In October, I left my job or I was fired. My position was terminated. However you slice it, my future was uncertain. Surprisingly, I was clear-sighted through it all. I remember it was the tail-end of October and the trees were shedding much like the big and small companies around the nation. I was grateful that payday was the following week so that November’s rent wouldn’t be a concern. As a child, I moved around often. Being jobless didn’t scare me as much as having to telephone my landlord and explain what I had hoped to be a private moment of shame.
As soon as I collected my things from my office to begin my new life as a twenty-five-year-old with more time on my hands than I ever had in a long time, several questions popped in my head. What will I do about health insurance? What if my five-year-old gets sick? What if I get sick? What if I didn’t find a job? Did I have the stamina to go through the whole process of applying for unemployment or worse, social services?
As President Obama gears up for his speech on unemployment, here are some items I’d like to see included in the discussion:
1) Recently discharged employees should have health benefits as part of their severance package. While it’s nice that we get a reduced rate up to nine months, this doesn’t help lower and moderate income people. I’d like to see some differentiation in how the bill is applied.
For instance, I was earning a little less than $30,000 working for an art nonprofit. In order to continue health insurance for my child and myself, I would have had to commit financial suicide and pay upwards of $300 per month. This isn’t realistic for everyone. Had I been making ten thousand more dollars a year, I might have been able to swing this.
President Obama could urge lawmakers to propose a bill allowing recently discharged persons to have the first three months of health insurance at no cost and in the subsequent months slowly increase their contribution.
2) This could also be the case for severance packages. If there were some incentives to employers to give more robust packages, there might be a little more time to find work or a roommate, or whatever else is needed to get back on your feet quickly — perhaps four to six weeks as a starting point. I’m aware than senior staff members get severance packages of three to six months. CEO’s get obscene severance parachutes, so why not spread the wealth? Also, employers should distribute severance packages on a payroll schedule. I was given a lump some and nearly half of it got absorbed in taxes. I had to write a letter to have the taxes lifted so I could survive until I got settled into my next job.
3) Those of us who are just out of college and have lost their job should have the option to engage in an internship that may help secure employment down the line. Since internships often do not pay, there should be a revision to our current unemployment legislation to allow for specialized training that may lead to gainful employment in six months to a year.
4) Conversely, since the economy is still getting back on its feet, President Obama might expand the work of AmeriCorp so persons who are unemployed and might want to commit to a year of service in their community can still earn a living wage.
5) Most important, regardless of any bill proposed, no one can underestimate the power of hope as it’s running short of supply these days, especially for the unemployed. Our president has been called the “people’s president” and this would be a perfect opportunity for him to turn on his oratory skills and awaken the spirits of those who are feeling hopeless. It would be good to hear some words of encouragement from our president. Who better to inspire us?
With all that’s going on, I wonder if our president has ever thought of quitting his job or getting fired?