Local Jobless Workers’ Stories Will Be Sent Nationwide

Dec 19, 2013

Eight people facing a benefits cutof on Dec. 28 appear on camera For Cheryl Fontyn, the ordeal of living through unemployment for the past 20 months has been “humiliating,” as she has learned that aging workers short of retirement eligibility face a brutal job market.

Fontyn, who lost her 7-year job as a billing clerk in a medical facility last year, said that she and other jobless workers her age are “devastated” when they learn that they lack the high-tech skills to compete against younger, more savvy job candidates. Some of those on the outside track even lack the basic computer knowledge to engage in the 21st Century version of a job search.

“You send resume after resume, you send mail, you call … and I’m juggling two part-time jobs at the same time” that pay $8 an hour and offer no benefits, said the Clinton Township resident. 

Fontyn was among eight local unemployed workers who on Wednesday participated in an effort by U.S. Rep. Sander Levin to produce a video about the impact of Congress’ decision to end unemployment benefit extensions, effective next Saturday.

That move will immediately cut off unemployment compensation for 1.3 million Americans, 43,000 jobless workers in Michigan, and 4,100 people in Macomb County. Those numbers will grow throughout 2014.

By telling the stories of the stubbornly unemployed workforce, Senate and House Democrats hope to revive the issue on Capitol Hill in January and make a 1-year extension of benefits retroactive.

During her on-camera interview at the Warren cable TV studio, Fontyn, who previously worked 25 years as a dental assistant, said she recently learned that she does not qualify for subsidized Obamacare health insurance coverage, so she is applying for Medicaid as the Dec. 28 end of her unemployment checks approaches.

“What am I going to do after the 28th? Pray a lot,” she said, trying to hold back tears. 

Congressional Republicans say that unemployment extensions which began in 2008 must come to an end after five years. In addition to the cost, GOP lawmakers argue that the continuous extensions beyond the basic 26 weeks of unemployment checks offered by the states – 20 weeks in Michigan – are creating a dependency on government among the longterm unemployed.

House and Senate Democrats counter that jobless workers still outnumber each job opening by a three-to-one margin. With the nation facing record longterm unemployment , Democrats maintain that the current 47-week maximum is similar to other supplemental unemployment insurance programs that were maintained in the past when the nation’s jobless rate was much lower than the current 7.8 percent level – 9.0 percent in Michigan.

Each of the eight unemployed workers who told their story on Wednesday in front of the camera said that living on unemployment is far from a luxury and that engaging in wideranging job searches daily in a highly competitive market is a job within itself.

One man said he often stays online tapping into possible leads until 1 a.m. A woman said she lost her job as a school bus driver, due to a privatization process initiated by her school district, one year short of qualifying for a pension. So, she is desperately seeking a job that falls within the state’s school retirement fund so her years of service are not wasted.

DiAnn Fairfield of Fraser, who lost her longtime job as a tooling designer, said she has spent-down most of her savings after eight months of unemployment. She is now preparing to liquidate her retirement savings.

“I don’t make enough on unemployment to make a living. It’s not like I’m sitting back and waiting,” Fairfield said. “I … want Washington to know, we’re not numbers. We’re real people. I shouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life hoping for a semi-decent retirement.”

Levin said that the 1.3 million people who will be discarded from the unemployment rolls at the end Article rank 19 Dec 2013 Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) of the week, if they stood shoulder-toshoulder, would create a line from Washington to Lincoln, Neb.

Among the other stories that the congressman heard:

  • Guy Kaercher of Warren, who was hired in the tool and die industry after serving four years in the U.S. Navy during the 1991 Desert Storm incursion, is now living in a Roseville shelter after seeing his job eliminated. “I’m a homeless vet. I lost everything. I lost my house. I hit rock bottom and I have nothing left,” he said.
  • Norbert Franczak of Warren was next up in the studio lights and told Kaercher: “That’s a damn shame. This man puts his life on the line and this is how he is treated?” A former library assistant at Cooley Law School, Franczak said he will be losing his $166 weekly unemployment check as he tries to maintain the $654 monthly mortgage payment on the home he inherited from his mother. “Retirement and pensions are not even in my vocabulary,” the jobless worker in his mid50s said, explaining the reluctance he faces on job interviews due to his age. “I just want to stay alive. I just want to keep a roof over my head.”
  • Leonard White of St. Clair Shores worked 19 years as a white-collar professional in logistics, including the last 13 years at a major university, until he lost his job in the summer due to downsizing. Since then, he has received a number of job interviews but no offers. White put several of his children through college and his youngest is a freshman at Michigan State University. But with the impending end of his unemployment compensation, he has mapped out an 8-month household cost-cutting plan that includes eating just one meal per day.

The interviews hosted by Levin, plus other taped interviews arranged by Democratic lawmakers, will be converted into short and long videos that will be distributed for use on cable TV, online and for circulation by email.

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