How many of us in this economic climate know someone relying on an unemployment check to pay a mortgage? And how many of them have a solid plan for what happens when that money dries up?
We’re about to find out, The Oregonian tells us. They visited rural Harney County, OR, where creating any new job seems like it would take small miracle. So far, the community has remained relatively intact through the recession. People have held onto their houses and kept one step ahead of bill collectors because of weekly unemployment checks. But as those benefits start to expire (13,000 Oregonians will exhaust their unemployment allowance by the end of the year), places like Burns may face a mass exodus.
It’s not a problem confined to desert towns with staggering unemployment. In Puget Sound’s urban corridor, employees have been pink slipped by the tens of thousands. I’d wager that 95 percent of my former colleagues at the Seattle P-I, which closed three months ago, are still surviving on unemployment. It won’t make your rich, but it’s significant. Enough to pay most mortgages or rent. Enough to cover a month’s worth of groceries and bills with some left over. And I’d also guess that many of them could not honestly tell you how they will manage when that money runs out.
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Here’s the not-so-insightful advice offered by one unemployment expert:
“You should come up with a plan so that you’re not still out of work when you lose your benefit,” says Nancy Alvarado, who manages WorkSource Oregon in Malheur, Grant and Harney counties. “Sometimes folks have to move out of the area to find jobs. That’s one of the realities of life. If there’s no jobs there, people have to go where there are job opportunities.”
OK, I get that staying on unemployment is no solution. And one could argue that folks lucky enough to be getting by on unemployment benefits have plenty of time to figure something out. But whether you’re a journalist or a logger or luxury RV maker, it’s just not easy to find another job in a dying industry. Even if you are willing to move, the jobs may no longer exist. And if you loved your job, an enormous sense of loss makes it tough to move on.
The world is reordering itself—in some ways for the better. But people who made a living building gas guzzlers or tree-killing newspapers that no one wants anymore got the short end of it. Still, deadlines are great motivators. As unemployment benefits begin to expire, standards will get lower and Plan Bs will crystallize. For some. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if someone each of us knows doesn’t quite emerge from this recession with their homes or families or fundamental sense of self-worth intact.
For everyone I know who’s out of work and never wanted to be, I hope the training and job creation programs Northwest policymakers are putting into place succeed in offering people promising opportunities to find rewarding and sustainable careers. There’s more riding on it than just a paycheck.
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