or Unemployment Insurance, a socialist program whereby the government subsidizes an unemployed person. Usually this means "recently employed but now unable to find suitable employment"; "welfare" is more appropriate for payments to people who have living expenses but are not eligible for "unemployment". In the U.S., payroll check deductions are often itemized; many States combine deductions for State Unemployment Insurance and State Disability Insurance, so you may see an abbreviation like "SUI/SDI".

I'd been out of work for a while, after the little disaster trying to get government money to pay me to do basically nothing but play. Can you say CETA? I thought you could.

Being from a Calvinistic family, sitting around doing nothing made me feel even worse than the fact that the rent was due. We all need to work. Did you know that? Even those who are independently wealthy find something to "work" at. It might be golf. It might be tennis. It might, if they are idiots, be the pursuit of more wealth.

My unemployment compensation from the government had run out once and I'd begged for renewals. The renewals were gone. Why was the government paying me to sit on my ass and not work, anyway? That makes no sense to me; back then or now.

In order to continue the last renewal of my handout from the taxpayers of America, I was forced to go to the Unemployment Office (again) and wait in line to let some bureaucrat tell me that I just needed to reach my potential.

The room was full of losers. And there I was.

The little fat man behind the gray steel desk in an open room full of losers (including him, and I'm sure he'd have been the first to tell me that) asked me, "Well, have you ever considered selling stuff?" (I use "stuff" here to thinly disguise what I've been selling ever since. Some folks find the whole subject distasteful, and I'd not like anyone to lose their dinner over this writeup.)

I said, "Yeah, like I'd do that."

He said, "They'll start you out at $250 a week." This was 20 years ago. That would be like being started out at $750 a week today, according to my Alan Greenspan view of this economy. That was a lot of money. Of course, it wasn't actually a salary. And that's what scares the real sheep in the job market from getting into a sales gig. They want a guarantee. Guess what?

Well, I went to the business the little loser told me about. And I met a man named Chester Winston. He was the boss of the place. He had a sales force that looked like something out of that Car Wash movie. There were a couple of veterans who'd held on, but most of the sales force were crooks and thieves. I could see that this was a place where an honest guy with just a little larceny might work out. Work out just fine.

Chester Winston took me in a back room each and every day for two weeks. He told me the ins and outs of selling this stuff. It required a license, so he taught me how to pass the test to get that. He spent 8 hours a day with me for 10 working days.

I learned later, when I had a job just like Chester Winston, that there were very few managers who did that. Most of them would sit you in a room and let you watch videos, or read books. I hope the managers who do that find a special place in hell. A place where Satan's rimjob consists of fire mixed with saltwater.

As you would probably guess, since I'm telling you all this, I did fairly well at selling this stuff. They made me a Sales Manager in 6 months. They made me a District Manager in a couple of years. Then they found out how crazy I was, and now (after 10 years in that Mgmt. crap) I just sell the stuff again. And that's fine. I hated being the boss of folks, anyway: In this day and time, when folks think that being "their own boss" means watching Jerry Springer all afternoon and jacking off on the internet.

But this is about Chester Winston, not me.

About the time I was ascending in the power structure of this organization, Mr. Winston's blood pressure was going through the roof. I don't know if it was the work going badly or just a physiological thing that he was destined to have. But he tried swimming every day and was taking all the medicine that they thought would fix it.

By the way, the next time you want to bash the pharmaceutical companies, think about this: There are drugs right now which several million folks take which would have fixed Mr. Winston You should really think about this the next time the liberals want you to get all up in arms about the price of prescription drugs. OK? Thanks.

So, Mr. Winston took a less pressured job as a traveling auditor. The Company was very generous and let him keep a fancy title and paid him good to do pretty much nothing. But Mr. Winston wasn't like that. Whatever he was given to do, he'd do it right, by God. And that's what made him him.

Most folks die when it's over. Death isn't that big of a deal. As one user put it so nicely, it's just like the contractions of birth in another way. Sensei's cat is dead. We'll all be dead soon, according to the Big Picture of things. Don’t gush about it.

A Living Death is another thing altogether.

On a flight from Atlanta back to Memphis, where he and I both lived at the time, Mr. Winston had a stroke. He was in his late 50's at the time. By the time they had the plane landed, he was fried. His brain had lost so much juice that he could only move his eyes and utter these horrible noises.

I went to see him in the hospital just after it happened, and I know what he was saying to me with those eyes and those Arrghs and Ugghs. He was saying, "Kill me."

I actually considered killing him, as a favor. I didn't sleep for two nights in consideration of just how I could do it.

That was, as I said, 20 years ago. Chester Winston is still alive. His wife has cared for him all this time, and he has become able to cluster together a couple of words. But he cannot walk or eat or do anything else that you and I take for granted.

Twenty years.

Twenty years.

So, two things. Shut the fuck up about your little daily problems.

And then, secondly, shut the fuck up about your little daily problems.

Mr. Winston and I both thank you very much.

Unemployment benefits work like the progressive income tax: they stabilize aggregate demand. When business activity drops, most laid-off workers automatically become eligible for unemployment benefits. Their disposable income therefore remains positive, although less than when they were working.

During boom periods, there is less unemployment and consequently fewer unemployment payments made to the labour force. Less purchasing power is being added to the economy. So government expenditure automatically offsets fluctuations in income.

The thing is, the government doesn't pay you to just sit on your duff while you're receiving unemployment benefits. For all U.S. states I've heard of, you're expected to be actively seeking work you're qualified to do while you're getting the checks. Here in Ohio, that means you have to apply for at least one job a week, and to retain some kind of proof as to where and when you applied.

Some people do essentially sit on their bums, intentionally doing little or nothing to seek work, but these folk run the risk (perhaps small) that they'll be asked at some point to provide proof of their job hunting. One can expect to pay hefty fines if unemployment fraud is discovered.

The one-a-week requirement might not seem like much, but if you are, say, an unemployed archaeologist, you might have to scrape hard just to find one open position to shoot for if the economy's bad. And for those who genuinely do want work but who are falling prey to hopelessness and depression after months of rejections, the one-a-week requirement at least keeps them going through the motions.

Applying for unemployment does feel like you're going on the dole, but many argue that it is fundamentally different from welfare. Here in the U.S., regular unemployment benefits (more on that shortly) are paid for by the taxes your previous employer paid. You don't get benefits if you quit, or if your company can prove that they had a good reason for firing you; you get benefits if they let you go due to lack of work or other reasons beyond your control.

Thus, unemployment compensation is designed as a safety net for employees who did nothing to deserve their joblessness. While this might seem like socialist big-government interference to some people, we don't live in a Randian utopia of companies run by ethical, intelligent capitalists. We live in a world where company presidents run their corporations into the ground for the sake of their own greed, leaving scores of hardworking folks (and some slackers too, of course) unemployed. Any ethical government would seek to keep these people from losing their homes and starving, if for no other reason than to prevent national revolt.

And it's not like you can really live on unemployment; you usually get a check equal to half your regular weekly salary. Most of us can't last through a 50% reduction in income for long, but it's better than nothing.

How The System Works in the U.S.

Regular unemployment benefits last for 26 weeks (6 months) and are administered by the states; thus, the precise regulations will vary. The funds for these benefits come from corporate taxes. So, if you're applying for unemployment, don't fear that you're somehow taking money away from someone more worthy or needy than you are -- you're getting money that's coming out of the pocket of the company that laid you off. The benefits are your right; by all means, take them.

Your eligibility is partially based on how much you made; if your paycheck was too paltry, you might be out in the cold. But if your rate of pay was high enough (above or equal to the amount someone would get working full-time at minimum wage), even if you were working part-time, you could still qualify. Your eligibility is also based on how long you worked; if you didn't work a whole year before you got laid off, you won't get full benefits.

You'll have to make a sworn statement every week that you are applying for work as required. You'll have to report income like part-time work or retirement pay, and these sources of income will lower your unemployment benefits. In the old days, you and everybody else had to personally visit the unemployment office every week and stand in line for an afternoon to make your statement. These days, you can often just fill out a form to mail in, or file over the phone. In some states, you may never have to visit the unemployment office in person unless you report an irregularity that you'll have to explain.

If you exhaust your 26 weeks, the federal government currently offers 13 weeks of extended benefits. These extended benefits must be approved every year, and thus their duration can vary (or go away entirely) depending on how bad Congress thinks the situation is.

There are other special unemployment benefits out there. If, for instance, you lost your job when your company moved to cheaper digs in Mexico, you're eligible for special NAFTA benefits. You're also eligible for other monies if you're disabled.

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