Will Unemployment Benefits Become Our New Standard of Living?

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Will Unemployment Benefits Become Our New Standard of Living?
by Connie H. Deutsch

About a year ago, I read an article about men in high paying positions, mostly upper level managers, who had been laid off and were refusing to work for less money than their previous job had paid. Some of them had been out of work for a year, some even longer than that, but they didn't want to demean themselves by taking jobs that didn't pay as much as they had been making.

My first thought was that if there wasn't enough money to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, they would soon change their minds and take whatever job they could find. A short time after that, I read another article about men who had been interviewed saying they had wiped out their retirement funds, sold off their stocks, took equity loans, refinanced their houses, sent their wives out to work as the sole breadwinner, and borrowed money from friends and relatives to keep their lifestyle going. The disturbing thing about the article was that it showed that their standard of living had not decreased but their indebtedness had spiked up beyond belief.

Recently, there has been much ado about the notion that people who are out of work are just plain lazy. I don't see it that way. I think people who are out of work feel marginalized and scared and they are often intimidated by the prospect of having to apply for jobs, go on interviews, and face the possibility of rejection. It's that whole specter of having to start over after being employed for most of their life and feeling that they are not quite good enough or young enough.

In the articles I've been reading since the first articles started to appear, I'm amazed by the number of men who are so accepting of their status quo. In fact, they said they are happier than they have ever been now that the pressures of work are no longer besieging them. They said they are calmer, don't let things bother them, are healthier, and are leading a more balanced life. They have time to work out, enjoy family and friends, and don't want to go back to work; they said they are being given a second chance to have the kind of life they have always wanted.

This is now a little more than a year after I first came across the changing dynamics of the unemployed workforce. But now, a new wrinkle is starting to emerge. This is no longer about the men who were in high paying managerial jobs who don't want to return to the workforce but it is starting to creep into the fabric of society.

Between the articles that I've read and the people I have spoken to, there is a new element to consider and that is that unemployment benefits are just high enough to pay for the necessities of life if you reduce your standard of living. Many people don't want to get a job if their salary will come to just a little more than what they get from unemployment.

I have always been an advocate of government lending a hand to people in need of financial assistance. For many, it's the difference between survival with a roof over their head and living in the streets. I've always thought that people are not inherently lazy; they need a reason to get up in the morning and have a place to go that allows them to feel like productive members of society. Even if they don't like their job, if they have a paycheck in their pocket, they have their dignity intact knowing that they don't have to go begging to family and friends for a handout.

My major concern at this point is that when people have lowered their standard of living to accommodate their reduced income, they may get comfortable with the idea of getting by on their unemployment checks. And even knowing that their checks are going to stop eventually, they don't alter their thinking about finding employment. The more time that goes by and the more they see they can exist on less money, the more the fear of rejection may deter them from applying for jobs. And if this fear predominates their thinking, this bare bones level of existence may become their new standard of living.

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