Published on AL.com on January 20, 2014 at 10:13 AM, updated January 21, 2014 at 9:13 AM
The only thing that saved me from completely depleting my savings was the small amount of unemployment compensation I received from the State of Alabama, an amount that was less than 20 percent of my previous salary.
If you were in that situation today, the maximum you could receive from the state is $265 per week; most people receive less (the minimum is $45 per week) and unemployment compensation in Alabama averages under 30 percent of your previous wages.
While unemployed I spent every day looking for work – it was my job. I’m sure most unemployed now do the same. It is insulting to the dignity, self worth and sense of responsibility of unemployed Americans to suggest that the small amount paid in unemployment compensation incentivizes them to stay at home.
Anyone who thinks that most unemployed people are happy with a 70 percent pay cut, happy to, as one conservative commentator said, “sit on the couch at home and eat bonbons”, is a fool. And yet that concept is being peddled on conservative radio and TV.
At the end of December unemployment benefits for the long term unemployed were cut off as a part of the budget bill. Deletion of extended benefits was part of the price of bipartisan support to avert yet another budget crisis.
Democrats hoped that a separate deal could be negotiated to restore benefits, but so far none has occurred. Republicans have demanded that the benefits be offset by other cuts or revenue, but all Democratic suggestions of offsets so far have been rejected.
One suggestion that would pay for the extension of unemployment benefits and yield additional deficit reduction as well is the elimination of the carried interest rule. This is the tax loophole that allows hedge fund and certain other investment managers to have most of their annual earnings taxed as capital gains rather than at the higher rates wages are subject to.
Think about this: The wages of doctors, lawyers, electricians and plumbers are subject to higher tax rates that this elite group of millionaires and billionaires. No one can argue that a dollar of tax break enjoyed by these super wealthy creates more economic stimulus than a dollar of unemployment compensation, but the loophole stands strong, protected by a bulwark of Republican intransigence.
Having once been unemployed I have empathy for those currently out of work. Who do you empathize with, those who have hit hard times or the wealthy and powerful? Do the powerful need your empathy?
Anyone who thinks that most unemployed people are happy with a 70 percent pay cut ... is a fool.Empathy has taken a beating lately. The concept has been under assault since the advent of political talk radio through the use of ridicule, false outrage and exaggeration. Empathy itself was the subject of conservative ridicule during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor when President Obama suggested that the quality of empathy was desirable in a justice.
Our own Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., criticized the suggestion that empathy was an important trait in a judge, but wouldn’t you prefer a judge that understands the implications of her decisions when following the law?
Radio pundits in particular seem to disdain empathy. Perhaps when you own the bully pulpit you can’t resist the temptation to become a bully. After all, the people you ridicule as sluts, lazy welfare cheats, communists, socialists, fascists or liars often have little ability to defend themselves, particularly on the shows where they are smeared.
What's more disturbing than this public bullying is the popularity of these tactics with a small but very vocal group of fans of these shows. Why do some people cheer the bully and not the underdog? What has died in your soul if you delight in the belittling of others?
When we disagree, do we need to be so disagreeable? Would empathizing with people we disagree with cost us anything? It doesn’t require you to compromise your values to see things through others eyes, and you just might find something to agree on. Perhaps that is what the bullies fear.
The next time you hear someone ridiculing the poor, or calling the unemployed lazy for not being able to find a job, I invite you to turn off the TV or radio and pull out a Bible and read James 2. Think about who you identify with and why. If that does not change your attitude, then open YouTube and listen to one of my grandfather’s favorite songs, a 1970 Country Rock hit by Joe South:
Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes
Oh, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes...