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

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

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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  • Paul

    So the DeMars’ spent their “life savings” of $13,100 on a down payment of a $262000 home. This will sound harsh but this makes me wonder really how hard they’ve been working to save before that and to find a job since.
    With regard to Punch Pizza, its great that they have the freedom to pay their employees what they think its best for their business, their employees, and their communities. Its a shame the Feds want to dictate how much business should pay.

    • ElectricGuy

      I bought with zero down, using VA. What matters is the prediction of ability to pay. With her several years at the museum, practically any bank would be satisfied. We don’t know enough about their situation to judge them harshly.

      • Paul

        Just because a bank will make the loan doesn’t mean they should and doesn’t mean DeMars’s should over-extend themselves that much. Obviously they didn’t have much of a down payment; their employment wasn’t really secure and they didn’t have enough (or any) emergency fund. I think there’s a lesson here for them and for others. . . . . don’t over extend yourself, manage your finances more conservatively and be prepared for things to go wrong so that you are not dependent on the government when it does go wrong.

        • ElectricGuy

          You don’t know enough about their finances to say they were over extended at the time of purchase, which is my entire point. Their rent would be similar to their payment. They were stable in their jobs. They were then managing with unemployment, which is a system they paid into via their employers, until benefits ran out. Their house is likely salable for no loss, since prices are at least stable.

          It’s a sad story, but not much of a cautionary tale.

          • Paul

            Then why are they pleading to the president for the federal government to extend their state’s unemployment benefits? You’re wrong ElectricGuy. We do know enough(not all but enough). And, yes, it is a cautionary tail.

          • ElectricGuy

            They want the same treatment others had, simply put.

            If this is to be a cautionary tale, we won’t have a housing market for individuals.

          • Paul

            those benefits were never intended to be for every location(only hardest hit) or permanent. Maybe I’d like a handout too.
            Fact is, if they would have been a bit more conservative (more savings, lower mortgage, etc) they wouldn’t need an additional handout. Folks should take more responsibility and expect less from federal social programs.
            Your wrong about the housing market. It might be a bit more modest but it would be there and we’d all be better off.
            Too many people feel too entitled to too much.

          • ElectricGuy

            Loss of an income is not something that you can cure by being ‘a bit more conservative’, nor can you point to an excessive mortgage, for the same reason and because a rent would be similar. If we all had to prepare for an extended job loss on our own, nobody would have money for a downpayment. Homes would be rented from investors with cash, just as is happening in the market today.

            Finally, unemployment is not a handout. It’s paid for by their labor. If we are to be hardy individualists, we’ll need back all the money taken from us for the provision of social benefits. Had they been able to save an additional 15.3% of income and make it available for emergencies, home ownership, education, etc., this would be a different tale. The more modest the circumstances, the more these programs are a strait jacket, but with less freedom of action. In short, blame the system, not the people forced to depend upon it.

          • Paul

            First, yes, they probably paid into unemployment insurance. But at the state level and they received those benefits. Now they want the feds to give more.

            Second, yes, you can prepare for a job loss by being more conservative, living well below one’s means and eliminating debt. Its possible. Many do it everyday. Sadly though, many don’t.
            Lastly, lets not play the victim. Lets not blame our woes on the system. When people begin to feel helpless, they are. Instead, lets rejoice at the opportunity to get another job or two or three; lift ourselves from a particular difficult situation, pay cash or at least a very large down payment on a home and relive that American dream. Its possible and people do it every day. But first, we need to stop blaming others and stop expecting others to bail us out.

          • ElectricGuy

            Of course, we could all be extremely conservative. And the transition to that status will tank the housing market. They were stable in two income for years before they bought a house. The house is not apparently above their means. Then they lost sn income and months later, found their ‘safety net’ had a large hole in it based on a political decision they could not anticipate.

            I can and will blame a system that causes people to be dependent upon it and which is subject to such politicial sea changes. Absent the shared cost of the social net, they would reasonably be expected to be more conservative. But that’s not the case, so spitballing about what they should have done when their income is largely conected to the social system is pointless.

          • Paul

            You’ve allowed yourself to become a slave to the system. You don’t see another way. How hopeless and unfortunate for you and others like you.
            I wish you the best of luck, piece of mind and the wisdom to some day see beyond these current constraints.

          • ElectricGuy

            When next we meet, perhaps you could end the patronizing. For now, recognize that we are not talking about me and remove the blinders you wear with respect to the circumstances of others.

  • nitemare2

    Every body uses Costco as an example why and how? Costco charges a membership fee of $110 a year so that would cover the difference in wages. Does Walmart? Does Punch Pizza? Did he raise the cost of the pizza to cover the wages. If they start to slow done will he cut hrs or lay someone off? It all sounds good as long as you are not cutting into your profit. Should all stores charge a membership fee to give employees what they want? Where does the liberals want to take the taxpayer. How far should we go to cover less then 1% of the working people? Glad to see my tax money helped this high income woman to do what, cry to the President because they purchased a house that they really could not afford and now may lose it? A 260k home with less than 10% down what the hell bank gave them that loan. More stupidity of the liberal thinking not surprised to see she worked for a Govt institution and her husband is a professor. Liberals wanting someone else to pay for them.

    • ElectricGuy

      Check your ‘facts’, they’re nearly all wrong. That leads to an erroneous conclusion.

  • Michael Smiley Gawthrop

    The problem with the examples of Costco, Punch Pizza, and all the other high paying retail and restaurant places is that they can afford to offer that high of pay precisely because minimum wage is so low. Yes, they have really good employees, they are getting every penny’s worth out of their employees, and yes, it is because they pay more… but it is the relative pay that is causing that, not just the higher pay. At $10 an hour a fast food restaurant can demand the best out of their employees and know they are going to get it because when they advertise an open position they will get the best of the people in that field applying (okay, and also a lot of the mediocre and low quality workers, but it is high enough to guarantee that the best will be in that applicant pool) because it is so much better than the $7.25 McDonalds is offering, at $10 an hour they can demand that employees will give it their all because they know the employees know that their alternative is to get fired and go back to working for $7.25 an hour, and at $10 an hour they won’t see as much turnover from lateral moves. Let’s say though that now everyone pays $10 an hour, including McDonalds, you advertise $10 an hour and you will only get the average employees applying, you will now have to raise your wages to $12 to $15 an hour (just pulling numbers our of thin air, I don’t know exactly how much they’d have to raise it to get the same effect) to get the best people to be guaranteed to apply, you can no longer use the motivation of maintaining the higher pay to demand the best out of your employees who will lose nothing by having to go back to McDonalds who will only ask for the bare minimum, and you will have massive turnover costs from people making lateral moves. It isn’t high pay that motivates employees, it is relative pay that motivates employees.
    That doesn’t mean that I don’t support some increase to the minimum wage, and ideally a function built in to tie it to the inflation rate… and $10.10 an hour is probably a reasonable rate (I know from past experience that you can survive off of $10 an hour without government assistance, it isn’t glamorous, but it isn’t overly difficult either). What I am pointing out though is that holding up these companies with high relative pay as proof that we can afford higher pay because higher pay magically makes employees better is confusing causation with correlation.

  • Ted Bundy

    Isn’t this much to do about nothing. Most likely Federal contractors are already paying wages above $10/hour.

    • ElectricGuy

      For construction, Davis Bacon wages are likely well above $10 per hour. But janitors in a federal building may be making less. By setting a minimum wage for new contracts, Obama will likely improve the lot of some folks. Not likely to be a lot of people, though.

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