Every day this week I've watched a parade of people pass by the front door of my office on the way to an office next door, where a company is hiring. That's right, hiring! Count this as an economic indicator: There are still an awful lot of people looking for work in this economy.
The company doing the hiring is not a big, famous corporation. It's a small outfit providing services to other companies, and judging from some overheard conversations between the job applicants and the staff vetting the applicants, the company is not paying high wages. The numbers I heard were only a little above minimum wage. Yet the parade of applicants seemed never-ending. The quiet corridor in front of my office has become a busy thoroughfare.
Some of the applicants look as if they are entirely unfamiliar with what a time card or pay stub looks like. Others show up in coat-and-tie and are carrying copies of their resume in their laptop bags. The competency range of applicants is obviously wide. I take that as an indicator of just how broad and deep this recession is. The unemployed range from young men in serious need of some job readiness training and simple social skills to middle-aged, middle-management types.
This parade goes past my office even as the state plans to sharply cut the state's unemployment insurance program, which has run up quite a debt to the federal government during four years of job losses. The maximum jobless benefit will drop from over $500 a week to $350 a week. I have some familiarity with this system. Unemployment benefits got me through nine months without a paycheck. Without those benefits, which I earned during 46 years of full-time work, I would have had to dip into savings to pay the mortgage, and I was one of the fortunate ones who had cautiously hoarded savings for just the sort of emergency I faced. Others would have gone bankrupt or homeless without unemployment insurance.
Some politicians worry that too-generous unemployment benefits simply encourage people to idly suck up federal tax dollars. But being unemployed is embarrassing, emasculating and deeply depressing, no matter what the circumstances. Unemployment insurance is essential to a nation surviving an economic downturn. Don't worry about subsidizing idleness; people want jobs. Just look at the parade going past my office door.