About the Unemployed Nation Hearings

More than 23 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed. They are so numerous that they could populate a nation, a distressed and forgotten nation, a nation whose voice remains unheard.

On March 30-31, 2012, an important two-day event convened to amplify that voice: the Unemployed Nation Hearings. The Hearings featured testimony from people whose lives have been gravely impacted by unemployment. Additional commentary was provided by scholars, community services and public officials.

Through this website, the Unemployed Nation Hearings live on. Collected here are videos and press coverage of the Hearings; written and video testimony of the unemployed; and news, analysis and resources related to unemployment.


Personal Testimony: Eric in Seattle, WA

Apr 12 2012

Eric in Seattle, WA writes to us:

When you are unemployed, your  whole life is put on hold: no entertainment, no socializing, no travel, if it costs money, you don't do it because you never know if you will ever get another job.

For me, the pain of this is something I don't talk to anyone about; if they have a job they don't understand, if they are retired they don't understand.

Finally, what makes me angriest is that the criminals on Wall St. still have their jobs, and are still getting bonuses! They should be put in jail for the crimes they have committed. Where's the justice?

Personal Testimony: Sue in Redmond, WA

Apr 12 2012

Sue in Redmond, WA writes to us:

I was laid off in January 2010. I was out on a Leave of Absence from work because I had pneumonia and I was sent a WARN notice from my place of employment.  It was like a kick in the teeth while I was already down.

I looked for work in the Information Technology field for 20 + years. I believe that my age has been a factor in my layoff notice as well.  They had gotten rid of everyone in the organization that was over 50. I was one of three that were left.

I had laryngeal cancer in 2001 and I continued to work since I had cancer and never have had a problem with communication.  I have been looking for full time employment but have not been able to get past the interviews with the contracting companies.  I do not come across on the telephone very well because my voice cannot be heard over the telephone always.

Personal Testimony: Jill in Seattle, WA

Apr 12 2012

Jill in Seattle, WA writes to us:

It is very difficult for me to attend the Unemployed Nation Hearings. To get to the UW by bus from my house takes at least two buses and more than an hour each way. To drive there means pretty high parking costs. This is part of being unemployed.

I worked as an contract grant writer for four years until June of 2010 for one non-profit. I have extensive experience in environmental and water projects. When I lost the work in 2010 I panicked and immediately took a temporary position as an Executive Assistant at a local university -- not UW. The seating arrangement was so poor at the desk I worked at that I quickly developed tendonitis. The university, not the temp agency, suggested I apply to L & I which is something that would never have occurred to me.

Personal Testimony: Larry in Seattle, WA

Apr 12 2012

Seattle resident Larry Neilson testified March 30, 2012 at the Unemployed Nation Hearings. What follows is his testimony.

Thank you for having me here at Unemployment Nation. And greetings from the underwater position of 3 years and counting of almost complete unemployment. My last extension of UI ran out 15 months ago.

Living with no income is a minor art, including maximizing one’s eligibility for available benefits, concealing one’s assets, begging, and when needed, by outright fraud.  Not that I condone fraud; as a one-time taxpayer, I frown on it in general; but in desparate circumstances, one does what one has to in order to survive and protect one's remaining dignity.

I have all but given up looking for a full-time job because with age discrimination in hiring, it is a complete waste of time applying.  I once was a mid-level bureaucrat in the County government, and before that a buyer in the Ad business. These are now considered the province of the younger and more energetic members of the workforce, and people of my years and experience are considered old, dried-up wrecks unworthy of consideration. Let them starve! As for medical benefits, you heard the Republican debate audience:  Let them die!

I advertise my services free-lance.  After many moons of little or no interest, as the economy improves, I am getting some nibbles. So far this has generated less than $100 a month. This has left me dependent on my 86-yo mother for more than half my rent. While she has made no complaint, it is not fair for her to fork over so much of her retirement income to support me.  In effect, our family is "eating its seed corn," for when these savings are exhausted, there is nothing to replace them except selling our home. But if it weren't for my Mom, I would be back sleeping in my car, as I did the previous winter (2011-12).  I am, I hope, appropriately grateful.  Even a home infested with bedbugs is preferable to sleeping in an unheated vehicle.

Press: Stories from the jobless

Apr 4 2012

By Steve Leigh
From Socialist Worker

SEATTLE--The King County Labor Council and the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at University of Washington held two days of hearings March 30-31 on the problem of unemployment in the Seattle area, called "Unemployed Nation Hearings."

The purpose of the hearings was to highlight the grave issue of unemployment. As the program said:

More than 23 million Americans are unemployed or underemployed...they could populate a nation, a distressed and forgotten nation, a nation whose voice remains unheard...The Great Recession has been accompanied by a great silence. We hope to help unemployed workers find a louder voice and a broader audience.

At the hearing in City Hall in Seattle on March 31, about 75 people heard from a panel of unemployed workers being questioned by social service activists. The hearing started with opening words from Mayor Mike McGinn. McGinn outlined the devastating effects of the recession on Seattle.

Press: Collateral damage of lost jobs

Apr 4 2012

By Jerry Large
From The Seattle Times

I enjoy payday, and it's not just because it means I can keep on paying my bills.

That's a big part of it, but, I also feel good that I've earned money doing something that I (and my employer) think has value.

Because work is important in multiple ways, it stands to reason that not having a job would do damage beyond the immediate lack of money. And that means the effects of this prolonged economic downturn will leave long-lasting scars. A project called Unemployed Nation has been capturing the stories of jobless people and exploring what being without work means for them.

Even as people return to work, they are left with economic gaps that are unlikely to be closed. Those gaps will affect future retirement and children's educational prospects among other things.

Press: It gets better?

Apr 4 2012

By Aaron Burkhalter
From Real Change News

The It Gets Better campaign created an online movement to normalize homosexuality and push the conversation about homophobic bullying into the mainstream.

People across the country started posting inspirational messages on YouTube to young gay students, telling them their lives would improve.

The movement, started by gay activist Dan Savage, caught on quickly. Celebrities and even President Barack Obama posted videos of their own.

A new campaign, Unemployed Nation,  hopes similar YouTube videos can remove the stigma of unemployment by putting a face on the issue.

People are posting YouTube videos at unemployednation.org to share their experience of joblessness.

Participants in these online conversations will also meet face-to-face in two days of hearings convened by the King County Labor Council and academics at the University of Washington.

Panels of unemployed people will speak at hearings March 30 at the University of Washington and March 31 at Seattle City Hall.

But where Savage’s campaign promised things will get better for gay youth, there are no such assurances for the long-term unemployed.

Press: Personal Struggles Shared During Unemployed Nation Hearings

Apr 4 2012

By Lily Katz
From The Daily

“If I don’t have any value to anyone else, what kind of value do I have to myself?” asked Colin McMullin, a Washington native and Boeing engineer who was laid off in 2009. “The last three years have been the toughest years of my life.”

McMullin and other Washingtonians came to the Walker-Ames Room of Kane Hall last Friday to share their stories of unemployment at the Unemployed Nation Hearings.

The hearings were organized by the UW Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, the Martin Luther King Jr. County Labor Council, the Washington State Labor Council, and several other campus sponsors.

James Gregory, director of the Harry Bridges Center, was especially inspired to organize the hearings after seeing three-quarters of his class raise their hands when he asked if his students knew someone who has struggled with unemployment in the Great Recession.

Press: 'Unemployed Nation' Packs Tearful Stories

Apr 4 2012

By Katherine McKeon
From The Seattle Weekly

Sandwiched between sweater-vested academics, local people affected by the sputtering economy emotionally relayed their personal struggles with finding work during today's Unemployed Nation Hearings.

At first glance, both types of experts are indistinguishable from each other. But the people who don't call the ivory tower home sang the clearer tunes.

One testimony came from a middle-aged family man, a former engineer at Boeing. Having been unemployed for three years, he said technology firms look for young people, not for people who have two degrees and two kids.

"No matter how many resumes I send out, I don't even get a response," he said. "If I don't have any value to anyone else, what kind of value do I have for myself? It's a very demeaning experience, and it's apparent to my family and friends."

Another witness, a woman who was laid off from her work at a vocational job-placement office, told those in attendance she once found herself in line with over 300 people, all applying for one position.

Report: The Enduring Consequences of Unemployment

Mar 29 2012

By Binyamin Appelbaum
From The New York Times

Our economic malaise has spurred a wave of research about the impact of unemployment on individuals and the broader economy. The findings are disheartening. The consequences are both devastating and enduring.

People who lose jobs, even if they eventually find new ones, suffer lasting damage to their earnings potential, their health and the prospects of their children. And the longer it takes to find a new job, the deeper the damage appears to be.

Not since the Great Depression have so many Americans been unable to find work for so long. But researchers have turned to the next-worst period, the early 1980s, to seek a better understanding of the likely damage.



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