The holiday season this year is bringing two unwanted gifts. The first is that unemployment benefits will end – truly end – for millions of Americans who are still unable to find work. The second is that in the face of these benefits ending, unemployment offices around the country are bringing in armed guards to ensure security. How these two gifts will ultimately interact is anyone’s guess, but the combination sends a clear negative message about the national situation.
The End Of Unemployment Benefit Extensions
The key issue is the end of unemployment benefits for millions around the country. Each time benefits looked to be running out in the past, state or national government bodies stepped in to create emergency extension programs. As a result, for some jobless Americans, unemployment benefits will have stretched on for a record 99 weeks.
This time, however, things are different as the deadline for the end of unemployment benefits draws near. Government offices are overdrawn and overextended, with no appetite for new spending programs. Despite lobbying by advocacy groups and evidence that the economy is still weak in most sectors, the odds of a further extension on unemployment benefits is almost universally non-existent.
The timing is less than ideal. In the middle of a holiday season of joy, generosity, and celebration, the only reliable income for many long-term unemployed people is being cut off. Some will find seasonal employment to bridge the gap, but others will simply be turned away to go home empty-handed, with no further extension or renewal options.
Calling For More Guards
In response to the situation, unemployment offices are taking an interesting course of action. Rather than expanding job retraining programs or investing more in employer relationships, they are calling for increased levels of security at unemployment offices. Armed guards are stepping in to “improve safety” and provide security for unemployment commission staff members.
A primary example of this is in the state of Indiana, which will be adding armed guards to 36 new locations this holiday season. Many unemployment offices in the state already have guards in place. The Indiana Department of Workforce Development denies that any specific incidents of violence or unrest at offices is prompting the move, but notes that agency offices are merely being “cautious” about the potential consequences of having no more money to distribute to those currently on the unemployment rolls. Offices that do not hand out benefits checks will be staffed with unarmed guards, but each office that normally distributes funds will have a guard in place for the holiday season.
Who Pays For This?
Adding new guard positions does not happen free of charge. In Indiana alone, budget groups are estimating that the cost of putting in the guards around the state will come to $1 million dollars or more. As benefits end but spending clearly continues at unemployment offices, who is footing the bill?
The answer in most cases is the taxpaying public, albeit through indirect channels. Funds that are taken from payrolls taxes and sales taxes to be put into the unemployment system are divided into buckets for benefits and buckets for administrative costs. The armed guards are being paid for out of the budget for the administration of the unemployment system, according to Indiana agency spokesmen.
The arrival of the guards and the end of benefits simultaneously naturally prompts the question of “What’s next?” Where do people go when they have been cut off by the government? Who is making assumptions that a violent response will be the natural course of action? What other steps are unemployment agencies taking, and what does this imply for the future?
In terms of where to go, many of the long-term unemployed are turning to private charitable groups and social services agencies to fill the gaps. Some unemployed people are eligible for welfare, which can’t be drawn while taking unemployment benefits. Others will cobble together a network of essential services from food pantries, homeless shelters, Salvation Army outposts and churches, all of which are already routinely reporting being stretched to their limits to try and serve the nation’s needy.
No one is claiming responsibility for assuming that the unemployed will turn violent. However, that there is an institutional fear of the jobless is clearly evident. Yet those who assume that violence will earn them another check are delusional, as are those who think so poorly of the character of their fellow man.
Still, unemployment agencies are working to prepare staff to deal with the inevitable frustration, anger, and desperation of individuals facing an end to their income with no job prospects in sight. Stress-management training is being used in Indiana, as are staff training sessions that focus on appropriate responses to disillusioned and discouraged workers.
The underlying implication for the future is that the months ahead will not be pretty. The 99 week mark arriving at Christmas affects those who became unemployed all the way back in late 2008 and the early months of 2009. There are millions who came after them to the jobless rolls, and those individuals will also draw their last benefit check in turns in the months ahead. Without new developments for growth in the economy, armed guards and fearful staff members could indeed become the new normal.