CHICAGO - Dozens braved the cold here Dec. 3, to rally at Federal Plaza urging U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and his GOP colleagues in Washington to extend unemployment benefits for millions nationwide and fund programs that create jobs.
According to recent data the national unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent, and now millions have lost their only income because Congress failed to pass an extension on unemployment benefits, which expired Nov. 30.
Roughly 127,000 Illinoisans have lost their benefits, activists note.
Susan Hurley, director with Chicago Jobs with Justice said Sen. Kirk thinks extending the benefits, which affects millions right in the middle of the holiday season is "misguided." Instead, he thinks we need to extend tax cuts for the country's most wealthy top 2 percent, the very people on Wall Street who created this economic crisis in the first place, she said.
Republicans in Washington want to pursue their campaign pledge of extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans while millions remain jobless and left out in the cold, Hurley added.
"People are losing their homes, can't afford to pay their bills, are going hungry and cannot buy their children gifts for the holidays," said Hurley. "And the whole time while Kirk is worrying about the top 2 percent. I don't know how he can sleep at night, because you can bet that the country's millions of unemployed are sure not sleeping."
Economist Ron Baiman, of the Chicago based Center for Tax and Budget Accountability said unemployment numbers are getting worse and worse. "This is not a recovery and the real unemployment rate is about 17 percent," he said. "To think that the private sector will get us out of this economic disaster is a fantasy."
Lorraine Mora-Chavez said she spent 20 years getting an education to earn her doctorate degree. She has been laid off for over a year now. "We're tired of hearing in the media that we're not looking for jobs. I know 15 or 20 people with the highest college degrees, highly skilled professionals that are laid off and can't find work. People are dying due to unemployment and our economy nationally and globally is undergoing mass destruction. I feel useless in this economy. My benefits end this week and I am a single divorced mother of two college-aged twins. What am I going to do?"
Meanwhile others at the rally want Congress to also extend federal funding for the Put Illinois to Work (PIW) program, which was temporarily extended recently by Ill. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn through Jan. 15, 2011. Federal funding for the program expired Sept. 30. More than 26,000 workers have been hired since PIW was launched in April.
Charles Jenkins was hired through PIW and has been working as a community organizer with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. He said the best way to fight poverty, homelessness and crime is to have a job. "With a job people get to become productive working members of society," he said. "But there are not enough jobs. What we need is job creation not a gridlock in Congress. We need them to create jobs now."
The PIW program has been a blessing for Miriam Jato, executive director of a childcare center in Lansing, Ill. "If this program doesn't get federal funding past Jan. 15, it's going to hurt my business and my employees," she said. "I've been in business for 13 years but the last 3 or 4 years have been very difficult," she said.
Many at the rally said the most important thing to do if your unemployed and looking for a job is to become active and fight for them.
John Laesh is a member with the Carpenters Union Local 195 and has been laid off since August. "I recognize if I want to go back to work I have to be politically involved and stay active in the fight for jobs and benefits," he said. "The number one thing we want is to go back to work. We're not sitting around doing nothing."
Over 500 job applications were delivered to Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, and Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin's office at the rally's end.
Photo: An unemployed activist addressing the crowd at Chicago's Federal Plaza at rally for extending unemployment benefits and funding programs that create jobs. Pepe Lozano/PW