Among the defining images of the Great Depression of the early 1930s are photos of extended queues of people waiting in bread lines to get a minimum of sustenance at a time when unemployment had skyrocketed, money was scarce, and the legislation establishing unemployment insurance had yet to be passed.
Today, almost 85 years after the first national unemployment insurance was signed into law by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, new images are emerging from Frankfort, Kentucky that may be seen in future decades as emblematic of our current pandemic-induced economic crisis that was exacerbated by the clueless incompetence of the Trump administration.
This time it isn’t bread lines that people are standing in. These Kentucky citizens are all waiting in inconceivably long lines to try to speak to an actual human being about their unemployment insurance claims.
The other difference between the 1930s and today is that modern technology allows people to create timelapse videos on their mobile phones to demonstrate the true extent of the number of people lining up and the desperation that they must feel if they are willing to brave such a crowded queue in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
The Lexington Herald-Leader detailed the anguished journeys frustrated unemployment insurance applicants in Kentucky were forced to make to try to have their problems solved by a real human being rather than waiting endlessly on hold after attempting to reach anyone with sufficient authority in the state’s bureaucracy who might be able to assist them with their issues.
“Adriene Whittaker, 25, was one of the lucky ones, if you want to call it that,” the newspaper’s article begins.
“She left her home in Bowling Green around 6 a.m. Wednesday and made it into a line that wrapped around the exterior of the Capitol Annex in Frankfort moments before Kentucky State Police troopers cut it off around 9 a.m.”
“She was one of the hundreds of people who came from all over the commonwealth for the chance to speak to a human in hopes of reviving their stalled claims for unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic. The first person arrived around 5:20 a.m.”
“Some brought books, others brought lawn chairs. The line hugged the little shade that could be found in the parking lot. People swapped their unemployment horror stories.”
“Whittaker filed for unemployment on May 1 and her claim has been under investigation since then. Like most people in the line, she’s never been able to reach one of the ‘Tier 3′ employees, those few, coveted people who are supposedly able to resolve unemployment claims in minutes.”
“’They told me it would be worth the drive,’ Whittaker said.”
“Call backs don’t mean anything to me right now, they don’t,” See said. “I don’t believe I’ll get a call back. Pissed is an understatement,” said one angry woman after adding her name to a five-page list.
While it would be naive to believe that any bureaucratic agency would be able to handle the flood of sudden applications without advance preparations, Kentucky’s problems with unemployment insurance, like that of many states with primarily Republican-led governments, are representative of GOP concerns about giving taxpayers back their own money when they have paid taxes into the unemployment insurance system.
Although Kentucky finally saw the light and ousted their arch-conservative Republican Governor Matt Bevin in favor of Democrat Andy Beshear last year, both its legislative bodies are still controlled by Republicans. Kentucky’s seats in the U.S. Senate are also, for the time being, occupied by two of the most reactionary and obstructive members of the GOP, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Rand Paul.
The Republican obsession with shrinking government and cutting taxes for the wealthy has led to a complete breakdown of social services at a time when they are most needed.
Those people on the line outside of the Kentucky Unemployment Department should use their time waiting wisely and contemplate how they can vote out the people who created the circumstances that they now find themselves in with a dysfunctional social services infrastructure.
Also, people please wear a mask, even outdoors, in such crowded lines. There’s a pandemic going on and that’s why you’re in that line to begin with. Don’t make it worse by prolonging the COVID-19 virus crisis any longer than we already have to endure it.
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Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.