Penny Swan, 51, is an out-of-work respiratory technician in Hillsdale.
She’s one of the 104,000 jobless Michigan workers who, as of Saturday, will have lost their unemployment benefits this month after Congress failed to pass an extension. Swan found out she was eligible for 20 more weeks of unemployment, then a week later she got a letter saying it wouldn’t happen. Her benefits ended two weeks ago.
“It’s just wrong,’’ says Swan, who has been looking for work for 18 months. “It’s not only affecting me, it’s affecting everyone I pay bills to.’’
Swan says she hears the talk show chatter about people who say the jobless need to just get off their couches and get to work. It’s hard for her to hear because she spends long days sending out resumes and looking for work. She wants to work but is running into brick walls.
“I’m not getting any calls back. I’ve never experienced anything like this. Before this, I’ve never been out of work for more than two weeks,’’ she says.
Swan’s life has been caught up in the national debate about debt vs. economic stimulus. Some in Washington have suddenly discovered the national debt. While it is a concern (See a recent Center on Budget and Policy Priorities paper on the recession and debt), failing to stimulate the economy, many economists fear, will lead to a double-dip recession. In other words, there’s a time to address the deficit, but the time is not now if we want our economy to return to health.
Beyond making it difficult to make ends meet for thousands of jobless workers in Michigan, the loss of unemployment benefits removes more than $200 million a month from Michigan’s economy, the National Employment Law Project estimates.
Michigan’s congressional delegation, for the most part, has been supportive of extending unemployment benefits. Only Reps. Candice Miller and Dave Camp voted ‘no.’ Rep. Peter Hoekstra was attending a fund-raiser for his gubernatorial campaign and didn’t vote.
Michigan has led the country in unemployment for 49 out of the last 50 months. It’s important that these benefits be reinstated quickly. A vote in the U.S. Senate could do that as early as next week. Please read the League’s statement issued today urging a fast vote.
Swan says many in Washington are out of touch with the reality she faces. The health care company she worked for, providing in-home assistance for respiratory patients, has cut its workforce from 25 to seven. Still, Swan says she’s lucky. She has an understanding landlord and she is considering moving in with a sister a few miles away. She is single, with just two cats to care for.
“I can’t imagine the pressure on someone who has a family to support,’’ she said.
Even with unemployment benefits, Swan says she’s watched her pennies. A crown on a tooth fell off more than a year ago, and she hasn’t had it replaced, instead using a temporary dental patch to fill the hole.
“I can’t go to a dentist,’’ she said. “I don’t have any choice.’’
— Judy Putnam