Back to previous page


Post Most

Oklahoma politicians leave the unemployed out to dry

By Stephen Rhymer,

I live in Oklahoma. It’s one of those self-reliant, pull yourself up by your bootstraps states. No job? Then you’re not looking hard enough or unwilling to take any available job. An acquaintance recently told me: “The jobs are there, you just think working at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart is beneath you.”

He said was tired of his tax dollars supporting people like me who’d rather do nothing and collect a check instead of getting a real job – or two real jobs.

Then he hammered me for receiving Social Security disability benefits and expecting Medicare to pay for a knee replacement. If I would just get a job, the company medical insurance would pay for the surgery, he said.

It’s interesting to note that two of his children have Asperger’s syndrome for which his family receives government help to go toward treatment. Apparently that kind of handout is OK if you’re employed but me (unemployed) using Medicare for health coverage is not.

Anyway, my acquaintance is not alone in this view.

In my experience, most people around here subscribe to the FOX News commentator Brian Kilmeade’s take on unemployment compensation: “If you give people money that they didn’t earn, they’ll buy stuff that they couldn’t otherwise afford.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., blocked extending federal unemployment assistance for states.

Our state lawmakers are no better.

One legislator pushed through a bill to cut the maximum weekly unemployment benefit from $430 to $358. He wants mandatory drug testing for welfare and food stamp recipients under his assumption that the almost 1.3 million Oklahomans using food stamps are junkies who trade food stamps for drugs.

And in July, state administrators reduced from the maximum number of weeks a person can receive unemployment benefits from 73 to 60.

The logic: With Oklahoma’s unemployment rate less that 5.5 percent,  there must be plenty of jobs. So again with the not-willing-to-work theory.

How does this assumption relate to me? Here’s how:

I’ll be 60 at my next birthday. Many potential employers think I’m too old, am likely to retire soon, want too much money and am probably set in my ways.

At my age I am a little bit creaky so I’m not as physically mobile or agile as I was at 30 or 40.  But my mental acuity is just fine thank you so I can go head-to head with the younger employees. If I could find a job, that is.

Employers say I have too much education and experience and I’ve made too much money in the past. They can’t afford to hire me. Besides, as I’m often told by employers, I wouldn't be happy with a lower-wage job where I’d be probably be supervised by someone half my age and if I did get the low paying job, I’d just quit when a higher paying one came along. So why even bother to talk to me about a job?

In Oklahoma, as in most states, these three strikes and you’re out.

Stephen Rhymer, a 59-year-old former public relations official from Edmond, Okla., has been unemployed for two and a half years. Read more about him here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.

Read more updates from Stephen Rhymer here.

© The Washington Post Company