More About the Jobless Woman and the Pizzeria Guys in Obama’s Speech

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We were intrigued by some of the regular Americans featured in President Obama's State of the Union speech. Here's what we've learned about them.

While the personal story of Army Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg was the most powerful in President Obama’s State of the Union address, the stories of other Americans invited to attend the speech were also remarkable. We wanted to know more about these folks.

One of them was Misty DeMars, an Oak Park, Ill., mother of two young boys whose unemployment benefits ran out last month, near Christmas. Here’s how the president introduced her, while making his case that Congress should reinstate extended federal unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed:

She’d been steadily employed since she was a teenager. She put herself through college. She’d never collected unemployment benefits. In May, she and her husband used their life savings to buy their first home. A week later, budget cuts claimed the job she loved.

Last month, when their unemployment insurance was cut off, she sat down and wrote me a letter – the kind I get every day. “We are the face of the unemployment crisis,” she wrote. “I am not dependent on the government. … Our country depends on people like us who build careers, contribute to society … care about our neighbors. … I am confident that in time I will find a job. … I will pay my taxes, and we will raise our children in their own home in the community we love. Please give us this chance.”

What a powerful message. So, what else did we learn about her? The Chicago Tribute, citing LinkedIn, said DeMars worked at the Adler Planetarium from 2006 to 2013 and described her job as an executive assistant to a vice president there. She’s originally from Westhope, N.D.

The Tribune adds:

In May, DeMars and her husband, Leighton Taylor, purchased a $262,000 home in Oak Park’s Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District, taking out a mortgage of $248,900, public records show. He works in information technology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, according to UIC’s website.

The issue here is whether America’s jobless should continue to receive federal unemployment benefits after their state benefits have run out. The extended benefits became common during the recession, but many in Congress no longer see the need for them.

Democrats want to provide at least another three months of benefits. About 1.3 million long-term unemployed lost their benefits last month. “Each week since then another 70,000 jobless workers have reached the end of state benefits, which typically last six months, without becoming eligible for the federal benefits that millions have received since 2008,” says The Huffington Post.

Pizzeria raises its minimum wage

Another compelling story was that of John Soranno, co-owner of Punch Pizza, which has eight restaurants in the Minneapolis area. Last month Punch raised the minimum pay at its stores to $10 an hour. The chain employs 300 people, says the Star Tribune.

Soranno and employee Nick Chute, who sat in the first lady’s box, were mentioned in the president’s speech. President Obama supports an increase in the federal minimum wage and announced in the SOTU that he will require federal contractors to adopt a minimum wage of $10.10.

“Our decision had nothing to do with politics,” Punch co-owner John Puckett told the Star Tribune. “That’s what makes the recognition by the president and first lady such an honor. Punch made the decision to give raises purely basd on what is best for our business and our employees.”

Chute, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, has worked at Punch for 18 months.

Says the Pioneer Press, “Soranno and Puckett raised Punch’s starting wage after studying companies like California’s In-N-Out Burger and Costco, both of which make it a point to pay their employees what’s considered a living wage.”

What great bosses these two Minnesotans seem to be. Don’t you wish more employers were like them? Sound off in the comments below or on our Facebook page. Also, what did you think of the president’s Tuesday night speech?

Stacy Johnson

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