The State of the Union: Empowering the Middle Class, Getting the Unemployed Back in the Game

by Secretary Tom Perez on January 29, 2014 · 6 comments

In his State of the Union address last night, the President laid out a strong vision based on opportunity, action and optimism. It has at its core a belief that America is strong when the middle class is strong.

Misty DeMars at the State of the Union as a guest of the First Lady.

Misty DeMars of Oak Park, Ill., had a great seat for it – right between First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden in the House chamber. She got the invitation after writing a letter to President Obama about her struggle finding work after losing the job she loved. The President cited her struggles as the perfect example of why Congress needs to extend the lifeline of unemployment benefits that have been cut off for 1.6 million Americans.

A few hours before the president’s speech, I had the chance to sit down with Misty and her husband, Leighton, in my office and hear about what they’re going through.

Almost nine months ago, they closed on their new home, a bungalow in which they invested their life savings. A week after they moved in, she got the shocking news that after eight years working at a museum, she was being let go due to budget cuts. She was blindsided; they had recently assured her there would be no layoffs. As Misty put it: “It was just like getting hit in the side of the head with a rock.”

She is working hard to find a new position, but nothing has come through yet. She explained that the most frustrating thing – and the reason she wrote the president – was the suggestion by some that being unemployed was her choice or her fault.

With Secretary Perez before the State of the Union Jan. 28, 2014.

In her letter, she said that in a matter of months “we stand to lose everything we’ve worked for years to build.” But Misty and her husband remain optimistic and resilient, mostly for their young children. As she showed me a picture of her two boys, she talked about how the older one in particular loved their new house. Her voice cracked a little when she said: “That is what we’re working for – so that I never have to come to the day to tell him that he doesn’t have his own house.”

Misty grew up poor in a small North Dakota town. She put herself through college. She didn’t ask for handouts. She set goals and worked hard to achieve them. She has marketable skills and a sense of personal responsibility. She provides a stable home for her children. She is exactly whom the president is referring to when he talks about America’s “simple, profound belief in opportunity for all” and the belief that “our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams.”

Misty is humble. Toward the end of our meeting, she expressed a little bit of awe at being in Washington and in the spotlight. “It’s not for anything courageous I’ve done,” she said. I told her that’s the one thing I disagreed with her about. Enduring this kind of hardship takes courage. And speaking out about it is an act of courage that millions of other Americans, especially those going through a similar crisis, will appreciate.

Let’s honor Misty’s courage. If we give her the chance she’s asking for, we’ll all be stronger for it. As the president said, Misty and so many like her “need our help, but more important, this country needs them in the game.”

Follow Secretary Perez on Twitter as @LaborSec, and join the conversation about renewing emergency unemployment insurance benefits using the hashtag #RenewUI.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tim Shea January 29, 2014 at 2:31 pm

My heart goes out to Misty. I faced many hardships and fought hard to find a fulfilling and steady job. I was offerred a new position with more benefits and assured by ownership he would not be selling anytime soon. Well 1.5 later he sold the operation to corporate and there was a redundancy in my position. I have been searching for work for almost 1 year and can not believe I have not found a new position.

2 Lori January 29, 2014 at 3:31 pm

please don’t do to us like you did during the foreclosure crisses leave people homeless than do something. Since Obama and his friends been in office the US of A is in the worst shape since the great depression.

3 sharon January 29, 2014 at 6:54 pm

I don’t think Pres used a very good example for unemployment. The woman he used should’ve been over 50, has kids at home and doesn’t get child support and SINGLE.

4 Toby Tobias January 29, 2014 at 7:20 pm

Thank you for your continued support by representing the millions of unemployed Americans. We are grateful for the exposure and appreciate any future considerations. It is great to know we are not alone.

Regards,

Toby Tobias
#RenewUI

5 Behjat Rupani January 30, 2014 at 6:35 pm

I’m a disable struggling for job for more then 2 years without any support from the government and they say truth the hole truth I you shore

6 D. D. Salet February 1, 2014 at 11:44 pm

It is my understanding that Misty Demars, received a degree so she could be a Art History Critic and worked for the planetarium that received federal funding. The top 7-9 people at the planetarium was supposedly paid a total 1.7 million with the president of the planetarium making over $ 450,000.00 in 2010. She was laid off because of federal budget cuts. Seems to me the budgets cuts are due to mismanagement of taxpayers money by the federal government and an unwillingness of upper management to take reasonable pay cuts. At this time I write this there are 10 pages of job listings in Monster.com in the Chicago area and 9 listing close to her home. It seems to me she is not working because it is easier to walk to the mailbox and get a check than to take something that is “beneath her” art history critic mentality.

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