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How the unemployed have become a scapegoat for Congress…

July 1, 2010 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

( Let the class warfare begin! There’s nothing that creates a greater divide between the haves and have-nots than a good old fashioned fight over scarce resources. The United States, in the midst of one of the worst recessions in American history, is now faced with an unemployment crisis that threatens to break the government’s bankroll and destroy millions of families’ livelihoods.

The Republicans, who claim to have the greatest commitment to family values, are very good at issuing unfunded mandates to the American public on how they should raise their children and treat their wives. All the while, these mandates are not supplemented with the necessary resources for people to actually feed their children and take care of their spouses.

America is at war with the poor and unemployed. When a jobless man is dying because he has no health insurance, the first question asked by the GOP is not, “how do we keep him alive?” Instead, the question is “who’s going to pay for this?”

As the Republicans work to stymie unemployment benefits this week, 1.2 million unemployed Americans will cease to receive the money they desperately need in order to satisfy basic needs. Some members of Congress apparently don’t care what these people do, as long as they are not disturbing the cozy lives of the rich.

Democrats are not immune to to this kind of insensitivity either. Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson was solely responsible for preventing a GOP filibuster of the jobless benefits bill and Pennsylvania Congressman Paul Kanjorski was reportedly caught appealing to bigots with this argument in favor of extending unemployment benefits:

We’re giving relief to people that I deal with in my office every day now unfortunately. But because of the longevity of this recession, these are people — and they’re not minorities and they’re not defective and they’re not all the things you’d like to insinuate that these programs are about — these are average, good American people.

This will be the first time in American history that unemployment benefits are allowed to expire when the unemployment rate was over 7.2 percent.

“This is both unfair to the unemployed, who face a historically difficult situation through no fault of their own, and economically unwise as it threatens the prospect of a strong and sustainable recovery,” says a new report from the National Employment Law Project and the Center for American Progress. “The consequences are obviously dire for those Americans out of work, and could be equally devastating for employed Americans who are counting on a sustained economic recovery to keep their jobs and boost their earnings.”

In prior recessions, benefits were typically allowed to remain in place until the unemployment rate was below 5 percent. But rarely in American history has a recession been faced in the midst of such a daunting budgetary crisis. Our loyal politicians maxed out the nation’s credit card during the prosperous times, mostly paying for wars we couldn’t afford, and now they can’t support those who need help the most during the economic downturn.

The game being played by the Republicans and conservative Democrats is an easy one. It’s all built on a false belief in “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” and the illusion of “personal responsibility.” Those concepts go out the window when Congressmen like Joe Barton defend BP for destroying the Gulf of Mexico or Rep. John Boehner want to protect the banks that nearly ruined our global banking system. No Wall Street Banker is facing the perils of the unemployed on Main Street, but the unemployed were asked to sacrifice resources to protect the jobs of Wall Street bankers.

Our government is in a serious fiscal crisis, with massive deficits and unsustainable amounts of debt. Rather than allowing billionaires to contribute to the cost by increasing estate and personal income taxes for the rich, the wealthy members of Congress would rather tax those who have the least and keep them from feeding their families. This is not unlike the political atmosphere during the 1990s, where the face of welfare became a lazy, single black mother in the projects. Conservatives are masters at using such imagery, laced with hypocritical declarations regarding religious freedom, gay marriage and gun ownership, to keep the poor behind them at the polls while they simultaneously exploit the most vulnerable in our society.

Our nation is at a crossroads. Our government needs financial help, and the bottom 80 percent of all Americans, who control only 7 percent of the nation’s financial (non-residential) assets, cannot afford to bail them out. Our only path to sustainability is allowing the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans to foot the bill. Yet, given that they are the ones in power, I hardly expect them to have the moral courage necessary to do what’s right.

Written By Dr. Boyce Watkins

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