Fighting to get funding for jobless

I have two friends who have been out of work for more than a year.

One was a high-ranking record industry executive. The other was a successful free-lance writer who trotted the globe on plum assignments.

Up until two years ago, their careers were thriving. They owned their homes.

Then the bottom fell out.

The record industry executive got a pink slip from the company where she had worked for 12 years.

Meanwhile, the free-lance writer's phone stopped ringing and the assignments dried up.

When I check in with them by phone, I can hear the panic and frustration in their voices.

They have sent out résumé upon résumé, and tapped their network of family, friends and business contacts.

Yet they still haven't been able to find work. One is barely a step ahead of the foreclosure sheriff. Their self-esteem is in the toilet.

They're among the 6.7 million Americans who have been jobless for 27 weeks or longer.

Not having gainful employment is not, as some right-wingers seem to think, a matter of choice.

No one I know is deliberately trying to stay out of work to collect the government's $450 per week unemployment subsidy when they are used to making comfortable salaries.

Many of the jobless -- certainly the millions eligible for unemployment benefits -- are out of work through no fault of their own.

They had the misfortune of building careers in industries that imploded around them.

Our unemployment crisis is a matter of math, not a lack of morals.

There are simply far too few jobs for too many seekers.

In California, 800,000 of our fellow residents have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer.

We haven't seen these kinds of extended, chronic levels of joblessness since the Great Depression.

Some employers have started hiring again, but this relative trickle won't make a dent anytime soon in California's 12.6 percent unemployment rate.

The Bay Area continues to hemorrhage jobs. The losses during a 12-month period ending this past April past have been brutal: Nearly 19,000 jobs cut in the construction industry, 15,000 in computer tech, engineering and other professional and business services, 8,000 in finance and real estate, 10,000 in local government and public schools.

Unable to find work, many families rely on unemployment benefits to survive.

In California, laid-off workers are normally eligible for up to $450 a week, for up to 26 weeks. In April, recognizing that this chronic unemployment is worse than anything we've experienced in recent memory, Congress extended unemployment benefits to

99 weeks in hard-hit states such as California. That extension was set to expire today.

In order for this critical lifeline to continue, the full Congress must approve an extension.

On May 28, the House narrowly approved an extension of unemployment benefits, which will enable 350,0000 long-term unemployed people to continue drawing unemployment -- part of the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010.

The vote was 215-204.

Deficit hawks in the Democratic Party and their heartless Republican cohorts argued against helping jobless Americans. They insist that we can't afford to extend unemployment benefits because that would increase the deficit. Who's going to pay for this unfunded welfare mandate?

Congress had no problem, however, approving an additional $60 billion for the wars. Funny, I don't remember anyone asking where those billions were going to come from.

The same day, Congress also cut $24 billion in aid to the states that would have helped cover Medicaid expenses -- and let health insurance subsidies for laid-off workers expire.

Senators dithered and didn't even vote on the unemployment benefit extension before heading off on a weeklong Memorial Day vacation.

If the chamber doesn't pass an extension now that it's back in session, hundreds of thousands of Americans' jobless benefits will run out by the end of the month. (An extension would apply only to those who haven't already drawn the maximum 99 weeks.) Our elected leaders have no qualms about going deep into debt to fight wars.

Yet they cry broke when it comes to helping hard-working Americans get back on their feet.

Drummond is a columnist for Bay Area News Group.