Unemployment is at 9.1 percent, unemployment among black and Latino Americans is even higher (at 16.7 percent and 11.3 percent respectively) and job creation has risen to the top of the government's agenda.
So what are many top Republicans saying about the struggles of millions of Americans who can't find work? That it's their own fault, of course — they simply don't want to return to work because it's so easy to live off food stamps and unemployment checks.
Last week South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint joined the attack against the unemployed in an interview with CNN's Candy Crowley:
DeMint: We have to have unemployment. But the longer you make it, the more perverse incentives you create. Candy, I have talked to a lot of businesses in South Carolina who can't get employees to come back to work because they are getting unemployment and they're getting food stamps and they say, "Call me when unemployment runs out."
Crowley: That can't be the bulk of people who are unemployed — you don't think the bulk of people, the 14 million Americans who are out of work, actually just prefer to stay on unemployment benefits?
DeMint: No. There are a lot of people who desperately need it, and we need to make sure that we have that safety net in place, but we also have to realize there are a lot of people gaming the system right now. And we need to do better than we have done with just extending benefits; there have to be incentives for people to get back to work. These have to phase out in a way that we haven't done it before.
We recently asked members of ColorOfChange, our online activism group, to send in personal stories of what it's like to be unemployed. We heard about how hard it is to survive and make ends meet with an unemployment check and food stamps. We heard about how discouraging and hopeless it can feel to file hundreds of applications, searching for jobs for months or years on end. We heard from people who have to choose between essentials like food and medicine, who fear they won't be able to keep their family members alive and safe, and some who know they will be homeless soon, when their benefits run out.
Below is what a few ColorOfChange members had to say about that in messages they sent us online.
Christina, New Jersey:
I've had to drop my health insurance because at over $600 a month, it just was not affordable. I have burned through my savings and am facing foreclosure. If it were not for unemployment compensation, I wouldn't have the money to buy groceries to survive. It irks me beyond belief when I hear some Republican politician say that we are "lazy" or "milking the system"! Trust me, I would give my teeth to have a job to go to every day! Having no security is a very scary and depressing thing! Hope is the only thing I have left!
Elijah, North Carolina:
I just want to work. I am not a deadbeat, lazy or uneducated.
Recently I was chatting in line at the market with a lady, and I happened to mention that I was looking for work. This woman asked if I was on unemployment; I said yes. She then said, "Well, since taxpayers like me are now paying your way, maybe you should look harder. I'm sure if you really wanted a job you could find one." I was floored. I am not a leech on society. I am a productive person who wants a job.
Contrary to belief by Tea Party and Republican greedy Americans, no one wants to continue living with fear of no money coming in.
What was bothering me most of all, and still does, is that my entire country had changed almost overnight. We, who were unemployed, were treated like criminals, like ne'er-do-wells, being called welfare recipients by the Far Right! … What was worse was now the right-wing Congress was calling every day for an end to Social Security and Medicare, [things] my wife and I had poured our hard-earned money into for 40 years! We felt we were suddenly being hunted by the Republicans so they could take away what meager benefits we had, which were keeping us off the streets, like fleecing an already-tattered and burned sheep that is running for its life!
If DeMint really believes the problem is that people don't want to return to work, he's seriously out of touch with reality. But whether or not DeMint actually believes this narrative, it helps him and other Republicans turn our economic problems into an excuse to destroy social programs that help all of us, while continuing to keep taxes for corporations and the rich very low.
It's also a way to direct some Americans' rightful anger about the economy away from the banks and Wall Street and toward poor, out-of-work Americans instead. While it's not explicitly racial, it plays on well-established stereotypes and fears about black people. It's part of a larger race-baiting narrative coming from the right that implies that President Obama and other Democrats are trying to redistribute whites' hard-earned wealth to lazy, poor, undeserving minorities. Unfortunately, Democrats aren't doing enough to challenge this narrative head-on and expose it for the cheap race-baiting it is.
At ColorOfChange, we're going to continue to fight to create jobs and job-training programs and to protect and expand programs that help shield the most vulnerable among us from total catastrophe. Right now we've joined USAction, Change.org and CREDO Action in a campaign to end discrimination against the unemployed. We're circulating an online petition to Monster.com and other job-listing websites, calling on them to stop publishing help-wanted ads that discriminate against the unemployed.
Rashad Robinson is the executive director of ColorOfChange.org, a black political organization.