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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 3:53 pm | Fair 67º


Ken Williams: Boehner Shows Callousness, Ignorance in Trashing the Unemployed

Those without a job have “this idea … I really don’t have to work. I don’t want to do this. I’d rather sit around.” Thus speaks the illustrious House Speaker John Boehner. The man’s compassion is overwhelming, telling 6.2 percent of his fellow countrymen why they are unemployed: That’s 9.6 million people.

These are real people, and not simple statistical numbers who are in severe financial difficulties. This man would have us believe that their plight is due to their own laziness? I guess the 7.3 million Americans who are underemployed are so because they don’t want to take time away from their Hawaiian travel plans. They give such lame excuses as having had their hours cut by their employers. Or, they took part-time jobs solely when they were the only ones available. And that working part time beats not working at all, but that would go against Mr. Boehner’s elegant pontification.

I know that Mr. Boehner doesn’t like to deal with reality, but it might surprise him to know that only 26 percent of the unemployed receive any type of unemployment benefits — the lowest level in decades. And the 3 million Americans who have been out of work longer than six months received no long-term unemployment benefits due to Congress having cut them; the House leadership led this noble venture.

I wonder why Mr. Boehner doesn’t address the widening wealth gap in America. What is his explanation for the fall of median income for the lowest 20 percent from 1990 through 2013 from $12,381 to $11,651, a 5.9 percent loss? In the meantime, the median incomes of the top 20 percent rose from $150,553 to $185,206, a 23 percent increase. Is it because the poorest Americans are too self-absorbed to really want to work hard? And I’m sure that this fine gentleman is particularly proud that the top 5 percent saw their median income rise from $239,739 to $322,343 during the same time period — a 34.5 percent gain for Mr. Boehner and his friends.

To add to this sorry state, a recent article by Paul Krugman of the New York Times points out: “The top 10 percent receive almost half of all income and own 75 percent of the nation’s wealth.”

In case this cultured and well-educated man missed it, we are just barely scratching a sorry looking recovery from the Great Recession — a man-made calamity so severe that our economy was shredding jobs by the hundreds of thousands on a monthly basis. A recession so savage that millions of our neighbors lost not only their homes, but a lifetime of savings as well as retirement plans and dreams, throwing hundreds of thousands into the streets without even a roof over their heads.

I often wonder how many suicides the Great Recession caused. How many marriages floundered on the rocks of lost jobs and destroyed careers. How many children saw their families mutilated, and a parent turn from a provider and caretaker to an abuser.

See, Mr. Boehner, for those of us who work for a living, the horrors of poverty, income being stopped, savings stolen and retirements destroyed is not academic. Real people’s lives were destroyed. Real blood was shed. And while you and others of the political elite of both parties are wined and dined by investment bankers and hedge fund managers, the casualties of the Great Recession wonder why no one has gone to jail for the men who caused it — you know, the men who gave themselves bonuses in the millions of dollars, while they sold their country’s welfare down the drain. Might it be because the Wall Street elite has bought the allegiance of the Washington elites? These hardworking Americans who suffered so much also wonder why their tragic lives are reduced to the fantasy that they are simply too lazy to really want to look for a job.

I would suggest to those in Washington and elsewhere who hold such loftily views of their fellow citizens that they try sleeping without a roof over their heads. Try using a cardboard box as a pillow. Or, if lucky enough to pass the rigid rules of shelters, try sleeping with a room full of strangers — shelters that mix the down and out with the walking wounded vets from an endless stream of foreign wars, and the mentally ill who found their safety net cut to shreds long before the Great Recession.

Try walking in someone else’s shoes before you so cavalierly condemn them. 

Ken Williams has been a social worker for the homeless for the past 30 years, and is the author of China White, Shattered Dreams: A Story of the Streets and his first nonfiction book, There Must Be Honor. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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