"I have a poster above where I sleep," said Diane S. from Denver. "It says, 'Never, ever give up.' That's my motivation and my motto."
Diane traveled to Washington, D.C., last week as one of 300 job-seekers who put a face on a tragedy that has been all but invisible to lawmakers -- the startling number of long-term jobless workers.
Since her layoff as a human resource manager in the fall of 2006, she has applied to countless jobs, redefined herself and accepted temporary positions ever further from her calling.
And soon, Diane will lose the last of her jobless benefits -- thanks to the screwed up priorities of congressional Republicans who insist America can't afford unemployment insurance benefits for desperate job-seekers even as they demand $700 billion in tax cuts for millionaires.
By 8 a.m. this morning, more than 1 million people had stopped receiving aid. That number will grow to 2 million by the end of the month if congressional Republicans continue to block the extension. You can track the rising number on the AFL-CIO's website. We're not talking about cushy benefits. Jobless aid only provides a fraction of what each worker earned before being laid off. The average weekly check is about $290.
Anyone who thinks we can afford tax cuts for those who need them least should certainly support unemployment insurance for those who need it most.
But that's not the way things work on Capitol Hill these days.
That's why it's time for action. Never before has Congress refused to take action when this many people were out of work. Help us make Congress do the right thing again. You can make a difference by standing together with jobless workers against those whose only passion is giving more to the rich.
First, meet some of the workers whose lifeline is being cut off:
- As Russ M., a former marketing director from Portland, Ore. says, "We've learned to get by on very little, but we can't get by on nothing."
- Unemployment insurance benefits, says Edrie I., a grandmother in Silver Spring, Md., amount to "basic survival--putting food on the table, keeping the house warm at night, making sure there is a house."
- Michael A., an unemployed electrician in Atlanta, Ga., lost his benefits this week. He will have to give up his car because he can't afford insurance and his29.99-a-month cell phone. He depends on both to find work.
Now, join me in a campaign to make our national leaders feel the urgency of Diane, Russ, Edrie, Michael and all of America's jobless millions.
- Watch a video message from some of the jobless workers who came to Washington at www.aflcio.org. Do it now.
- On Tuesday, take part in the National Online Day of Solidarity with Jobless Workers. Change your Facebook status and photo and urge your friends to join you. Tweet the news. Get the details here.
As the holiday season begins, more than 15 million job-seekers are competing for only 3 million openings. America has the largest number of long-term job-seekers on record.
We can't ignore our friends, family and neighbors who are unemployed through no fault of their own. Let's create so much pressure that Congress can't ignore them either.
"I know I'm not the only one who's going through this," said Diane. "I have to keep trying."
Let's give jobless workers some hope.
Follow Richard Trumka on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RichardTrumka