In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight, taught to win
I never thought I could fail
“Don’t Give Up” by Peter Gabriel
When I walk up to greet him, he still yanks his hand up to shake mine in greeting. But the trademark firm grip has given way to one of a man 30 years his senior. He’s probably unaware of it, but he seldom makes direct eye contact now. In fact, it’s as if his eyes seem permanently fixed on the ground like a scolded child. Yet he puts on a great front for an old friend. And that’s what struck me most.
The government today announced unemployment is now “officially” over 10%. In Florida, it’s been that way for months. “Jim” (I’ve changed his name for purposes of this rant) was one of the statistics, but is no longer. Not because he’s found work, but because he has exhausted his unemployment benefits and is therefore no longer included when counting the number of unemployed.
“Isn’t that something? Now I’m not even considered unemployed!” he says. “For statistics purposes, I guess I no longer exist.”
No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I’ve changed my face, I’ve changed my name
but no one wants you when you lose…
“It’s the government’s dirty little secret,” I reply. I know, because it happened to me during the recession in the early ‘90s. Once you exhaust your benefits, as far as the government is concerned, you no longer exist, statistically speaking.
But I was lucky. Unlike Jim, I didn’t lose my house. I eventually found work by creating my own computer consulting service. It kept myself going until the economy turned around. Jim hasn’t been so lucky.
With the exception of a few under-the-table jobs like painting houses, he’s been out of work for over a year. In the ‘90s, I was still a relatively young buck. I was also divorced, with no kids. No pets.
But Jim is in his 50s. And now, he looks it. He’s married but his wife’s health limits her to part-time work at home. “Home,” by the way, is with his sister and brother-in-law. It was either that or the back of his wife’s Dodge mini-van. Thank goodness they own that free and clear. He lost his pick-up truck which was newer and was still carrying a large note.
Though I saw it all around
never thought I could be affected
thought that we’d be the last to go
it is so strange the way things turn
Jim continues: “ Actually, I’ve got a lot to be grateful for, Gerry, I know I do. My sister and her husband have been great to us. We get along fine. Good lord, there’s so many others out there that don’t have even that. It scares me to think…” and his voice trails off. But that’s typical of Jim. At his lowest ebb, he’s still worried about others. No joke… he’s the kind of man I’d like to send to Washington as my Representative.
Somewhere, he finds inner strength and bellows out, “All my (expletive) life I’ve worked. It’s what I do!” Now, he can’t even get a job packing groceries at the local supermarkets. “They’re not hiring. They’re not even taking applications… they’ve got so many applications already. I’ll scrub toilets… anything…” his voice trails off again. “It’s just emasculating.”
Moved on to another town
tried hard to settle down
for every job, so many men
so many men no-one needs…
He looks whipped. Grasping for words of encouragement, I point out that there’s no shame in being unemployed. I immediately wish I could take those words back. “It’s not about being ashamed as much as it is about having what little dignity you have left ripped away…” He’s right.
I was meeting Jim to buy him lunch. There’s a possibility of a job opening where I work, and I wanted to get an idea of his expertise in a particular area without letting him know. I don’t want to raise his hopes in the event the opening doesn’t materialize. But seeing him like this makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be better to mention it. A little hope is better than none, isn’t it?
After ordering our food, I weaken and tell him about the job possibility and that I want to know more about his particular skills. I wait for the look of hope to cross his face, but it doesn’t come. He gives me the information I seek and then thanks me for keeping him in mind. He quickly changes subjects. His expression never changed during that exchange.
There are thousands of “Jims” around the country. The Obama administration is not responsible for having gotten us into this recession. But the action his administration takes is what will determine how soon we will emerge from it. And all I’m hearing is a bunch of rhetoric from the President, with not much action to support it. He talks about jobs created or saved, yet with a pork-laden stimulus package that’s costing struggling taxpayers more than a trillion dollars, he still can’t honestly point to a single new job as having been created with any proof it’s because of his actions.
In fact, I honestly don’t think Obama gets it: Governments don’t create jobs. Businesses create jobs. It’s the government’s responsibility to create the economic environment that instills confidence in businesses to hire more workers and expand.
Jim is no fool. He sees what is happening. And for now, he’ll continue to network with friends, scour the help wanted ads (what few there are). He’s even gone so far as to darken his grey hair in hopes people will not dismiss him because of age.
The White House can spin all they want. Out here on the streets, people know what the truth is: Barack Obama wasn’t the problem. As a society, we all were. But while Obama ineeds to lead the solution, it seems his policies are taking this country 180 degrees in the wrong direction for emerging from deep recession. It becomes our burden, therefore, to be the interim solution until the economy does recover whether it’s under Obama’s administration or the next. We must all be a part of the answer.
To all you Jims out there. Don’t give up. Network with friends, family, former co-workers, church groups, everywhere. With anyone you can. But hang in there. We will need all of you to make this country great again.
And to all of you who know a Jim (or “Jane”): Hope may be eternal, but it’s important to be reminded that it is there. And that it will come. Please share this message with them. Be a little more generous with your local food bank if you can. And above all, make sure they hear the message loud and clear:
Don’t give up
’cause you have friends
you’re not the only one
no reason to be ashamed
you still have us
we’re proud of who you are
’cause I believe there’s the a place
there’s a place where we belong
“Don’t give up!”