Young and Old Protest in D.C. for Jobs, Unemployment Benefits

New America Media | 12/13/2011, 1:16 p.m.
WASHINGTON, D.C.--Julia Lee hobbled on a cane in a crowd of marchers toward the Longworth...

Ashley Howard knows about economic pain. The Washington resident has been unemployed for a year, after being laid off from an administrative job at the Environmental Protection Agency. Her unemployment benefits are set to expire next month. She has worked sparingly since then and participated in training programs, but she says it's not enough. The 23-year-old mother of two lived in a shelter until recently moving in with a family member.

"When I get paid from unemployment, it's like the money is gone as soon as it gets there," Howard said.

Howard applied for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but was denied because she was told she makes too much on unemployment. She's worried she may have nothing to give her kids for Christmas. She wished those in Congress could imagine what it's like to be in her shoes.

"Please stop being a coward," said Howard, speaking to Congress. "You have the right and the position to do what you need to do to save other people."

Job Creation, Not Deficit Reduction

Barry Specter, a former teacher, said Congress should focus on job creation, not deficit reduction. At the state and federal levels, quests to balance budgets have dragged down employment. The public sector lost 20,000 jobs in October, while the private sector saw job growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Specter knows from experience the toll budget cuts can take. The 60-year-old from Pittsburgh was furloughed in July with 4,000 other teachers in Pennsylvania, in order to close a $4 billion shortfall.

"Being unemployed is a real blow, especially at my age. There aren't a whole lot of places even willing to consider me," Specter said.

Specter spent the bulk of his career in the private sector before moving into education 14 years ago. He fears another year without income will have a detrimental impact on calculating his pension.

While Specter expressed sympathy for his colleagues in education, he's concerned about the impact of cuts on students. Nearly $1 billion in state education cuts caused Specter's Steel Valley school district to lay off one-third of its workforce.

"It's even worse for the students because they'll never get that year back," Specter said.

Back at the Longworth Office Building, the protestor from Philadelphia had to lean on a stone banister as her fellow demonstrators sat down in protest. Lee still chanted along in solidarity.

"I'm fighting for my grandchildren's future," she said.

This article is from the project, "What Went Wrong: The Betrayal of the American Dream," a collaboration between Pulitzer Prize winners Donald Barlett and James Steele and the staff of the Investigative Reporting Workshop at the American University School of Communication.