Jobless share stories to urge benefits extension

Nov 30, 2011 Issues: Economy

Southfield— Don Grenke needs a job before his last $500 in the bank runs out.
He's worked since he was 16 — doing everything from pumping gas to manual labor. But now Grenke, 56, of Ferndale, is worried his unemployment insurance soon will run out and he and his wife, who does not work, will be left with nothing.

"I feel dejected, like somebody is stepping on my back," Grenke said after a forum Tuesday at the Southfield Public Library. The event was sponsored by Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, to highlight what supporters say is the need to extend federal unemployment benefits.

"I worked for 16 years at my last job and have been out of work since August 2010. I've sent out dozens of resumes, but I'm still looking for work," Grenke said.

Nearly 20 people attended Tuesday's forum, sharing stories that Levin planned to take back to Washington for a Capitol rally today to ask lawmakers for an extension of the federal unemployment insurance. It expires Dec. 31.

If the insurance is not extended, Levin said 2.1 million Americans will be cut off by early February, and more than 6 million will lose their benefits by the end of 2012.

"The purpose of the forum and the other stories I've collected, is to put a human face on these unprecedented numbers," Levin said. Cherie Boeneman, 55, of Madison Heights, was laid off from a local drugstore chain after working for 61/2 years as an assistant manager. She lives with her 77-year-old mother, who is battling non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and working part-time to support them.

"I worked for 20-odd years in retail, and I've sent out dozens of resumes, attended job fairs, answered help-wanted signs and walked from store to store in the malls asking for work," she said. "I feel really awful because I know my mother wants to retire and she deserves to."
Levin ended the forum with, "We won't give up."