The Washington Post Sunday
Hey, Santa, these workers need help
To: Claus, Santa
Subject: Impossible wish list
Esteemed Mr. Claus,
This is not another plea to put me back on the “nice” list. I realize those three ships have sailed.
Instead, I’m asking for your help answering these workers who need more than my traditional salted-sugar-plum quips:
I broke my leg at home and needed surgery. Two weeks into recovery, I was laid off. I had been with my employer for 10 months, but the Family and Medical Leave Act only offers job protection for employees who have been working a year. It was another few months before I was able to drive or do inperson interviews without a leg cast.
My daughter was laid off from her warehouse job. She received a small severance package and several months of medical coverage, which will be expiring soon. She has had several interviews in the industry, but no success, possibly because she’s a woman and nearing 50. She applied for unemployment, but they stopped sending her money when she enrolled in a school course to improve her skills. She has mild multiple sclerosis and needs expensive medication to control it, although she can still do physical work. I’m concerned about how she will be able to afford her medication. I am on a fixed income and unable to help.
I’m a seasonal employee. I work nine to 10 months a year for the state, get laid off in December, and find temporary work or collect unemployment until spring. This year, I need hernia surgery that will take place while I’m laid off. Unfortunately, I will not be able to collect unemployment while recovering because, in my state, you have to be physically able to work to be eligible. Also, only permanent full-time employees qualify for short-term disability in my state. This leaves me in a stressful financial situation.
For these workers and many others, health care and employability are so entangled that one frequently comes at the expense of the other, and our public safety nets have sizable gaps in them.
Now, some — not you, of course, Mr. Claus — might argue that these individuals should plan smarter, save more, find a better employer. (Are there no prisons, no workhouses? Is unemployment not historically low?) But when 62 percent of existing U.S. jobs barely pay enough to make ends meet — if that — it’s no wonder many can’t save enough to cover even a $400 emergency, let alone two or three months without pay.
And even among the youthful, healthy and highly trained, how many are still just an accident, an illness or a layoff away from similar straits?
I realize it’s your peak busy season, but I was hoping you could pass along some giftgiving ideas to the delegation of diverse travelers arriving in Washington from afar in January. Perhaps they have among them the wisdom to find some answers.
I’ll return in early January after a short winter’s nap. In the meantime, please keep sending your workplace conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org. Peace, health and good spirits to all.
How many are still just an accident, an illness or a layoff away from similar straits?