I have a "scathingly brilliant idea"....

It occurred to me that our elected officials might be more understanding of the urgency of addressing the unemployment problem if they had to walk a mile in our moccasins, so to speak. What would happen to any of them at a local, state, or federal level, if they suddenly found themselves completely out of work, for any particular reason, although dismissed for failure to complete assigned tasks comes readily to mind? Most of them would fall into the 40+ crowd, having to deal with the rampant age discrimination which is couched in such lovely platitudes as "over qualified", "over educated", "too costly", or simply, the ever popular, NOT "the closest match for our hiring needs at this time." How successful would they be taking endless personality profiles, typing tests, skills assessments, and the like when you consider that most of them have a staff to do all these things for them? When was the last time that any one of them managed to write a simple letter on their own? Furthermore, how long would they be content to watch all their savings stripped away while receiving the pittance known as unemployment? I have the funny feeling that suddenly, in that context, unemployment would be the most pressing item on every single agenda in government today.

It further occurs to me that perhaps the notion of electing officials is all wrong. Perhaps they need to apply for their jobs, just as we do. Lets take it completely out of the realm of popularity contest or a testament to who can spend the most money, send out the most glossy fliers, create the slickest radio and TV commercials, which actually tell us nothing about what they can and will do for us, but rather only serve to trash their opponents ability to help us in any way. How many of them would hold the positions that they now have? How many would even get to the actual, in person, interview phase of the process, if they were required to give their social security numbers, birth dates, dates of graduations and diplomas, and of course, let us not forget, consenting to the criminal background check.....how many? If we, as employment candidates can be summarily dismissed from guilding the lily, and trying to present ourselves in the best light when filling out applications, preparing resumes, or even speaking with recruiting managers, then will somebody tell me why we accept it in our politicians and elected officials? They live in an isolated sub-world, unencumbered by the same realities and concerns of the rest of us. First of all, they are guaranteed their health care, regardless of their re-election.....no COBRA payments coming out of their pensions or stipends. The reality for those unemployed is that health care would eat up all the unemployment, plus some extra beyond that. So, I am hazarding a guess that many unemployed folks, like myself are "tightening the belt" and "doing without" in the name of eating and having shelter.

Elected officials are guaranteed a pension. Call it what you will, but money received, after you have stopped doing a job, constitutes a pension (an additional source of income) by my calculation. Some of us may have received severance packages, but they are not infinite, ongoing, guaranteed for life. They do not encompass cost of living adjustments. How and why did we, the working people of America allow this situation to exist? Guess what, for the majority of us, we were too busy working, and trying to cover all the bases of home, family, and community to notice what these guys made it their express business to do while in office, which is create golden parachutes for themselves. We, the taxpayers underwrite this stuff, but they actually have administrative control over it. Isn't this kind of like leaving the fox in charge of the hen house? I held a job with a single company for 15 years, and corporate merger/downsizing (lets just say that I didn't screw up and get fired) lead to my being among the ranks of unemployed. Now after 15 years of loyalty to a company, my severance package has been exhausted, and now I am breaking into my 401K to subsidize the bills that unemployment won't cover.....Most political officials will have a pension for life after merely serving one term in office which is 4-6 years depending upon the office that they hold. Fifteen years service buys the working man a few months of income, but 4-6 years guarantees a politician income of some sort for life. Why should the politician care about whether we work or not? And you know, we haven't even touched on the business contacts made during political life, the lobbyists and so forth, that further guarantee the financial well being of a cooperative politician, in and out of office. Even those politicians who have made front page news due to indiscretion or outright violations of law, do not seem to be broken down to the point of food stamps, housing assistance, loss of cars. Even in disgrace, they manage a better standard of living than most Americans. Perhaps not the standard that they are accustomed to, but better than the rank and file working Americans.

And we, the unemployed, have all heard the lip service, promises to make unemployment a priority. The major difficulty is that no time frame is ever indicated. We could have an exit strategy, a timetable, for removing troops from Iraq, but we can't have a timetable on how many and how long for the unemployed of America to be able to locate suitable employment? And, if you listen very carefully to campaign rhetoric, we are blamed for our own misfortunes. It is implied that the people we voted for are responsible for the problem, or not responsible (because the other side refuses to cooperate). At no point in time do any of these people take personal responsibility for their actions or inactivity. Lord forbid, that we even hint that they should be evaluated on the actual record of what their tenure in office did or did not produce. Further analysis of the political spin doctors would lead us to believe that we are unemployed because we didn't choose wisely, 10, 20, or even 30 years ago, in our occupational pursuits. We should have known that our education and experience would be rendered frivolous or redundant, decades after finishing our training or schooling. We should have known that paying off our student loan obligations would mean that we didn't have sufficient savings reserves to see us through a crisis. We are foolish to have not pursued further education throughout our work career. Many of us were too busy working to fit classes and seminars. Many employers choose not to provide additional training for a variety of sound business reasons. Why should they expend resources and time to train employees that will take the new skills to other companies for better jobs? Why should they train somebody to do more than is essential to the job that they perform? If the person becomes more qualified, they will naturally want promotion and raises that correspond to the new knowledge or skill set. If employees don't get those promotions, they will, in all likelihood, leave for greener pastures. No business wants to be in a perpetual state of hiring as that process is time consuming and detracts from the real purpose of the business. That doesn't mean that they are out to cheat workers, or don't want to treat them fairly, but they would like to maintain a workflow, a predictable status quo of productivity without having to sidetrack time, effort, effort and money into finding qualified people. And once somebody finds themselves as unemployed, where do the resources come from for this re-training in "needed occupations", and who determines what the needed skills areas are? I don't believe that companies are allowed to send a wish list to government agencies to get their ideal and dream applicants. Yet, the speech writers would have us believe that we are a largely ill-trained, unskilled, and under educated work force, not in keeping with the needs of modern business in a global economy....But I submit to you, why is that our fault? We are all products of a government approved and subsidized educational system. But I don't believe that we will ever hear that the government had a "bad idea" when it comes to educational programming and standards. They are too busy trying to maintain voter support among all the factions involved in our educational system, from teachers and administrators, through the suppliers of teaching materials, to the companies that construct, perform and analyze standardized tests results while juggling social special interest groups on the side which include those representing the poor, the minority students, the handicapped, the learning disabled, even those from single parent families. Our system is so busy trying to cover all exceptions that it has lost sight of education. Even standards of performance are taboo, because it isn't fair to teachers and students to actually measure what is accomplish in the course of schoolwork. Perhaps this is where we got all the politicians who can't tolerate the thought of their work being evaluated, scored, examined.

Sitting around the unemployment office for necessary check-ins, meetings, accessing resources, I have been given a lot of time to observe my fellow unemployed. You have to do something while you wait. It seems that there are a sub group among the unemployed who have mastered the art of making a career out of unemployment. I am not sure why that is desirable, but folks seem to find some satisfaction. And I am not judging, but merely observing. While I don't necessarily want to explore it personally, it seems that it is possible to exhaust unemployment benefits, take a job, (any job will do), work only sufficient time for the employer to have paid into the program on your behalf, and then begin again as unemployed with a new and clean slate of benefits. Your actual earnings in the business world are not reflected in the unemployment stipends awarded. Whether you earned 30K per year or 300K, the benefits are pretty similar. The folks sitting around you can often give you more information on the ins and outs of the unemployment system than the counselors employed by the state. This does not impress me as people who are lacking in intelligence, or even education (although it is not of the formal classroom variety). It actually reflects a pretty sound understanding of the business world and their chosen place within the framework. These people are actually quite astute and some would even say business savvy. It also seems, based upon the applications which I have been filling out recently, that the worse off your situation, the more government programs upon which you are dependent, the longer that you have been among the ranks of the unemployed, the better off you become. Obviously, our government has decided to reward employers for employing those who are receiving all these benefits, so now, in addition to the usual race, ethnic background, and sex questions in the "voluntary" demographic information portions (and there is nothing voluntary about it when you consider that many applications will not submit unless all the blanks are filled), you are asked specifically what sort of assistance programs you receive, or have received aid from, within a given time frame. Guess what folks? Those of us who have managed to hold our heads above water while job searching have just been bumped to the bottom of the pile for consideration, as we won't offer the company any government perks. Now, I have no idea what form these perks will take, nor if they are sponsored exclusively by the federal, state, local governments, or perhaps some combination, (and I tend to think that researching this would only serve to further aggravate and infuriate), but I do know that we are even further from the "most qualified" workers being considered for the job. In their attempts to fix the problem, government has just created a whole new layer of problems and potential areas for discrimination. Lets face it, if you are an employer and candidate A is going to cost your company $30K per year plus benefits, and candidate B, who has less experience and education, but is a participant in one or more government assistance programs and therefore will yield some financial perk of.... say, a tax credit, will cost the company less initial salary overall due to the more limited skills and experience......well, if both can reasonably do the job (Doesn't mean the best or greatest job-just do the job), who gets hired? I don't think that is a rocket science type of question. In fact, given that all the information is on the initial application, who is even getting the chance to interview? Yet our elected officials have the nerve to give themselves kudos for doing so much to help the unemployed, and at the same time saving the municipal budgets so much in aid.....and not having to cut a single spending penny while they are at it. And remember, candidate B only has to do the job for a certain period of time to reset the clock on benefits, so candidate B doesn't have to like the job, nor have any intention of being a long term employee. And potentially, the employer will have the opportunity to hire a less qualified candidate next time, while still getting whatever perks are offered for giving a job to somebody that fits a certain profile with regard to assistance program participation.

Much of these programs seem based in the same model as policies which were implemented to give returning or disabled veterans a boost in the right direction, based on the assumption that they volunteered to give up their place in the private business world to serve our national security. Had they not gone into the military, they would have advanced by two or more years in the workforce, just as those who did not serve. Many returning veterans must cope with illness, physical limitation, or emotional and mental stresses that would not have occurred excepting their military service, and they should not be penalized or held back. I can wholly agree with that, and fully support the notion that military service should not put anyone at an employment disadvantage. I am not sure that the same model is appropriate, or even works in the intended way, when applied to other groups. One size does not fit all, and one program model is not universally successful.

Anyway, I think that we can all agree on many levels that the employment outlook is definitely not as rosy as the media and politicians wish us to believe. Even if we forced all our children to become math wizards, computer gurus, rocket scientists, at some point in time the world would be saturated with that type of candidate as well. There needs to be balance somewhere, along with the acknowledgement that not all of us were meant to be brain surgeons. So that brings me back to my original premise, which is to make politicians go through the same selection process, and suffer the same, sometimes inexplicable, rejections, and watch everything, which they have spent a working lifetime achieving, evaporate, and to know that at their advanced age, the likelihood of recouping, even a portion becomes slimmer as time goes along. Let our elected officials go from six figure incomes plus benefits and perks, to living on income that falls below the poverty levels that they have enacted. Take away the "guaranteed for life" aspect of the job. I cannot think of anything, anywhere in the private sector, that offers lifetime benefits and guarantees for such a short window of company participation. Even the CEO, who is given vast bonuses to produce desired results for a stockholder base and board of directors, does not have a lifetime guarantee of anything, and can be dismissed in an instant, at the pleasure and discretion of that same board and stockholders.

Now, how to implement this. Well, we could go old school and literally advertise in the paper and on search engines for the desired candidate and qualifications. We can review resumes online, do phone chats, instant messaging, tweet among ourselves, and then the voting for, or against a given candidate could be efficiently done online and tallied almost instantly. It would be time consuming, but probably not moreso than our current campaign and election process, which has pretty much been going on for two years now. By the way, has anyone out there ever had two years for an interview, or to prove what they could or couldn't do? (You can get an Associates degree in an entirely new field in less than two years.)...More like two minutes! Anyway, it would eliminate the need for huge campaign war chests, and our recreational TV viewing and radio listening would not be continually disrupted with ads that tell us nothing substantive. Our mailboxes would not be filled with glossy tracts which kill trees, and as such. are bad for the ozone and climate change. We wouldn't have to have a separate layer of government to insure that the process was fair-judges of elections, etc. Schools, churches, VFW halls would not have to give up space and have their business day disrupted with the process of voting. No arguments about hanging chads as it would all be online, just as our application process is. Any American citizen, regardless of where they are located, can participate in real time, without anyone being unfairly disbarred from the process. Good or bad weather could not be blamed or praised for the outcomes. There would be no need for conventions, caucuses, campaign headquarters-all of which expend money. The electoral college would not be necessary either.
And, I tend to think that the entire issue of term limitations would cease to be a rallying point, because if you are hired, you can be fired for non performance, or at the very least, not rehired when your contract comes up in 4-6 years time. The voting records, bills sponsored, committee memberships, would become the resumes and publicly visible online.
Transcripts of their cover letters, (we can translate that as campaign promised and speeches) would be available to view and evaluate as well. I tend to think that there might be a good deal of turnover in public office, if it were managed this way. Those remaining would have to aggressively get with the program of what the American people want in order to stay. Now, if they manage to deliver the promised goods to their constituency, and make a little for themselves along the way through lobbies and contacts, I think I can live with that. At least they had to be savvy business people to manage to honor their commitment to the citizenry and do something on the side for themselves, not to mention that it speaks to a pretty strong work ethic, above and beyond minimum standards, to fit all that into one term. And we just might get the best person for the actual job. Think of how many we could pre-screen out using online assessments, skills tests, criminal background checks, credit checks, thereby saving our court system and the assorted Attorney Generals in our country a good deal of time and effort, not to mention expense. Wouldn't it be great to employ the FBI to investigate before a crime is actually committed? No special sub-committees required to take up valuable time, which should be spent serving the constituents.

And if they knew, in advance, that they might have to live in our world, and deal with our issues, don't you think that they would be more responsive and genuinely eager to get America working again? Obviously the fact that the unemployed cannot contribute to the tax rolls, which the politicos are so fond of spending, isn't sufficient enough motivation. All the vacant, abandoned, foreclosed property and closed businesses, which also do not contribute positively to the tax rolls, are not sufficient. So, I guess that leaves us with the old adage of having to persuade them by hitting them where they live, in their livelihood, their lifestyle, their savings, their futures and that of their children. How can they possibly address our concerns with real answers if they have no notion what our situation really is? Let us get rid of the guilded lilies when election time comes, and actually try to spend our votes for those who have some concept of what it is to be on our side of the fence. Somebody who is personally accountable, and doesn't try to point the blame for inaction in every direction but their own. I can actually live with the elected official who is always in there pitching for his constituents, and constantly on the losing end of the argument. He is doing the job for which he was sent. He is representing the people who sent him, even if it isn't popular or welcomed in the grand plan of those in higher authority. The guy who does everything in his power to live up to what he promised is going to get my vote-even if I didn't agree with the promise, because he has demonstrated integrity and tenacity, often in the face of strong adversity without compromising just to appear that he has accomplished something positive. Appearances of success can be very deceiving, the beautiful apple exterior hiding a rotten interior. Unfortunately, the more I think about this, the fewer and fewer of our elected officials and "wanna be's" would qualify for their positions on any level, and we might be left without a government, but wait......isn't that kind of the situation we are living in right now? How long has it been since our federal government has actually come up with and implemented an actual budget? How long have the unemployed waited for stimulus to yield real jobs? How long have those who are still working seen increases in both taxes and expenditures without increases in salary? Despite mortgage bailouts, there are still vacant houses everywhere, in every community, in every valuation. Government is going further in debt on every level. Same difference!

Filed under: Side Journeys

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  • Sue, I've been trying to say what you wrote for years. Spot on! Our politicians live in ivory towers that need to be burned down. Awesome job!

  • In reply to Gary:

    Thanks, but I "just calls 'em as I sees 'em". I think we have actually reached a point in Washington, where gridlock has less to do with partisan issues and a failure to cooperate, and much more to do with the notion that politicians are now in a perpetual re-election, campaign mode, either for themselves or in support and aid of like-minded politicians. Can anyone, in recent memory, think of a time frame free of political mud slinging, innuendo, muck raking, scandal mongering? At no point in this process, are the voters ever respected enough to be given substantive, quantifiable information on which to base a decision. Madison avenue has invaded the halls of government, and everything hinges on catchy phrases, which mean essentially nothing. Celebrity endorsements abound, but who died and left actors and musical performers the sandals of Christ or the staff of Moses? Why is it that everyone, who is richer than God by the standards of average working Americans, can tell us what we can give up, what we can do without, how we can economize and bite the bullet? The audacity alone rankles to the core. And you would swear that none of these people ever had to study basic history.....as they don't seem to remember our own revolution which gave rise to the Constitution and government which they supposedly serve. Nobody seems to remember what happened to leaders throughout the world when their arrogant piety and sanctimonious patronizing resulted in disaster. The peasants were not too thrilled with Marie Antionnette's comments about eating cake, and the resulting backlash was known historically as the reign of terror. I don't think that anyone relishes the idea of people behaving in irrational and violent ways, as we would all like to think that we have learned and evolved as human beings to a much more civilized form of interactions, peaceful protests; however, that might be a form of conceit on our part as we do see random acts of senseless violence in all of society, such as the shootings at the newest Batman movie premier. Arrogance and a false sense of superiority do not serve either side very well.

  • Sue, you just wrote what I've been saying for years! Our politicians live in Ivory towers that need to be burned down. Awesome article!

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