'Unemployed Nation' Packs Tearful Stories

By Katherine McKeon

Sandwiched between sweater-vested academics, local people affected by the sputtering economy emotionally relayed their personal struggles with finding work during today's Unemployed Nation Hearings.

At first glance, both types of experts are indistinguishable from each other. But the people who don't call the ivory tower home sang the clearer tunes.

One testimony came from a middle-aged family man, a former engineer at Boeing. Having been unemployed for three years, he said technology firms look for young people, not for people who have two degrees and two kids.

"No matter how many resumes I send out, I don't even get a response," he said. "If I don't have any value to anyone else, what kind of value do I have for myself? It's a very demeaning experience, and it's apparent to my family and friends."

Another witness, a woman who was laid off from her work at a vocational job-placement office, told those in attendance she once found herself in line with over 300 people, all applying for one position.

"Having two years of experience will disqualify you, because employers will think you will ask for more money," she said. "I am now employed, but I'm so tired of hearing that anyone who is working should just be grateful they have a job."

The event was not without its wrinkles. The long-winded introductory speech by University of Washington President Michael Young was interrupted by a protestor, who asked Young if he makes an $800,000 salary.

Some speakers wielded several abstract Occupy remarks. Several academic-types nodded their heads to the calls for social change, but this idealism was only remotely of consequence to most of the people who testified.

As a whole, the event both mimicked and drew attention to the disconnect between the employed and the unemployed. The suited speakers called for a change in the academic and media framework, in how people understand unemployment. But the quivering voices and tearful stories were obviously more powerful than the numbers-laden speeches of those whose job it is to study economic hardship.

The Unemployed Nation Hearings will continue tomorrow at 2 p.m. at Seattle City Hall, with more testimonials, lecture and discussions.

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