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Hearing focuses on plight of the jobless

Published 06/30/2013
The News & Observer

By Bridgette A. Lacy — Correspondent

I returned to my native Washington, D.C., last month not for a homecoming but to talk about unemployment in the seat of power.

D.W. Gibson, author of “Not Working: People Talk About Losing a Job and Finding Their Way in Today’s Changing Economy,” had invited me and two others to a congressional briefing hosted by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich. Our stories are featured in Gibson’s book, an oral history of unemployed men and women
across America.

Conyers is the main sponsor of the “Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act,” a sweeping jobs-for-all bill that would create millions of new fast-track jobs and allocate billions of dollars for job training. The Humphrey-Hawkins bill pays homage to the 1978 law, officially known as Full Employment
and Balanced Growth Act.

According to Conyers’ office, the original statute was so “watered down” that it had no real requirements to address employment so Conyers introduced his version. It includes specific actions, including requiring the Department of Labor to work with local and state governments, non-profits, and the private-sector to fund
community-based “fast track” jobs.

Conyers has said this work could include: renovating schools, weatherizing homes, repairing infrastructure, expanding access to broadband and wireless Internet, neighborhood beautification projects and other community initiatives in health and education. He would fund the initiatives by taxing stock and bond trades
on Wall Street.

Losing his firm – and his dog

So far, he’s had little luck moving the bill through Congress – despite having introduced it in 2011 and 2012. Since he re-introduced it earlier this year, it has been stuck in a House committee. But Conyers has not given up on it – or the people who are still trying to find work.

That’s why he was at the hearing on May 16: to hear firsthand how unemployment was affecting men and women. About 50 people attended – a mixture of Congressional staffers and interns with a sprinkling of lawmakers.

Gibson started the briefing by showing a few minutes of his documentary “Not Working,” a companion to the book and then we each spoke. I used my allotted 10-minutes to read a revised version of an earlier article I’d written for this column asking Gov. Pat McCrory to give better customer service to North Carolinians out
of work.

The other panelists were Roni Chambers, a St. Louis, Mo., laid-off human resources executive with Anheuser-Busch who served hundreds of employees with pink slips before she was terminated herself; and Bob Bendig, a Pittsburgh, native who ran a security firm that escorted laid-off corporate employees from their desks to their cars. Bendig said during the hearing he eventually lost his company, his home and even
his dog.

Shrinking unemployment benefits

Chambers is now the executive director of Go! Network, a nonprofit that helps the unemployed find new jobs by providing training and encouragement. Bendig, an Air Force veteran, turned to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program, which combines rental assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with case management and clinical services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Bendig now advocates for fellow veterans in similar circumstances.

I have decided to work for myself, continuing to write this column while I work on several books.

Gibson’s hope was that the event would raise awareness of a bill that could potentially provide a job for any able-bodied and willing person as a guaranteed right.

While I believe we are making people aware of this issue I think more North Carolinians needs to get involved – particularly now.

With the state’s new unemployment law going into effect Monday, about 70,000 North Carolinians c0urrently getting extended unemployment benefits will lose them, according to the N.C. Division of Employment Security.

The law, one of the first McCrory signed this year, also slashed benefits for new claimants. The maximum unemployment benefit went from $535 to $350 per week and the length of benefits was reduced from 26 weeks to 12 to 20 weeks, depending on the state unemployment rate. It also eliminates benefits for workers who have to leave a job for health or family reasons.

N.C. delegation absent

This is not good news for a state whose 8.8 percent unemployment rate – that’s 400,000 out of work and actively looking for a job – is the nation’s fifth-highest.

During my trip, I hoped that our stories would help bring attention to the state’s unemployed but I was disappointed. Of the state’s delegation, only Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Wilson, sent a representative – an intern.

And according to Conyers’ office, none of the state’s members of Congress are supporting this bill. Let’s change that. Here’s what you can do: Write your representative and encourage them to support H.R. 1000.

For more information about the bill or who to write, visit

Your voice is needed.

Lacy can be contacted at or follow her on twitter @RIFworker.