The unemployed, a new voting bloc?

An unemployed construction worker demonstrates in Los Angeles, Calif. over the legislature's failure to pass a budget.

TEXT OF STORY

Bob Moon: First-time claims for state unemployment insurance inched up again last week. Nationwide, 15 million people are looking for work. A few million more are so discouraged they've given up. Now, that would seem to be a pretty sizeable voting bloc. And a group called Working America -- an affiliate of the AFL-CIO -- is trying to get unemployed people to vote with their pocketbooks, or their empty pocketbooks, as it were. Question is, can they get them to vote at all?

Here's Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman.


Mitchell Hartman: Veteran union leader Karen Nussbaum runs Working America, which has three million members nationwide. Many of them no longer have jobs, or are in danger of losing their homes.

Karen Nussbaum: We've got 50,000 members in Ohio, who we know are registered to vote, who we know are out of work, and who we're going to be talking to many times between now and the election. The elections in Ohio are going to be close.

Ditto Nevada, Michigan, Oregon and other places with high unemployment. Working America will be going door-to-door in those states for liberal Democrats who've backed extended unemployment benefits and stimulus jobs.

But getting people who don't have jobs to get out to the polls could be difficult. The Pew Research Center has found four in 10 Americans have experienced unemployment directly or in their families. And survey director Scott Keeter says they're significantly less likely to vote than those who've dodged unemployment.

Scott Keeter: Even though the unemployed were much more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, the fact that they're not as engaged in the political process really blunts the potential impact that they might have this fall.

Mary Beth Zahedi: Yeah, I do think it's going to be hard to motivate people.

Mary Beth Zahedi knows this first hand. Her husband lost his civil engineering job more than a year ago. She's hosting one of Working America's political house parties tomorrow in Las Vegas.

Zahedi: I think that they've heard all the chatter, and they've heard promises, and they've heard it all before.

And they'll hear it at least a few more times before November from labor organizers trying to get out the vote.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...