Time to bring back the American dream

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By U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow
I’ve received thousands of letters from people across Michigan who have lost their jobs – through no fault of their own – in this recession. I have been reading some of those letters on the floor of the U.S. Senate to my colleagues who just don’t seem to understand how devastating a job loss can be.

The stories I’ve read are ones I’ve heard so many times before. Like the person who got their first job in high school, around age 16, who worked to get some spending money and was maybe saving up to buy their first car. They got a job after graduation, worked hard and saved up some cash. Soon after, they got married, bought a house, and started a family. They did everything that was asked of them on the job. When they got home, their muscles ached, their feet were sore, their back hurt. But they supported their family, put dinner on the table, and made sure the kids had new shoes and decent clothes for school. They taught their children the same lessons they learned from their parents: the value of a hard-day’s work and the pride you get from being a responsible citizen. They had every reason to be proud.

Now they’re in their 50s or 60s, looking forward to retirement after 25-30 years with the same company. And then the economy collapsed. Wall Street went under and took down the whole country along with it. Over 8 million Americans lost their jobs, many for the first time ever. Their savings quickly vanished just to keep a roof over their head and food on the table for their family. They are now forced to rely on unemployment insurance checks – on average $301 a week, and that’s before taxes. You can imagine how difficult it would be for the typical family to survive on that amount.

Now, in the worst economy since the Great Depression, Republicans in Washington want to cut off unemployment benefits. They say that people are “lazy” and just don’t want to work. But the real-life experiences of people in our state tell a very different story.

This week, we finally passed a long-overdue extension of those unemployment benefits. Sadly, Senate Republicans held the bill up for almost three months – and in that time, benefits were cut for 2.5 million Americans. That’s why I worked hard to make sure the bill was retroactive – people in Michigan who have lost their jobs shouldn’t be punished because politicians in Washington don’t understand what’s happening in the real world.

I wish that the bill we passed helped those who have been looking for work the longest – the so-called “99ers.” I’m working on a bill to help them because, when there are five people out of work for every one job opening, it’s the right thing to do.

I also wish that more of my colleagues had supported this critical bill – on the final vote, 40 Senators voted against it. I wish they could come to Michigan so I could introduce them to some of the families I know. I wish they could see how many people are pounding the pavement every day, applying for every job that’s open, and stretching to make ends meet for their families.

I think if they looked into the eyes of those wonderful men and women, they would see the kind of grit and determination that made our country great. They would see people who want to work – who want their dignity back. And I would hope that after seeing that, they would join us in our efforts to create jobs and rebuild our economy.

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