Elnora’s Story: A Voice for the Unemployed


July 11, 2014

Elnora listens on while her story is read at the July 9 Witness Wednesday.

Elnora listens on while her story is read at the July 9 Witness Wednesday

“There are a lot of people truly hurting. Many feel they have no voice, or they are ashamed to share their story, and they’re going downhill. This isn’t just affecting individuals, but families, too. It’s taking away your dignity as a grown-up and individual. You go from providing for yourself and your family and then, through no fault of your own, you can’t anymore. You send in application after application after application and sometimes you hear back but sometimes you don’t. I know my ability and know what I can do. I can be a very valuable contributor.” – Elnora, Washington, DC

As CHN’s Deborah Weinstein mentioned in our Head Smacker post this week, Witness Wednesday events are being held weekly on Capitol Hill to highlight the plight of the long-term unemployed whose emergency unemployment compensation was cut off, and to move Congress to renew this benefit. This week, I had the honor and privilege of talking with one of the people who had submitted her story about the experience she’s been living for the past year. Elnora is one of the more than 3.3 million Americans who have lost unemployment benefits because of the inaction of Congress – and specifically House Republican leadership – who refuse to allow a vote to extend benefits.

But Elnora is much more than just a statistic. She’s a delightful person who, despite the struggles of the past year, has a hopeful attitude for the future. She’s a mother, a grandmother, a person who wants to work – and did for 47 years before she was laid off along with several coworkers as part of a workforce reduction in July 2013. After using up her savings, she is now also a person who has to rely on her son for help with her rent, bills, public transportation costs, and food. “Without my son’s assistance, I would not be able to make it. I’d have to find a slum landlord, or try to get on public housing,” Elnora said.

When I asked Elnora what an extension of unemployment benefits would mean for her, her answer was simple and straightforward, “It would mean I could take care of myself while I continue to look for a job. I could pay rent, pay bills, get groceries.” I mentioned the wrong-headed argument that some have made that extending unemployment benefits offers an incentive for people to not work, but Elnora didn’t see how anyone who has actually had to live on unemployment could think that. “I don’t want to be on unemployment. I want to work. You can’t live on unemployment insurance. How on Earth is the small amount of money you get from unemployment insurance incentive to sit back and not work? That’s crazy.”

We also talked about other people Elnora has met that are out of work. “Some people are really, really struggling,” she said. She knows people who have “lost homes, apartments, and been out of work a lot longer than I have. We can’t sustain this.”

“When you take away someone’s dignity, pride, humanity, you take it all. Nobody has the right to do that. It should be more about doing what we can to help keep them as much as possible,” Elnora told me. Congressional leaders, she says, should “stand out from the crowd and be the leaders they were chosen to be. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

You can watch Elnora’s story being read here.

Labor and Employment
minimum wage
unemployment insurance
Witness Wednesday