Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation, The Unemployed Life

Bipartisan Guide to Ridiculous Legislation: Unemployed? Florida lawmakers want you to work for free

Picture this scenario:

Your longtime job of 10 years laid you off. You were making an honest $40,000. Suddenly, you’re thrown into the same lot as thousands of other Floridians — unemployed with no job prospects. Hesitant, you apply for unemployment benefits. A few weeks later, you receive a check for $275. You look for work, online and off, unsuccessfully. After two months, belts tighten more. Your meager savings is almost depleted. The bills are piling up. You stop driving around filling out random applications, trying to save the gas for actual interviews or referrals.

Then, one morning while drinking day-old coffee, you read in the local newspaper that the Florida Legislature has mandated that you find an organization and work for them. For free. No money for gas or child care.

Call it volunteering.

That’s the latest unemployment-related bill — that does nothing to fix unemployment, by the way — from state Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican.  She’s the sponsor of HB 509, which is currently in the Economic Development & Tourism Subcommittee.

The Unemployed Life

10 lessons I learned from unemployment

Department Of Labor Hosts Job Fair For Veterans At U.S.S. Intrepid

So my long lapse of unemployment has ended. No, I’m not writing news again — just product descriptions for a few well-known online retailers. Not the ideal job, but in this economy, I’d be lucky to have a job at Taco Bell.

So, how do I feel? One part relieved, two parts depressed and another half-part anxious. The latter comes from a feeling I’ll always have after my first lay-off: This could happen again. In fact, my current employer already seems a little shaky; they laid off 8 people just last week.

Anyway, I’ve been working for a few weeks now and I’ve had some time to reflect on my year of unemployment. What have I learned?

The Unemployed Life, Wanderlust

The story behind the Christmas Card

Every year, I send out a Christmas card. But I try and send something a little less like the traditional, boring here’s-my-baby/dog/family-for-your-enjoyment. Last year, I sent out a picture greeting card featuring an ex-marine waterboarding me. A few years before that, I sent out a photo and story about my night inside an inflatable newspaper costume. The year before that, well, let’s just say I have a lifetime ban from that coffeeshop. So, in keeping with my Gonzo tradition, here is the story behind the Christmas card:

So there I was – standing in front of a dozen Pennsylvania police officers in full riot gear, clubs and tear gas ready, with only a press pass to protect me. And even if that press pass was real, reporter credentials didn’t mean anything on the fortified streets of Pittsburgh.

Just minutes earlier, another phalanx of riot cops charged a group of protesters and bystanders a few blocks over. And that was just minutes after police rolled out L-RAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) — a crowd-control device strapped to a military truck that emits a piercing, debilitating tone. This was the first time such a device had been used in the United States.

Yep, the G20 Conference was underway and for the last six weeks, Pittsburgh city officials and the media had scared residents into allowing a small version of a police state right on the banks of the Allegheny River.

The Unemployed Life

Florida’s extended (extended) unemployment benefits: The good, the bad, the ugly

First, the good news for my unemployed brothers and sisters:

Due to stagnant (and in some cases, rising) unemployment throughout the country, the Obama Administration approved another round of extended benefits for laid-off Americans earlier this month. Although there is confusion surrounding who will actually get these benefits, under the best case scenerio, unemployed Floridians will receive 20 more weeks of benefits to help you get through another four months of job searching.

Well, some of us will receive those benefits (about 250,000 according to the St. Petersburg Times). Which brings me to the bad news.

If you already exhausted your benefits before the bill was passed on Nov. 6, you probably aren’t eligible (although the state says you can apply).  Also, only those Floridians who will run out of all benefits between Nov. 6 and Dec. 27 qualify for the extra weeks.

There is a lot of confusion on who qualifies for the new extension and since the state unemployment office doesn’t make much sense explaining it, they’ve set up a webpage for you to check if you qualify (click on the button that says “Check your eligibility).

That fine print has some advocacy groups upset. The National Employment Law Center just released a study that found over a million American workers will be ineligible for benefits in January 2010. Federal workers have it worse; they estimate over three million of those workers will remain unemployed.

But things get uglier.

The state has already run out of the money to pay for benefits, partly due to the Florida Legislature’s inane idea to not accept federal stimulus money for unemployment insurance. So, as unemployment rises to record levels, there is another cloud on the horizon. Due to a clause in state law, businesses will be taxed extra for unemployment benefits next year. And by “extra,” I’m mean a tax hike approaching 120 percent, which I’m sure can’t be good for companies barely keeping afloat.

Talk about a vicious circle.

The Unemployed Life

Florida unemployment news: The good, the bad and the ugly

First, the good news: Florida’s unemployment rate has not risen for the second month in a row. Now the bad: The state’s unemployment rate hangs at nearly 11 percent, the worst it has been since 1975. The ugly news? Florida’s unemployment trust fund ran out of money this week.

Don’t worry — yet. The federal government is advancing money to the state government to help pay for benefits, but considering the mounting debt up in Washington — and state Republicans too proud to take any federal money — who knows how long that will last.

The Unemployed Life

Unemployment? Naw, FUNemployment

unemployedposter

Last week, I linked to an article about “funemployment” on my news reel to the left of this post (SIGNS of the times … unemployed panhandler … Get it!?!), but I wanted to blow it out a bit more in case you missed it.

From the L.A. Times:

Michael Van Gorkom was laid off by Yahoo in late April. He didn’t panic. He didn’t rush off to a therapist. Instead, the 33-year-old Santa Monica resident discovered that being jobless “kind of settled nicely.”

Week one: “I thought, ‘OK . . . I need to send out resumes, send some e-mails, need to do networking.”

Week two: “A little less.”

Every week since: “I’m going to go to the beach and enjoy some margaritas.”

What most people would call unemployment, Van Gorkom embraced as “funemployment.”

While millions of Americans struggle to find work as they face foreclosures and bankruptcy, others have found a silver lining in the economic meltdown. These happily jobless tend to be single and in their 20s and 30s. Some were laid off. Some quit voluntarily, lured by generous buyouts.

Buoyed by severance, savings, unemployment checks or their parents, the funemployed do not spend their days poring over job listings. They travel on the cheap for weeks. They head back to school or volunteer at the neighborhood soup kitchen. And at least till the bank account dries up, they’re content living for today.

“I feel like I’ve been given a gift of time and clarity,” said Aubrey Howell, 29, of Franklin, Tenn., who was laid off from her job as a tea shop manager in April. After sleeping in late and visiting family in Florida, she recently mused on Twitter: “Unemployment or funemployment?”

Never heard of funemployment? Here’s Urban Dictionary’s definition: “The condition of a person who takes advantage of being out of a job to have the time of their life. I spent all day Tuesday at the pool; funemployment rocks!”

The article goes on for several more graphs with the predictable “my parents don’t like it” quotes and outlines some of the crazy adventures of the laid-off, including embarking on a “spiritual quest” in Asia. Something tells me he’s not just living off of unemployment benefits.

But I’ve told many of my friends and family that, in some ways, my layoff is the best thing to have happened to me in years. As some of those interviewed in the L.A. Times article say, I feel healthier, happier and more like myself. And I’m using this chance to do more things for me, like learning how to ride a bike, updating my Internet skills and taking a few vacations. All on the cheap and while looking for jobs online, of course.

I especially think this is a cardinal rule for unemployed journalists: Use this time wisely. We’re undergoing tough changes to our industry. After years of working 50-60 hours a week for news, we need this “lay-cation” to recharge and prepare for what happens next. I think many of us will be better reporters because of it.

I’d love to hear from other unemployed folk on how they are spending their days off. Just leave a comment below …

(Big thanks to Saint Petersblog 2.0 for the link)

Behind the News, The Unemployed Life

Layoffs, Furloughs impact Gannett and Sun-Sentinel

The ranks of unemployed journalists swell again this week as The Ann Arbor News announced plans to close shop and South Florida’s Sun Sentinel gives pink slips to two well-respected columnists. Get those cardboard signs ready, folks.

In addition, the huge Gannett newspaper chain told employees they will be forced to take another week-long furlough. Better than losing your job, right?

As far as furloughs go, reporters should look into his or her state’s unemployment laws. In Florida, you can claim those weeks of forced vacation. You don’t get anything for the first week, but — if you meet certain conditions — any subsequent weeks can be claimed. Unfortunately, it looks like Gannett is spreading out those weeks, which could impact your eligibility.

More on that subject here.

Behind the News, The Unemployed Life

Proposed Florida law seeks drug testing for the unemployed …

statesenatorbennett. . . Because, obviously, everyone on unemployment in this bountiful economy are unmotivated, crack-smoking losers.

SB 2062 would require Floridians collecting unemployment benefits to undergo random drug testing. To top it off, they would have to pay for their own test.

This slap in the face comes courtesy of Florida State Senator Michael S. Bennett, a Republican from Bradenton. He’s 64, Baptist and hails from the Midwest. Besides finding ways to demean laid-off workers, Bennett enjoys long walks on Siesta Key, gutting smart growth initiatives, running retirees out of trailer parks for fun and profit, and — well, looky here — taking campaign donations from a company that sells drug testing kits (h/t to the Raw Story for pointing that out).

In addition to the obvious constitutional issues, Bennett’s law faces some problems of practicality. Even though workers would pay for their own drug tests, our cash-strapped state would need to invest in clinicians and a whole new bureaucracy inside the Agency for Workforce Innovation. But most of all, SB 2062 (HB 969 in the Florida House) furthers the humiliation many workers feel after losing their jobs.

In the words of Bill Piper, a director for the Drug Policy Alliance: “. . . to require someone to pass a drug test to get their unemployment insurance after they’ve been laid off is pretty cruel — and to require them to pay for the test themselves is even more cruel.”

The complete outrageousness of this bill leads me to wonder what Bennett and Co. are smoking up there in Tallahassee. In the interest of finding out what that substance may be, I propose a compromise:

Under only one circumstance should SB 2062 become law — if an amendment is added that requires the random drug testing of state lawmakers.

I nominate Bennett to take the first one.

The Unemployed Life

This is the best time to be unemployed

2241985233_e0d9ebca5fUnemployed brothers and sisters,

I know times are tough. Joblessness is a real heart-wrencher. But something occurred to me the other day, while sitting on my porch, drinking coffee, enjoying a perfect 70-degree day of unemployment in Florida:

Really, this is the best time to be unemployed. My evidence: The stimulus package passed last month.

In case you haven’t heard, President Barack Obama’s first success (depending on how you define it) has gobs and gobs of greenbacks for a slew of industries, homeowners and, us, the non-working people.

Of course, our bailout isn’t of banking industry quality, or even GM, but we do get a piece of the action. Specifically, about $25 a week.

Woot!

That’s an extra $100 a month, baby. In addition, many people won’t be taxed for the first $2,400 in benefits they claim. That’s good news for those of us who didn’t have taxes taken out of their unemployment checks. (By the way, this is only for unemployment since the stimulus passed, not the money you’ve received before this.)

But the most beneficial aspect of the plan, especially in this economy, is an extension of benefits. Last year, Congress already approved up to 33 weeks of extended benefits for those workers who exhaust the regular 26 weeks of benefits. That deal was set to expire, but under the stimulus package, laid-off workers can still claim those extra weeks in 2009.

But it gets better: Under the stimulus package, workers in some high unemployment states can claim an extra 13-20 weeks of benefits. Are you keeping track? That’s an estimated 18 months — a year and six months! — of benefits. And, under some economists projections, we should be out of the recession by then.

So, honestly, my fellow men and women on the dole: It could be worse. You could only have 26 weeks to find another shitty job.

UPDATE: Even those of you workers that are forced to take an unpaid “vacation” can also get benefits. That includes all you 5,600 Media General employees.