insurance has apparently seized up and zeroed out people's account balances. "I called Albuquerque and they told me everything is fine in the system, but I'm still not receiving the check," said one person affected.

-- Lowering unemployment rate automatically reduces jobless benefits in Ohio.

-- More from New Mexico: Albuquerque workers wonder why they haven't seen the minimum wage increase they were told to expect. "The city attorney said confused employees have been calling nonstop with questions," KOAT reports.

One possible explanation is the expiration of the payroll tax cut. As HuffPost's Dave Jamieson reported: "For many minimum wage workers who are receiving a wage increase this year, the higher payroll tax will offset much or all of the potential gains they anticipated in the new year."

-- Drug testing measures to get a boost in state legislatures -- my story from yesterday on the likely impact of some D.C. dealmaking beyond the beltway. Also from yesterday: Several unemployed people called into "Your Call" radio with Rose Aguilar in San Francisco, very upset about their situation.

HuffPost readers: Unemployed? Back to work but making less money? Tell us about it -- email Please include your phone number if you're willing to be interviewed.

Arthur Delaney   |   January 15, 2013    4:49 PM ET

AARP CEO A. Barry Rand said during a speech today at the National Press Club that he's no fan of the "chained CPI" -- the alternate measure of inflation that would give Social Security recipients smaller cost-of-living adjustments and that is always standing in the corner of the room with a lampshade on its head, hoping nobody notices it.

Rand called it "one of the worst" things Congress could do to Social Security.

During a Q&A after the speech, I asked Rand and other AARP honchos if they still hate chained CPI even if it's paired with extra money for older retirees and poorer ones. That’s what the White House has been interested in, and that’s what Simpson-Bowles wanted, after all.

“We think there are better ways to talk about Social Security than chained CPI,” AARP’s Debra Whitman. “We think it should be done more comprehensively.”

So, they’re very against it, but not interested in saying flat-out they’d never go along if it were part of a broader reform bill that includes things they might like, such as an increase in the taxable wage base. See you next time, chained CPI.

HuffPost's First e-Book: A People's History of the Great Recession

Arianna Huffington   |   September 7, 2011   12:15 PM ET

Two years ago, I asked Arthur Delaney, one of our gifted young reporters at The Huffington Post, to focus his coverage on one thing: putting flesh and blood on the data of our economic crisis, and bringing to our readers the real stories of the unemployed, of those facing foreclosure, of the "formerly middle class."

It was 2009, and the decline of the middle class was a subject I had become obsessed with, both in my own writing and in HuffPost's coverage of the economic crisis. From foreclosures to unemployment to household debt to bankruptcies, it was clear the American middle class -- the foundation of our democracy -- was under assault from all sides. And it was equally clear that we in the media were not doing nearly enough to spotlight the real-life day-to-day impact this was having on people's lives.

Arthur embraced his mission with a powerful combination of passion, empathy, and a healthy dose of anger. His poignant reporting has now been collected in A People's History of the Great Recession, an e-book that is being published today, in the shadow of Labor Day and in the wake of the worst jobs report in 11 months.

When Arthur first began looking at the struggles of those affected by the economic crisis, we considered calling him our "Economic Suffering Correspondent," but that seemed too dreary (though by no means inaccurate). So instead we called him our "Economic Impact Correspondent." His job was to find families and individuals dealing with the consequences of the economic devastation and tell their stories in ways that captured the public imagination and touched people's hearts.

"People work for justice when their hearts are stirred by specific lives and situations that develop our capacity to feel empathy, to imagine ourselves as someone else," says Paul Loeb, author of Soul of a Citizen. "New information -- the percentage of people out of work or children in poverty, the numbers behind America's record health-care costs, the annual increases in greenhouse gases -- can help us comprehend the magnitude of our shared problems and develop appropriate responses. But information alone can't provide the organic connection that binds one person to another, or that stirs our hearts to act. Powerful stories can break us beyond our isolated worlds."

And it was both our readers and those whose stories Arthur was telling day in and day out who were moved by his work. I remember arriving at Citi Field in Queens at 5 in the morning to greet the people arriving to board the 200 buses HuffPost had provided to get people to Washington for Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. One of the buses was to be filled with 99ers -- those who had been unemployed for over 99 weeks (the point at which all unemployment benefits end). Dozens of them reached out to me to ask, "Where is Arthur?" Arthur had become part of their lives, not just an arms-length reporter, but someone who used his compassion, his empathy, and his considerable talents to make a difference in their lives by ensuring that their plights were known and their voices heard.

It was this same caring and dedication, sometimes tinged with outrage, that Arthur brought to his encounters with those entrusted with making public policy. I remember one morning in Nancy Pelosi's office when she was still the Speaker. She was meeting with a number of reporters from our DC bureau, and was describing her legislative plan. When she finished, Arthur cried out: "So what can we tell the unemployed? I get emails every hour, 'What's going on?'"

It's all too easy for far too many reporters to ignore the fact that what goes on in Washington is about more than political theater. But not for Arthur.

The gulf between the real concerns of the public and the circus that's been going on in Washington has seldom been so great. For Arthur, however, there's an irrefutable and palpable connection between policy and the day-to-day impact it has all across America. If all those in the media had Arthur's passion, and his talent for bringing these stories to life, our leaders would, in the memorable words of Richard Clarke, be running around with their hair on fire.

I hope that Arthur's A People's History of the Great Recession will help bring that much-needed sense of urgency to the public debate and our leaders' priorities.

If it's true we can do "whatever we set our mind to," as the president said upon announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden, then how about we set our mind to reigniting the American Dream for everybody, and not just those few for whom the recession is an out-of-sight-out-of-mind problem of the past? There is no more important thing we can do as a country right now. One place to start is with ourselves. Our politicians have chosen to narrow their imaginations, but they can't narrow ours.
There is no question that the media also have a responsibility here, and I include everyone in the media -- mainstream, new media, all of us. Because bearing witness is ultimately the highest calling for journalists and indeed for all citizens -- especially at a time of multiple crises and so much struggle in the lives of millions.

So as Washington disconnects, the rest of us need -- more than ever -- to connect. In times of crisis and disruptive change, empathy is the most valuable quality we can nurture if we're going to reclaim our destinies -- and our nation's. Arthur's book is a testament to the power of bearing witness.

You can get A People's History of the Great Recession, which was created and distributed using BookBrewer, at Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

  |   September 7, 2011   10:57 AM ET

What follows is an excerpt from "A People's History of the Great Recession," a compilation of HuffPost Politics reporter Arthur Delaney's stories on those hit hardest by the economic crisis. This collection of Arthur's impassioned reporting, putting flesh and blood on the statistics, also marks the debut of HuffPost's entry into e-book publishing , which will allow us to delve deeply into interesting and timely topics. Look for our next title coming later this month. For more on "A People’s History of the Great Recession," check out Arianna’s latest blog post here.

INTRODUCTION: How the Rules Have Changed

On July 17, 2009, Terry Harris of Jonesville, S.C., lost her job as an executive assistant at a promotional products company. The company, she said, went belly up.

"My boss actually cried when I was let go," Harris told me during an interview in May 2011. "I have an excellent letter of recommendation from him."

In other words, Harris said, "It was purely an economic thing." She lost her job through no fault of her own.

What she hadn't figured out was why she was still unemployed and why her husband had been bounced from one wretched low-paying job to another. Why, she asked, if they both finished high school, got some post-secondary education, had solid work histories and held off on having kids, was it such a struggle to pay for things like getting the car fixed and visiting the dentist?

"I think the thing that keeps me going is knowing that we are really lucky, even in spite of the challenges that we are facing," said Harris in an email. "I can't help but feel badly for those that I know are worse off than we are. And I am truly grateful. And knowing that we are not alone helps a great deal, too. But it seems to be getting harder. Harder not to worry, not to cry, not to give up hope. We did everything right, I thought."

She was right: It had gotten harder.

President Obama, in his 2011 State of the Union address, talked about how most people could remember the good old days, when getting a job meant showing up at a factory after finishing high school. "If you worked hard, chances are you’d have a job for life, with a decent paycheck and good benefits and the occasional promotion," the president said, adding that he understood "the frustrations of Americans who’ve seen their paychecks dwindle or their jobs disappear -- proud men and women who feel like the rules have been changed in the middle of the game."

"They're right," Obama continued. "The rules have changed."

Indeed they have. For the past two years, I have written about the unemployment crisis as a reporter for the Huffington Post, interviewing and emailing with hundreds and hundreds of people who didn't understand where they went wrong. This book is about them.

The Great Recession started in December 2007 and technically ended in July 2009, according to the economists. Unofficially, the recession has continued, and it even seemed to be gaining steam halfway through 2011. The government's monthly snapshot of the labor market has consistently shown more than 20 million either out of work or underemployed. And in every snapshot an even scarier percentage of those people has been out of work for six months or longer.

To address the jobs crisis, the Obama administration championed more generous food stamps, unemployment benefits, tax cuts, and health insurance subsidies for layoff victims, among other things. The broader safety net prevented a record poverty rate in 2009, yet it gets no respect in Congress, where Republican and even Democratic lawmakers spent 2010 describing the unemployed as a bunch of lazy drug addicts unworthy of the federal deficit spending lavished on them.

The myth that unemployed workers would rather watch TV than look for jobs helped lawmakers take away much of the expanded safety net, and most of the rest will be rolled up soon as federal spending continues to lose popularity in Washington. In particular, it's likely that extended unemployment benefits will be dropped at the beginning of 2012 in an unprecedented abandonment of the long-term jobless during a weak economy.

The soggy housing market is a huge component of the ongoing crisis, in which millions of people are unable to afford mortgage payments on homes with shrunken values. Homeowner advocates wanted Congress to give bankruptcy judges the authority to reduce mortgage principal. The administration did little to support this policy change, opting instead to put banks in charge of a mortgage modification program that has been an utter disaster.

Of all the people feeling ripped off by the Great Recession and its aftermath, few have a better claim than the ones who complied with the application process for the Home Affordable Modification Program and then discovered that the program itself had put them into foreclosure. It's no wonder Obama could talk about dismal main drags and shuttered factories in his State of the Union speech but couldn't bear to mention the boarded up homes and "Bank Owned" signs that line the streets of many American neighborhoods.

As for Obama's signature accomplishment during his first term, most of the benefits of health care reform will be realized years from now. But the law created one program that launched almost immediately to give insurance to the uninsurable -- people with "pre-existing conditions." The program has literally saved lives, yet, as with the mortgage program, it won't help as many as it could, or as many as the administration said it would.

The long-term unemployed lose their health insurance, their homes, their minds. Yet for some reason, it has seemed the angriest people in America aren't the ones who've been trampled by the economy. Rather, it's the fury of well-off middle-class whites, resentful of the government's safety net, that has received the most media attention.

The millions of unemployed haven't organized or formed giant mobs like they did during economic depressions in the past, thanks largely to the stimulus programs that kept things from getting as bad as they once did. Instead, today's jobless take to the Internet. Between looking for work, they commiserate and swap stories on message boards, shout at reporters on Twitter, and lobby Congress via email. It's not enough to make them a political force, and for that reason their problems won't get solved. But their anger is there. As some of the following stories show, it does spill over occasionally.

Some jobless find solace in the stories of others in similar straits. That's why when I write about unemployment, in my stories I often ask unemployed people to email me and become sources. Knowing how stories of other people's suffering comforted them, they want to return the favor.

The stories occasionally bring victories, like when homeowners wrongly denied mortgage modifications get bank executives' attention through their press shop. More typically, the stories show the powerlessness of individual people -- people who emailed me just because they played by the rules only to discover the rules had changed.

"Good, decent people who worked hard, did everything right, believed in the American Dream have been destroyed," wrote a Californian who said her brother killed himself after job loss collapsed his financial situation.

"On the eve of my 60th birthday and without marketable skills I have no chance of ever finding a job again in the traditional economy," wrote a North Carolinian who'd been out of work nearly two years. "I am determined to survive this horror show. But my survival will not be determined by our broken economy. It’s 'think outside the box' time. Traditional methods obviously won’t work for people like me."

“I did everything right, I played by the rules, I got skills, I excelled in my job, all to no avail," wrote a New Jerseyan who said he lost his job in 2010. "I don't know what I'm going to do. All the years of both parties talking about free trade agreements and how we will retrain America was just a bunch of BS; it was easy to say all that when times were good."

After all this time talking to unemployed people, I have identified a few of the new rules. I must say, they kinda suck. Here they are:

--Don't Be Old

Terri Harris suspected age discrimination was a big reason why she couldn't find work. She wasn't even 40, but she'd developed a keen awareness of her years. She said she and her husband didn't have children because they wanted to wait till they had a more secure financial situation. Under the old rules, after all, age brought economic security for decent people.

"We wanted to wait till we could afford it, and now look -- I'm 39 last month."

And when she applied online for a job at Bojangles Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits early 2011, the application form required her to disclose her date of birth. Several big companies, including Target, Kroger and Home Depot, do the same thing. It's illegal to discriminate by age and to specify an age preference in a job ad, but it's not illegal to ask about age, though employment law experts say doing so does bear a whiff of discrimination.

Workers older than 55 are less likely to lose their jobs, but the average unemployed person older than 55 has been out of worker longer than a year. It's more like 10 months for the average jobless worker younger than 55.

Age discrimination is unbearably obvious to anyone over 50 who's been in the job market for more than a short time, but it's impossible to prove. You can't beat it. That's why it's a rule.

--Don't Be Unemployed

Employers openly discriminate against the unemployed in job postings on sites like craigslist and Monster every day. In 2010, after reporters asked, global phone manufacturer Sony Ericsson claimed its ad that said "NO UNEMPLOYED CANDIDATES WILL BE CONSIDERED AT ALL" was a mistake. The only mistake was that the ad betrayed one company's preference for workers who are wanted over ones who've been twisting the wind for too long.

It's not illegal to have such a rule, but in response to news stories about the phenomenon, state and federal lawmakers in the past year have tried to ban overt discrimination against the unemployed.

--Don't Pin Your Hopes On College

The unemployment rate for college grads is below 5 percent (what economists would call "full employment") and it never got much higher than that during the Great Recession. For high school dropouts, it's closer to 15 percent. So finishing college pays.

But this old rule's been bent. New college grads these days face a huge pile of debt and an unemployment rate near 10 percent, a sharp increase from 10 years ago. And among people who've been out of work 99 weeks or longer, a college degree doesn't mean anything. High school dropouts and grads were equally represented among the 1.4 million people out of work that long as of last October, according to the Congressional Research Service.

--Don't Expect To Make More Money At Your Next Job

Sure, nearly two years into the "recovery" the private sector had been adding jobs -- crappy ones. The National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, reported in July 2011 that the non-so-great recovery was disproportionately adding low-wage jobs. Low-paying occupations saw growth of 3.2 percent from the beginning of 2010 to the beginning of 2011, while mid-wage jobs only grew by 1.2 percent. During the same time period, higher-wage jobs fell by 1.2 percent. In other words, there were more new jobs for retail salespeople, office clerks, cashiers and food prep workers than for machinists, managers, nurses and accountants.

The skewed job growth came after unbalanced job losses during the Great Recession."Of the net employment losses between the first quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2010," NELP said in its report, "fully 60 percent were in mid-wage occupations, 21.3 percent were in lower-wage occupations and 18.7 percent were in higher-wage occupations."

When I interviewed him in May 2011, Bob Poropatich of Pittsburgh had been working part-time as a barista after losing his job as a manager for a major clothing retailer in 2008. He said he'd been with his former company for six years and had 30 years of experience. He has a master's degree. He'd been making $65,000 a year; as a barista, he said he made about $180 a week.

I asked him if he'd done something wrong in his life or if he'd been falling backward by chance.

"This is random and pointless," Poropatich said. "I didn't choose to age. I didn’t choose to be 59. I didn’t choose to be laid off. Every decision was made by a higher power and an HR director."

Poropatich said that in the five job interviews he'd had, he'd tried to get around the rule against being old by promising his hiring wouldn't raise a company's insurance premiums. It hadn't worked.

"I said, 'By the way, I won’t be applying for health benefits and things like that since I already have my own coverage.' They say, 'Okay, thank you.' Nobody is impressed by it. I would think that’s the biggest thing."

He said the worst moment was when his former employer came to his coffee shop.

"My ex boss, the one who laid me off, came in and ordered a venti mocha," he said. "It didn’t faze him at all. I felt like I was two inches tall. I wanted to say, 'Excuse me,' and run into the bathroom."

The following month, Poropatich landed a second job stocking shelves at a grocery store. He earned more money, but he sounded more bitter.

"Together both jobs pay me not even close to a third of what I made when I had just one job," he said.

Despite his bitterness, Poropatich maintained a sense of humor.

"I live in the city of bridges so I'd have my choice of about 20 or 30," he said. "But I couldn't jump -- I can't swim!"

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