One Bad Day Away from Losing Your Job?

“Subject: Hey, do you have a minute? Either come to my office or we can meet in a conference room.”

See an email like this, Mergers and Inquisitions website warns, and you may lose your job in the next five minutes.

For the 475 employees of the merged Wisconsin based M & I Bank this scenario is real. Parent company BMO Financial Group of Toronto announced half of the hundred or so people who lost their jobs in Milwaukee may be offered another by the new company.

The rest are scrambling to make due.

At the same time the bank announced lay-offs, a new study showed BMO (formerly Bank of Montreal) will benefit from a tax break passed in the state budget last month.

“Millions of dollars that could have been tax revenue in Wisconsin instead will go to shareholders in one of Canada’s biggest banks,” reported the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future. The study also examined Green Bay-based Associated Bank that paid no taxes from 2001 through 2009. Despite being “the most profitable and biggest bank in Wisconsin... Associated makes most of its profits in Wisconsin.”

As the M&I Bank employees know, we are all one bad day away from losing our job.

Not often said, but behind much political rhetoric, is the adage: people are unemployed because of their own doing. This is simply not true. Unemployment can happen to the hardest working for reasons unrelated to anything they’ve done.

And that is why, in 1932, Wisconsin became the first state to enact unemployment compensation. Now, decades later, the Senate Majority Leader scuttled plans to extend unemployment benefits by failing to vote on an Assembly modified Senate bill. In doing so, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports more than 10,000 out-of-work residents won’t receive an estimated $89 million in federal benefits.

Over the last couple years, not a month goes by without several people contacting me requesting assistance with unemployment benefits. Constituents desperately seeking jobs tell me there are dozens of applicants for one job. They hear of a job opening in the morning and it’s filled by the end of the day. People need unemployment assistance to pay the rent and put food on the table.

When unemployment benefits run out, the only options I can offer are a few remaining safety net programs. But the budget cuts many of these programs.

People with no computer will find it harder to complete job applications at the local library due to cuts in library dollars. People traveling to job interviews will pay more to register a car. For those who depend on the bus, services will be harder to get because of cuts to public transportation.

Staying healthy will become more difficult for those without a job or health insurance.  Big changes are expected in BadgerCare and related health programs. Budget cuts scale back community health centers that provide care to the uninsured.

Parents struggling to provide for their children will have a difficult time tracking down child support from dead-beat former spouses because child enforcement dollars are scaled way back. Cuts to Wisconsin Shares means low income families will find it harder to pay for child care.  

Schools hammered by budget cuts will find it harder to fund school breakfast and school milk. Low income families with small children will pay more taxes because of changes to the Earned Income Tax Credit while food assistance is completely eliminated for lawfully present immigrants.

Education is a key to finding a new job. But big cuts to job training at technical colleges means longer waiting lists and fewer slots for retraining. It will cost more to send teenagers to college with increased tuition and frozen financial aid.

As taxpayers, we all want to be sure there is no waste and abuse in public services. But we should not destroy the public safety net in our rush to ferret out waste. As a civilized society we have an obligation to take care of the least among us.

Not extending unemployment benefits is part of a pattern of action that hurts those who have the least -

or had one really bad day.