PI Original Micah Maidenberg Friday November 12th, 2010, 4:00pm

A First Look At The Unemployed Action Center (VIDEO)

The Chicago chapter of Jobs With Justice opened the doors at their new Unemployed Action Center on Thursday, and we stopped by to learn about its goals.

The Chicago chapter of Jobs With Justice debuted a new component to its efforts to organize the jobless yesterday by opening the doors to what the group is calling an Unemployed Action Center. In an airy first-floor room in the building at 333 S. Ashland on Chicago's Near West Side, JWJ staff and volunteers are welcoming people who've been laid off to drop by and get help accessing benefits, writing resumes, searching for jobs, and getting food assistance during business hours each Thursday.

Progress Illinois visited the Unemployed Action Center to talk with its organizers about the ways they see the center functioning. One volunteer we caught up with was Anthony Scorzo, a 27-year-old electrician from Pullman who's been laid off for more than a year. The job loss forced Scorzo to move back in with his parents while he gets back on his feet. Until then, he's in school and helping out at the center. Scorzo told Progress Illinois a bit about his story and the new effort:

The Unemployed Action Center isn't meant to transform JWJ into a social service agency. The group wants to direct jobless workers to benefits if they need assistance, but also hopes to enlist them in the fight for jobs programs that will chip away at the country's searing unemployment rate, according to Jobs for Justice executive director Susan Hurley.

When workers come in, says Hurley, JWJ has them fill out a form that the group will send to their representatives in Washington. The form describes a person's personal experience with joblessness or underemployment, how long he or she has been looking for work, what kind of benefits he or she is receiving, and the place of previous employment. It also demands Congress pass three bills: HR 4812, The Local Jobs for America Act; HR 5204, The 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act; and S. 3706, the Americans Want Work Act. Here's Hurley talking about the mixture of advocacy and activism she hopes is sparked at the center:

As Hurley notes, the upcoming lame duck session in Washington will be critical in getting legislation passed to help the tens of millions of people who are out of work. If you're just catching up on the issue, check out Progress Illinois' recent overview of the the unemployment situation and our update on the Put Illinois Work Program, the joint federal-state program that placed around 27,000 people in jobs this year. Whether they'll have a position after November or whether the long-term unemployed will be able to count on continued assistance until the job market is better largely depends the lame duck session. It starts November 15*.

* An earlier version of this article stated Congress' lame duck session began on Nov. 16.

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