A way forward to fund US unemployment
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

January 18, 2014

The US government is currently debating the extension of unemployment benefits after they expired at the end of last year for some 1.3 million Americans. It is looking like it will be one of the bigger issues for the US government this year and for good reason.

The US has invested roughly 20 trillion dollars over the past 50 years with currently more than 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care and social services (1). Despite this investment, 15% of the population is still considered in poverty according to the US census and remains unchanged since the 1960’s when then, president Lyndon Johnson declared a “war on poverty” (1).

I don’t know if any single root cause can be attributed more than another to poverty, as there seems to be a spider web of contributing factors such as health, location, family structure, education, even luck? The article I cited above for example, states that children raised by single parents are three times more likely to go to jail and 50% more likely to be poor adults (1).  Regardless of the causes that puts people into poverty, I would argue that education and access to job and career networks is fundamental towards self-empowerment, employment, and the equal chance to avoid or step out of poverty. With an ever-increasing national debt and congressional debate over spending, the question then is how and where to best tackle and fund unemployment benefits?

Perhaps a system in which those that received financial aid would also be required to volunteer one day a week within a variety of public works or charity organizations would be of benefit both to the individual as well as solve the “governmental financial burden”.

I say this because my high school required students to do half a day of public service every week, which introduced me first to teaching, followed by working with a volunteer fire department. Subsequently, I joined the department and my time generated a variety of new opportunities. The department funded additional education concerning emergency medicine, wild land fire fighting, and introduced me to many fascinating individuals from various walks of life with many stories to learn from. Although it was not where my skill and passion were focused initially, stepping back and participating in another field introduced me to something that has grown to become very relevant and interesting. Furthermore, to this day, being able to work on an ambulance has yielded career opportunities with more significant financial value than all my studies in biology combined. I believe the ability to volunteer, introduces people to new working environments, provides a new skill set, allows for networking, and generates a new perspective to what individuals currently know and are capable of.

I understand that one day of volunteering is a commitment and maybe counter intuitive for someone who is unemployed, but if it generates increases in overall community health, benefits the individual, and still allows substantial time for them to search out meaningful employment, it makes for a strong case to continue to finance unemployed individuals during their transitions.

Reference: 1. Robert Rector. How the war on poverty was lost. Wall Street Journal. Jan. 8t, 2014

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