It has been five years since Gloriane Hymon-Wiley held a full-time job. A resident of Detroit, she had worked for years as a banker, as the executive director of a food pantry and as a counselor for people who were trying to avoid having their homes foreclosed.
But a series of downsizing cuts and layoffs has completed altered her life and plunged her into a life of unemployment and difficulty. Her unemployment compensation represented a fraction of her onetime earnings, placing into uncertainty everything from mortgage payments to the ability to maintain transportation.
“It’s very difficult and very scary,” said Hymon-Wiley, in an interview with BET.com. After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1983 and a master’s degree from the Walsh College School of Accountancy and Business, she now finds herself in an economic condition she once would have found unimaginable.
She is soon to be in company with a large group of Americans – 1.3 million of them – who will lose their unemployment insurance on Dec. 28 because Congress failed to include an extension of benefits in the recent budget deal. If no action is taken, another 3.6 million Americans will lose their benefits in 2014. It will have severe consequences on a large number of African-American homes, like that of Hymon-Wiley.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives said that the extension of unemployment benefits beyond 26 weeks would discourage people without jobs from looking for work. The Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said that extending benefits would be a priority when Congress returns after holiday vacation.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner said that the Republican leaders would look at the possibility of extending jobless benefits, but added that it would "be better if the president would provide more jobs."
For many Democratic leaders, specifically African-Americans, the decision not to extend unemployment benefits was an unconscionable one. And President Obama has called for Congress to take action on the matter.
“Congress should pass an extension of unemployment insurance so more than a million Americans don’t lose a vital lifeline as they fight to find a job,” Obama said. The president also endorsed a bill that would extend jobless aid for three months.
Hymon-Wiley says that the Republican leaders in Congress simply fail to understand the experience of millions of people who have worked for years and have lost jobs.
“They are denying the reality of what life is really like for people who are unemployed,” she said. “Unemployed people are people who have worked and people who look for jobs regularly. It’s just that, in many parts of the country like Detroit, there is something of an economic depression going on now. It’s not just as easy as it seems. I have to figure out how I will get food, how I will keep a place to live. They don't see things the way I do.”
The loss of unemployment benefits will compel her to take steps to survive that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable, she said. “I’m forced to rely on the generosity of friends and relatives and people from church,” she said.
“I’m in a situation that I could never have imagined,” she said. “I’m now become one of the people that I once counseled. The only that I can say is that I’m surviving only by the grace of God.”
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(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)