Earlier this week, ThinkProgress attended a job fair in Glen Allen, VA, hosted by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA). Before the doors opened, hundreds of job seekers were already patiently waiting in a line that stretched around the high school where the event was taking place. In the first hour alone, more 1,200 people showed up, according to a Cantor spokeswoman.
Many of the people at the job fair were receiving unemployment benefits, having been out of work for a significant amount of time. Cantor has consistently voted to block unemployment benefits for 2.1 million citizens who are looking for work. Similarly, many of his conservative colleagues have said that unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for jobs.
ThinkProgress spoke to job seekers and company representatives at the job fair about whether they agree with these statements. Peggy, a woman from Richmond who was laid off and had been searching for work for more than a year, said she was barely making ends meet with the help of federal unemployment insurance (which Cantor helped eliminate last month). Her message for Cantor and other lawmakers who oppose unemployment benefits:
They can say all the nice things they want, but there’s no action. I wish they could live like we live.
We also talked to half a dozen companies looking for workers at the job fair, including Mary Kay Cosmetics, United Way, and the University of Richmond. They unanimously agreed that unemployment benefits helped job seekers get back on their feet rather than discouraging them from looking for work.
– Seidah, Mary Kay Cosmetics: “I’m sure a portion of them [the job seekers at the event] are receiving some type of unemployment benefits, so people want to work, they’re motivated. You know, that’s what I love about Virginia. Everybody wants a job.”
– Sam, University of Richmond: “Does it help? Absolutely. Many of the people that work with me are very concerned about the fact their benefits are going to run out. And they just have been looking for a year, two years — actively looking — and still can’t find anything. It’s a real difficult situation.”
Watch our interviews here: