DALTON - It is estimated that 13 million Americans are unemployed. Most of them are no longer officially counted and factored into the government's monthly reports. Congress has not extended unemployment benefits for 1.3 million of them and this year alone, millions more will lose their benefits. In Berkshire County, hundreds of our unemployed neighbors have just lost theirs.
The opposition to extending benefits is coming primarily from the Republican Party. Some Republicans oppose the federal extension of benefits because it creates "dependency" upon government. Ironically, some of them who served in Congress while George W. Bush was our president supported his decision to create those benefits for the unemployed. Other Republicans are willing to support an extension only if the federal government will make equivalent cuts to other programs.
Our military budget exceeds the combined military spending of the next 10 nations down the list, including Russia and China. Oil companies receive federal subsidies and some corporations pay no federal taxes. We continue to spend billions of dollars each year in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Forty-six million Americans live in poverty. Communities are hard pressed to provide enough shelters for the homeless and food pantries can't keep up with the demand. Many Americans sleep in the streets including veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Automation is wiping out jobs and we have no plans to replace them. Two percent of our population owns 90 percent of the wealth and the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow exponentially.
Recently, Republicans in the House of Representatives forced the federal government to shut down. While the shutdown was temporary, it cost the economy an estimated $24 billion. The cost of extending unemployment benefits to 1.3 million citizens for 90 days would be around $6 billion. The House Republicans who recently cost the nation four times that amount claim that we can't afford it. They don't want to burden our children, more of whom are about to be homeless, with the debt.
Of the 1.3 million unemployed who will no longer receive benefits, perhaps hundreds of thousands of them are the sole breadwinner for their family. It is likely that many of them have little or no savings to rely upon. Many will no longer be able to pay their mortgage or rent. A new wave of foreclosures will strike our nation and property values will decline once again.
Some parents facing the prospect of raising hungry and homeless children, will turn to crime. They will become modern day Jean Valjeans. Our "justice system" will become clogged and more jails may be needed to handle the overflow. Families will be shattered, lives completely destroyed and additional and costly social and psychological services will be required. The 46 million Americans who now live in poverty will soon have company.
Some members of Congress will do their best to nourish the stereotype that there are millions of lazy people who refuse to work. They will ignore the fact that the unemployed outnumber available jobs by a four-to- one margin.
Among the unemployed are highly educated seasoned professionals, formerly "employees of will" who worked with no contract to protect them. After 25 or 30 years of employment, they are "let go" to make room for younger less expensive replacements and those who are jettisoned must endure the pain of seeing their jobs advertised by their former employers. They too will be counted among the lazy and unproductive. This is how a sizable number of people justify and rationalize our nation's refusal to help.
Those members of Congress, supported by concentrated pockets of like-minded voters (gerrymandered majorities) will argue that we cannot afford to extend benefits to citizens and that their desperation is a good thing because it will increase employment. Everyone will be forced to take a job, no matter what it pays. They will continue to claim that they are saving the nation money and shrinking the size of government despite the billions that will ultimately be required to patch shattered lives and families back together. They will encourage our nation to follow the example of Ronald Reagan. What they will conveniently forget it that Reagan quadrupled the national debt and raised taxes 11 times.
As our nation moves closer and closer to a re-run of the French Revolution, those on the extreme right won't feed us cake, but there will be a surplus of baloney for anyone willing to swallow it.
Edward Udel is a frequent Eagle