December 8, 2011
By Mary Wagner While the issue of unemployment surges in the national debate, one local politician recently addressed how it affects local towns during a question-and-answer period.
State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, attended a Town Hall session run by the Littleton Job Seekers on Nov. 29 to discuss unemployment in the state.
Eldridge listened as residents brought up their frustrations with job searching and the effect unemployment has had on their families during the two-and-a-half-hour session at the Reuben Hoar Library. Hot topics included the state’s handling of unemployment, health care, inadequacies of the interview process and more.
Lee Davy, the former owner of a child development center that closed in 2006, expressed his aggravation with the state’s standards for receiving benefits. Since he was self-employed when his business closed, he did not qualify for unemployment benefits. He and his wife have paid bills by tapping into savings and retirement accounts and working six jobs, but they are growing increasingly concerned with their health care costs, which according to Davy now exceed their monthly mortgage payment.
“If we worked the equivalent of one less job, we would probably qualify [for MassHealth] all the way up to dental and everything because we probably earn about $10 an hour over the limit,” Davy said. “Where do you go when you earn too much to be on MassHealth but don’t earn enough to live on? It’s like they’re saying we’re not unemployed enough.”
Jill Beech, who works in information technology, regularly attends networking meetings to gain support from others in similar situations. She noted that a lot of attendees are “in the same boat … everybody wants to help everybody else.”
Beech reminded Eldridge that unemployment can come on suddenly and unexpectedly for anyone.
“It’s unbelievable how fast you can slip over that edge,” Beech said. “It makes you understand how these highly-educated homeless people end up where they are.”
Beech asked Eldridge what he thought unemployment “looked” like, and if his expectations differed from the people who participated in the session. Eldridge said he was not surprised to see highly educated professionals in the crowd.
“The communities I represent are mostly middle class, and there are a lot of middle class who are out of work,” Eldridge said. “Sometimes I think that people think that those who are unemployed are those that have dropped out of high school or something and it’s their fault. But, I think it’s mostly, especially in this area, middle class professionals.”
Eldridge also described the political roadblocks that exist when trying to address the state’s unemployment issue. Eldridge, who said he prefers public sector solutions to unemployment issues over investing taxpayer money to attract businesses, believes many unemployment benefits need to be revisited so that these programs can provide the best assistance for job seekers.
“I think what’s frustrating to me is there is not a sense of urgency at the State House to take action,” Eldridge said. “I think too often there’s a sense that there are already generous benefits or we already have workforce training programs so therefore we’ve done that. But the point is that many of those laws and programs are from the New Deal or the benefits haven’t been updated properly in decades. Trying to communicate that to everyone from the governor to the leadership in the House and Senate so we would actually pass this legislation is what I focus my energies on.”
The Littleton Job Seekers meet every Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Couper Room at the Reuben Hoar Library. Beginning Jan. 4, the group will run a six-week Job Search Boot Camp every Wednesday evening from 5:30 to 8 p.m. For information, contact Job Seekers Facilitator Cindy Filipe at 978-540-2602 or log on to littletonlibrary.org.