This past Tuesday, Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN), who is also a leading candidate for the GOP nomination for governor, joined a conference call with the right-wing National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB). When the subject of extending unemployment benefits arose, Wamp complained that giving people unemployment insurance was “creating a culture of dependence which we do not need.” He then said that he wants “people out there scraping and clawing and looking for work and not just sitting back waiting”:
Wamp […] said small business, the NFIB and he as governor “must resist… any more mandates to small business to help the unemployed — that we have continued to extend on a federal level, I think, unemployment compensation so long that there’s disincentives for people to actually re-enter the workforce or go out and look for a job.“And this is creating a culture of dependence which we do not need. We want people out there scraping and clawing and looking for work and not just sitting back waiting. And so we’ve got to not allow any more mandates.”
Of course, the promise of a meager unemployment check that provides barely enough support to get by does not have Tennesseans “just sitting back waiting,” and it is offensive for Wamp to paint all the unemployed with such a broad brush. Throughout the recession, people from across the Republican congressman’s state have desperately sought work, going to any lengths to get employed again:
— Lori Hillard, an Ashland City native, was laid off a year ago from her job as an Internet program administrator. She began “stressing out and losing sleep” at the thought of losing her unemployment benefits, which were her only source of income. Yet she sends out “sends out at least 15 to 20 resumes per week,” desperately trying to find work. “I know how hard and diligent I have been in searching for a job,” she told a local paper. “The economic situation is just as bad for us. When 400 people are applying for an administrative assistant’s job, that shows how dire the situation is.”
— Kim Stokes of Hendersonville-based Stokes Production Services Inc. tells the Tennessean that she has so many applicants that she can’t even come close to hiring them all. “I have freelancers calling me constantly because they don’t have anything going on,” Stokes said. “Everywhere I look, people don’t have work — people like some of my friends who are older and have been let go. They’ve never been without work before in their lives.”
— Ellen Zinkiewicz, who is the director youth and community services at the Nashville Career Advancement Center, notes that “nearly three-quarters of teenagers who want a job haven’t been able to find one.”
— When Fontanel Mansion at White Creek Pines needed staff and held a job fair this spring, 1,200 people showed up to apply — six times what the business had capacity for.
This past April, hundreds of Tennesseans lined up outside the Lewisburg Recreational Center in Marshall County, Tennessee for a job fair to try to find work. “I’ve been everywhere looking. I’ve been to every temporary agent, trying to find a job. There’s no jobs,” Connie Rogers told a reporter at the fair. Thankfully, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “stimulus”), which Wamp opposed while hypocritically touting its benefits, helped create many of the jobs at the fair. Watch a report about the Marshall County job fair from Tennessee’s Department of Human Services:
Tennesseans who are on unemployment benefits are not “just sitting around waiting” for the next unemployment check. They are desperately seeking work so that they can make a decent living for themselves and their families. Tennessee currently has a 10.1 percent unemployment rate, and people who have no other means to get by need unemployment insurance to survive. By attacking the job-seeking unemployed of his state, Wamp is insulting those who are doing everything they can to put food on the table, while simultaneously working against them by trying to deny them unemployment benefits.
Greg Sargent identifies other Republicans who agree with Wamp’s perspective, calling them the “Let Them Eat Want Ads” Caucus.