CHICAGO - It's the first week of the Christmas season, but millions looking for work in the "second Great Depression" are losing their only lifeline - unemployment benefits that expire Nov. 30.
Volunteers at the Unemployed Action Center in this city's Bridgeport neighborhood talked with a 60 year-old unemployed man who showed up at their office Nov. 29.
"I'm desperate," he told them. "My benefits run out tomorrow and I can't find any work. I'm $1,400 behind in my rent and I don't know how I'm going to come up with the money. My landlord has been lenient, but how long can that go on? What will I do for the two years between now and when I'm eligible for Social Security?"
Republicans blocked an extension of unemployment benefits before Congress recessed for the Thanksgiving holiday. If Congress fails to immediately extend benefits more than two million jobless workers will lose their lifeline in December.
With Congress back in session, the GOP is continuing to block the extension of jobless benefits and, moving from obstruction to what many are calling destruction, is calling for an end to ongoing infrastructure development, including high-speed and commuter rail and alternative energy. GOP leaders also made it clear Nov. 29 that they will block any new efforts to stimulate the economy.
Opposition to extension of jobless benefits is a shift even for Republicans who, since the 1950s, have often voted to extend those benefits when the jobless rate was higher than 7.2 percent.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, unemployment benefits prevented more than 3.3 million Americans, including one million children, from falling into poverty last year. Labor Department reports indicate that jobless benefits last year were a key stimulus by returning two dollars for every dollar spent into the economy and by saving and creating as many as 2 million jobs for other people.
"The Republican approach has shifted from hoping conditions don't improve to taking steps to ensure conditions don't improve. We've gone from Republicans rooting for failure to Republicans trying to guarantee failure," wrote Steve Benen Nov. 28 in the Washington Monthly Political Animal blog.
"If a major, powerful political party is making a conscious decision about sabotage, the political world should probably take the time to consider whether this is acceptable, whether it meets the bare minimum standards for patriotism, and whether it's a healthy development in our system of government," he continued.
"The fact is that one of our two great political parties has made it clear that it has no interest in making America governable, unless it's doing the governing," wrote Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman Nov. 28.
While the GOP plays with the lives of the jobless to push its right-wing agenda, unions have taken a prominent place among those helping the unemployed this holiday season.
Some 150 union volunteers, under the auspices of the Union Organization for Social Service, provided Thanksgiving Day food in Cherry Hill, N.J., for 700 unemployed men and women and their children.
The Laborers' Community Service Agency in Portland, Ore., is giving away $40 Safeway gift cards to workers who have lost jobs.
In Green Bay, Wisc., Local 1319 of the Steelworkers is supplying food to local food banks.
America West flight attendants, represented by the Flight Attendants - Communications Workers of America, are holding holiday food drives for unemployed flight attendants. "After furloughs and foreclosures, some of our members cannot afford to feed themselves or their families," said Erin McLoughlin, a spokesperson for the union.
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor is collecting and sending food and toys to the families of 4,000 unemployed construction workers. The food and toys are being collected by grocery workers, truck drivers, sanitation workers, teachers, firefighters, hotel workers and others.
"We are glad to have the opportunity to show support and solidarity with these unemployed construction workers," said Maria Elena Durazo, secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. "However, what these highly skilled tradesmen and women really need are good jobs that will produce the infrastructure and public transportation system that Los Angeles needs."