Many Unemployed Americans Are Voting to Stay Home on Election Day Skip to main content

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Many Unemployed Americans Are Voting to Stay Home on Election Day

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With so much talk of jobs on the eve of the 2010 midterm elections, many are wondering whether the millions of unemployed, disenfranchised by the lingering economic malaise, will feel empowered to take to the polls and elect the leaders they believe can bring back a level of prosperity to the nation, their states, their communities, and most importantly, their individual households.

But according to a recent report by Bloomberg, many unemployed are slated to sit out the very election focused on their specific plight. “Nick Barr, an out-of-work electrician, said the election is the least of his concerns. He’s lost his house and his truck, and has told his three kids they can’t play hockey anymore because he can’t afford the cost. ‘Honestly, I’ve been so busy trying to find work I haven’t paid much attention,’ Barr, 31, said outside the local Michigan Works! office, where the unemployed come to seek help preparing resumes, search job listings and use Internet connections. “I’ve always been pretty secure in my line of work, but now there’s just nothing.”

With joblessness at 9.6 percent nationwide last month, the economy has emerged as a top issue in Nov. 2’s midterm elections. Yet many of those like Barr who’ve been hurt most by the slow economy say they have no intention of going to the polls. That’s bad news for Democrats, who may see little reward after spending months pushing jobless-benefit extensions through Congress over Republican objections to their cost.”

The reason more jobless Americans won’t be lining up at the polls isn’t simply because they’re too busy standing in unemployment lines. First and foremost, many will likely stay home is because a lot of them already do. “Turnout among the unemployed has lagged behind those with jobs by at least a dozen percentage points in every midterm election of the past quarter century. Even in 1982, when joblessness nationwide was 10.8 percent -- the only time in the past 60 years an election was held amid worse unemployment than today -- just 34 percent of those out of work reported casting a ballot; 50 percent of those with jobs said they voted.” And it’s not just history and statistics on the side of unemployed voter absenteeism; in off-season elections, the least likely demographics to make it to the polls are young and less-educated Americans, with older and wealthier voters instead punching the pregnant chads. And guess who’s most likely to be unemployed in America today? You guessed it: the young and uneducated.

Another reason people are staying away this year? Many unemployed folks believe politicians aren’t truly connecting with the concerns of their [potential] constituents. Amid any talk of jobs, these voters argue they feel they’re more likely to hear talk of “international trade agreements,” “deficits,” or “tax implications.” And with jobs so scarce, the plentiful talk is appearing to fall on deaf ears. According to Bloomberg, “Neither [candidate’s] pitch resonates with many of the 5,000 people who pass each month through the city’s Michigan Works! office. On a recent day jobseekers browsed a thin list of help-wanted ads that included openings for a lathe operator, a ‘greeter’ at the Oasis Quick Lube, a sales job at Team Hillsdale Chrysler and a $10 per hour position at Doctor Flue, a chimney-cleaning service that requires applicants to ‘be able to climb chimneys.’”

Finally, unemployed or underemployed workers are likely to stay home on Election Day for one simple reason: cynicism. While voting is considered one of those most important facets of American democracy, these beleaguered individuals, frustrated by months, if not years without work or hope for work, simply don’t believe they can “hope” their vote will “change” anything.

If you live and work, or are looking for work, in North Carolina, and still believe in the power of voting, click here for more information on voting locations, races and ballots.

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