America is in the midst of an unemployment crisis. We've asked unemployed people to write in with their stories, and the response has been overwhelming. We'll bring you a handful each week until further notice. This is what's happening out there.
'The old lady begging for a job'
I am one of the unseen that have never been taken into any statistic. I am a female, 61 yrs., and I live and was not born in the south. This last part is very big on if you can get hired by any local company. I have 2 engineering degrees and was the Engineering Manager for a large pharmaceutical company. I had always wanted to have my own business and in 1995 went into partnership with someone. In 2001 we were to the point of either hire someone to take care of a multitude of tasks or close. Since the tasks were all over the place finding someone would be very difficult here in Central Texas.
I chose to quit my job feeling that I have my degrees that I can fall back on. The first couple of years were great. Then the first the beginnings of the droughts began and this severely impacted the business. Then the slowdown happened under Bush. We let go our 1 employee very early on, my partner took a full time job. Being a man and from the area he was able to easily find work. This meant though I ran the business by myself and my partner had to work nights and weekends to complete repairs of equipment. I began seriously looking for work around 2006. We had plans to close the business but kept the place open since we had a mortgage on the building we were located in. We looked for ways to make a little money to make the building useful. But since everyone in the area was impacted buy drought and down turn we had trouble.
I went through most of my IRA taking the penalties just so bills could be met. Credit cards were being used to keep taxes paid and insurance in place.
I sent out close to 500 resumes. Most never were even acknowledged and those that were I was told I was over qualified. When you would press them they would fumble but I was sure my age was part of the "over qualified". The thoughts of wanting life to be over were with me every day. I wanted the horror to stop. Every time I would hear of the unemployment rates I would cry-what about ME.
I looked into getting a teaching certificate but I did not have the $6000 needed to get it. Because I had no income I was not eligible for any loans to get the certification and heck-they are cutting teachers so would I be getting deeper in debit for a certification that I would not be able to use.
In 2008 I was able to get a job at the local shelter as a dog trainer. That turned into a job as an Operations Manager. Though I was thankful for the job we had a euthanasia rate of nearly 85%. I was the one that would be the decision maker on who lives and dies of over 10,000 animals per year and the toll mentally was hard. Being salary I was working nearly 80 hours a week due to shorthanded staff.
During this time the credit card companies began really playing games with the interest rates. Even though I had a job with interest rates at 20-26 percent I basically was only paying the interest on the accounts.
I began looking for another job but again I was told over qualified or met with companies in the area that have issues with women being in a "male" dominated field.
The board of directors and I had some disagreements some of which were they wanted more euthanasia done. In Feb. of 2012 I was given the choice of being fired or resign due to the fact that I could not mentally give them what they wanted. I resigned.
Since February I began sending out 3 resumes a day. As the no return answer, over qualified and now I was getting I was out of engineering too long I started to set my sights lower. I have sent in resumes to sit in the booth in gas stations, secretary and so on. Local colleges have said I am qualified to teach there but they have no openings. I am for all purposes the old lady begging for a job.
During all of this I was able to pay for my home but I still have to sweat the taxes that will be due. Sold the business building but that money was used to pay for all of the credit card interest. I have been told I can put in for the pool to be a substitute teacher. So I will have my name into several schools. Non-profits love it if I will volunteer because they get quality work for free. But they cannot hire.
In the mean time I have filed for bankruptcy crying a river since I never thought I would do that. I have picked up a few small dog training jobs. Mentally I have asked myself over and over what did I do wrong. Now the thoughts have been I want my life to end.
Lastly-I am the old lady with a couple of degrees that has never been counted in the statistics and will continue to be the shadow that you see when you walk down the street. I try to remember that I am not unique that there are others worse off than I but I still have never been counted.
The military man
I recently graduated from college with a mechanical engineering degree. Prior to college, I served for six years in the navy as a nuclear machinist mate. When I got out of the military, I struggled to get into school. I couldn't take the SAT's again and my high school grades weren't high enough to get into college alone. I ended up living with my folks for the first time since I was 18 and frankly, it sucked. Not through any fault of them or mine, but its hard to go back to living like a teenager when you are going from being in charge of 40+ people and in charge of equipment so expensive that the Navy doesn't even own it.
The GI Bill is great...assuming you get into school and you have the money to pay for school already. What I mean is that the money doesn't happen unless you are already registered for classes. No school registers you unless you have a zero balance with them. I had the money, but its one of the many...MANY things they sell military service on that isn't really true. (Like how we are all supposed to be SEALS or missile techs on subs).
The other thing not mentioned is that the benefits only last 4 years. And you get the same amount of money if you are going to a community college or Harvard. Plus, most of your military experience is useless. I got a single credit waived for PE because of boot camp. This is after I got over 2 years of training and operated a nuclear reactor. Having to take pre-calc was...frustrating.
During school, I worked as a civilian in the Army, doing data management and analysis in anti-IED research. It was tedious, boring, and soul crushing. I drove over an hour one way to the base to work for $14 an hour. Don't get me wrong, I can't complain, as at least I had something, but it was far from decent. I honestly only kept the internship because they promised me that I would be offered a position when I graduate, which I could use to transfer to field testing or at least something remotely related to my degree. I wasn't planning on taking it, but it was good to at least have something to fall back on or to bounce off of prospective employers. I found out by accident that two years prior, the department I worked for had their budget frozen. No one told me for over a year because they knew I would leave and I was the only person that self taught themselves how to run a freaking database. So I worked a crappy internship without even the benefit they kept telling me about. I finally get an honest answer from my boss that they aren't allowed to hire anyone, but they would love to keep me on as an intern, assuming that I reclassify to a different paygrade, taking a big pay cut and doing the shitty job I hated that had nothing to do with my field of study.
So I moved on, and for the first time since I started school, I didn't work part time. Got my degree and spent the last semester working on getting interviews, sending out crap, and doing job fairs.
I have learned to hate USAJobs. Completely useless site. I have to basically leave an incredible amount of information and wait weeks only to hear I got automatically disqualified because their software for tracking uploads is beyond useless. I also have to put down my medical history and my disability claims to justify my preferred hiring status (as a disabled vet). You can't tell me that they don't compare disabilities between candidates to determine which one is less likely to be annoying to deal with (I get seizures).
I find when dealing with civilians, I can't translate my experience very well. I also am not allowed to talk about what I did both with the Navy and the Army with any detail. I'm also 31. Its apparent in interviews when I am trying to land an entry level position. Add in that I don't have the experience with computers that most kids do (all the stuff I did in the Navy is analog and the Army job was just SQL).
My school's alumni career service site is fucking hilarious. One job posted, with the Maryland Department of Transportation, is searching for an engineer, with 5 years of locksmith experience, fully licensed and bonded by the state. Another wanted engineers for, I shit you not, to run the kiddie trains in local malls.
I have found some potential leads. I am based in Baltimore. I haven't found a single job interview in MD and the most promising lead is in Pullman, Washington. The nearest thing to that town is Moscow, Idaho. Both my parents are getting to the point they can't take care of themselves. Leaving the state is pretty problematic for me.
I know its hollow for me to even sound like I am complaining. I've basically only been looking for a job about 6 months, and its only been two months since I graduate. But at the same time, if someone with my experience and background, along with a mechanical engineering degree (I mean...that is supposed to be a goldmine degree right?) is struggling to find a job, what the heck are other people doing?
I'm one of the 1,000s of attorneys in Chicago laid off in 2010 - August 9, 2010, to be exact. I'm also a divorced single mother to 3 kids and provide for about 98% of their lives financially. Their dad lives in Florida and is out of the picture in almost every sense of the word.
At the time of my layoff, I received 3 months severance but was in the panic of my life because I know how fast 3 months go by. I considered doing anything; in fact, I considered doing anything BUT going back to the practice of law. When I woke up the day after getting the axe, it was the most relieved I had felt in I don't remember when. So I applied for every job I could find: Trader Joe's, bartender at 3 bars near my house; Starbucks; World Market. It was me and 3 trillion other people with advanced degrees and there was some serious resume/application saturation in just about every sector. I launched my own editing website on the side, hoping I could freelance and do other people's resumes, etc. for them. Nada work there. Soon, my health insurance was running out and I was staring at having to pay the COBRA amount of $1,500 per month, or apply for AllKids, Illinois' euphemistically named Medicaid program, so that at least my kids would have insurance.
After applying for AllKids, I then entered the 9th circle of hell - the world of contract lawyers. I won't bore you with the detailed minutiae about what these jobs are like because that's for an entirely different piece, but suffice to say, it was one of the most demoralizing experiences of my life. That's a pretty bold statement coming from someone who fancies herself the queen of demoralizing job histories.
I contracted myself out from time to time for an entire year. I couldn't hire a babysitter a) because I never knew when I would be working, and when I was working, it was typically for 1-2 weeks at a time; and b) I barely had money to keep the dog fed, much less pay a sitter. Therefore, my then-11 year old was quickly put in charge of his younger brother and sister every day after school. If on got sick and had to stay home, the only one I called out sick to stay home with was my then-6 year old. Otherwise, they were all on their own. They grew up quickly, though they still aren't aware of how dire the situation was—I figured that was just for me to shoulder (and try fruitlessly to drink away).
I ultimately received a job offer as a home-based in-house corporate counsel for a company located out of state and I took it. I received the offer on August 10, 2011 - one year and one day after being laid off. It's pretty much my dream job (if one has to still use her law license to support the fam), and I'm still not quite sure why I got lucky and was hired. I will say this: I have learned first hand how low income or hourly wage workers are made to feel on a regular basis. I am a white woman in her early 40s, went to Georgetown Law and own my own home, but none of that mattered last year. I could have been anyone in the grocery store trying to make her last $20 bill feed 3 kids for the next 5 days until her unemployment check arrived (which would be gone within hours - no joke). I was made to feel like absolute garbage when bringing my kids to their checkup and using AllKids coverage. They would loudly announce it and then ask unnecessary questions about the coverage in front of the entire full waiting room. I lost friends who apparently got tired of me saying, "sorry, for the 100th time, I can't go out tonight. I DON'T HAVE ANY MONEY." I sold shit on craigslist all the time and it was like winning the lottery when I got $100 for something. And what employed people don't realize is, not only do you have to be pragmatic and worry about paying rent/mortgage and buying food while you're unemployed; you are in a constant , ever-present state of fear and depression. So you're trying to survive while not wanting to survive at all. It was the most miserable time in my life, there is no question about that. Thank you for asking people to tell their stories.
'I will never recover from this mistake'
A year and a half ago I was doing very very well. I had just inherited a little bit of money, I was enjoying being single, and my career was fucking fantastic. I had no college degree, but I was able to make more as a freelance performing artist than most recent college grads, which is no small accomplishment. I regularly got in the local papers, including the Boston Globe, for my work. I had literally helped to cure a mute child, whose mother wrote me to let me know that she had started to make noise after seeing me perform. How fucking awesome is that? But then I met my ex-husband.
I'm sure you've heard enough of these sorts of stories that they are becoming a little boring. I met a fabulously handsome, funny, cool guy at a New Year's Eve art party. Cue mind-blowing sex and hours-long phone conversations. This was a big deal. Educated men don't always want to date a precariously employed college dropout like me, especially once they realize that I'm not adorkably quirky so much as I'm just irredeemably weird. Uneducated men I've met often end up feeling threatened by the fact that I read shit they don't, or else we just don't have much in common. I was thrilled to have met another autodidact. We each were introduced to the other's friends and liked them. For months his behavior was perfect, and I believed that I'd never been in a better relationship in my life.
Then he started to get weirdly critical of pretty much everything I did. He yelled at a couple of my friends, so I ended up hanging out with people less. He and I had gone to performance gigs together a lot, but he had a way of misbehaving, burning contacts, or just turning up and doing a shit job that started to affect my career. When I had to travel for work he threw these incredible tantrums. My art stopped being fun for me without me quite knowing why, and I quit, telling myself that I was doing this in order to go find stable employment like a responsible adult, not because a man twice my size ended up screaming at me every time I tried to work...
I got pregnant, something which I thought was an accident at the time and am not so sure about now. Basically as soon as I knew I was pregnant I was helpless. My reaction to the hormones was so bad that I usually had no idea what was going on, had to quit my job in a bakery, and spent all day every day lying on a couch trying not to vomit. This went on until my third trimester. I had to be put on zofran and went into the hospital to be rehydrated at one point. People, including my old boss, assume that all pregnant women can work until they are about to give birth if they just try hard enough. This is not true. I could not move. There is no way to power through months of constant vomiting. I doubt I could get a recommendation from my former employer, despite the fact that I did a great job the whole time I was there, because she was that pissed at me for getting sick.
My ex was my sole caretaker during this time, and I was extremely vulnerable. It wasn't hard for him to tell me what to do, so I ended up keeping the baby and moving to his homestate with him to get married. I feel so stupid about this stuff now. I hate myself intensely for giving him any control over my life...
Because I was dumb enough to be married to the man for all of two months, he has a valid claim on our daughter. I didn't like kids much before giving birth to one, but this baby is the light of my life and I could never leave him alone with her, except that I may be forced to.
I have a restraining order, but like the woman who you wrote about last week, I cannot get one against him on my child's behalf because he has never harmed our baby, just me.
I have no savings left anymore. I live off of food stamps and would have no healthcare at all without Medicaid. My resume includes six years of self-employment and a stint at a bakery owned by a person who now hates me and won't even acknowledge that I worked there to anybody who calls. I can't go back to performing because all my contacts have been burned and pregnancy messed up my back so badly I can't even take a long walk. My ex has been ordered to pay support, but then he got into a fight with someone at work and had to quit. He is unemployed now and probably will be unemployed for a long time...
Women like me used to be able to bounce back. There were scholarships. It was possible to find a job. Daycares did not cost more than most people are capable of making. But the way the world is now, I feel so helpless, even moreso because I cannot provide for my daughter. I can't even keep her away from a guy who is probably going to hit her. I am 26, and I feel like my life is over. I've gone back to school not because I see any real point, but because it might slightly increase the odds of my getting hired someday. As it is, nobody will have me. Nobody even wants to let me make their lattes. I make a killer fucking latte. How is there even this much fucking competition to be a fucking barista?
Marrying that guy was a mistake, a hugely stupid mistake that I wish I could take back. But what scares me is that I will never recover from this mistake. My only hope is to live off food stamps for years on end, work for free to build up my resume, take on debt in order to get a degree, and maybe someday be qualified to make enough to keep myself and my daughter alive. I should graduate by the time I am thirty. There is no guarantee the economy won't suck just as bad in four years.
The last unemployment check
I graduated from law school in late 2009 and decided that, since I couldn't afford a bar review course on my own, I'd get a job as a recruiter, save up some cash, and take the exam with the rest of my friends in July. Well, of course, once I started getting a paycheck, I had a terrible time giving it up, especially when I saw the state of the legal job market in the hundreds of resumes I sifted through every day. And so, I punted on the bar and continued to work for my recruitment company – until September 2010, when my team, down $350k year-to-date, needed to let someone go.
I was very unhappy to lose my job, but at the same time, I was optimistic because I felt like I was in better shape than most people to get hired elsewhere. After all, how many employers and job seekers had I talked to over the previous months?
My confidence was bolstered once my claim for unemployment benefits got processed. I remember thinking that $405 a week wasn't a lot by Manhattan standards, but it was enough to live on, and there were 99 weeks of benefits – I didn't intend to be out-of-work anywhere near that long!
In those initial weeks, I must've sent out upwards of 100 resumes a week. When you apply to jobs like it's your job (from 9 to 5), that's not hard to do, especially once you write some general cover letters for each type of position that you're seeking. That pace isn't sustainable, however, once you've picked over all the older postings that are on the job boards and you become dependent on new ads. At that point, you're just constantly hitting "refresh" on your browser, waiting to apply to any job that you could feasibly be hired to do.
When a month or two went by without so much as one interview, that's when the real feeling of being unemployed set in. I still applied to jobs, but I was burned-out and hopeless. All semblance of daily routine was gone. When I slept, ate, showered – they happened sporadically, if at all. I had such a hard time coping with my situation that I began what would be a long cycle of hobby-fixation, as I'd take up new things like cake decorating, biking, knitting, genealogy, learning French, etc., in intense bursts that would last for a few weeks, absorbing every moment that I wasn't applying to jobs, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, just stop. Cold. Done...
A lot of people also wondered why I wasn't temping. There too, my law degree was a hindrance to getting a job, because even though I was looking for general office jobs, legal work was all I was really qualified to do and law firms don't want unadmitted J.D.'s working for them for fear they'll be brought up on charges of assisting in the "unauthorized practice of law." To remedy that problem, I took and passed the bar exam in July of 2011, but I'm still not admitted because I don't have the cash to pay the $1,000 plus that the New York State Bar Association charges new attorneys in registration and listing fees – which would normally be paid for by your employer.
Since I felt like people didn't understand what I was going through, I withdrew from nearly all of my old friends, many of whom still don't realize why I've dropped off the radar. My undergraduate five-year reunion was this past May, and I ignored calls and emails from people asking if I was going; I didn't want to explain to them how it is that I've grown fat, poor, and depressed. It's better that they only see my un-updated linkedin profile and the facebook photos of me and my boyfriend having fun.
That's right. I have a boyfriend – have through all of this - and he is the best part of my life. But I still have a hard time talking to him about how I feel: Half because he's heard me say everything that I have to say many times before; and half because I'm afraid that the next time I tell him how bad my situation is, he'll finally agree and begin to question why he's with me. Honestly, another part of the guilt I feel about being unemployed for so long is that we'd likely be engaged if I had my career in order. As it is, I'm the one who's resisted marriage because I want to go into the marriage as equals and that's certainly not the case right now.
My current situation is that it's been 93 weeks since I got my first unemployment benefit and I'm still out-of-work. This week's deposit will be the last one I can get, and unlike last December and February, there won't be any extension this time. And, of course, there's no congressional action on Obama's Jobs Bill either, so I don't anticipate things are likely to improve anytime soon.
I truly don't believe I have future prospects. I keep hearing people describe careers as "path dependent" but since I haven't been on a path for some time now, I feel like I have to start over again. I apply to internships often. Maybe eventually I'll land one of them? I can't afford to go back to school, especially not now that I've defaulted on a credit card, rendering Graduate Plus loans out of the question.
I imagine that I'll eventually get a job, but in what field? That's anyone's guess. I feel like it's out of my control. But as soon as I get a job, I will cling to it for dear dear life and try my damnedest to make it into a career…
Too stubborn to quit
In January 2011, I was working for a construction company. Business had been shaky for several months, and instead of raises, I took two paycuts in the space of six months. I wasn't the only one, and it could have been worse (shortly after I left, the company cut vacation time, too. Ouch.). I handled half the accounting and all the HR work for the office, so I knew what the numbers were (not pretty) and that it was only a matter of time before I lost my job. I searched for something new every spare minute I had, from October 2010 until my boss called me into his office mid-January and told me they were getting rid of my position. The guy who did the other half of the accounting work took over my portion, my boss took over the HR work and me? I went home and started looking for work full time.
I tried filing for unemployment, hoping for something to tide me over until I picked up new work. I was denied, but it didn't matter. A year and a half later and the only work I get is the occasional weekend watching someone's pets or watering their plants while they're out of town. There was no reason to file taxes this year; my income was a grand total of $1500. The local food pantry only allows me to visit six times a year (and only provides 3-5 weeks worth of food at a time) so I've learned to supplement by dumpster diving. I applied for food stamps a while back, again hoping for help, but because I was living with a foreign national at the time, was denied. So much for assistance. I've tried every program in the state and been turned down for all of them. Right now I'm living entirely on the kindness of friends (and, frequently, total strangers) and, quite frankly, through business ventures that are generally frowned on by polite society. It's a pittance, but it's better than nothing.
In the last year and a half, I've sent out hundreds of copies of my resume(s. I have three in current circulation), applied to every job listing I see online that I think I might fit, gone to retail and restaurants only to be told they only accept applications through their websites (websites which keep my information on file for a year, but bump me down a notch on the list every time someone new applies), signed up to do pet-sitting, house-sitting, child-sitting. I've tried to tutor (I have a degree, used to teach ESL, and used to edit academic works freelance; I'm well-educated!) with no luck (it's discouraging how many tutoring scams are out there). I'm lucky to get auto-responders when I contact a company, which has soured me on some of them so badly that I've quit considering them at all. I've encountered well-meaning recruiters who tried to help me and asshole recruiters who only wanted me to get hired so they could get their commission.
Desperate, I've started writing on-demand fiction, since the market for it seems to be there. It's too soon to say how well that's going, but if nothing else, the process of writing is enjoyable. I also audition every chance I get, because I love and enjoy acting. (I also have a lot more luck getting auditions than interviews, go figure. There's enough competition I always expected it to be the other way around.)
The search for work is exhausting and mind-numbing. It's also depressing. There are days when I don't want to bother and don't see the point, where crying in the shower is the best thing that can happen to me, but looking for work is my full-time job, and like any other job I hate, I have no choice but to go to it. Well-meaning people around me say things like "Cheer up! You'll find something soon!" which is as untrue now as it was a year ago, and even more aggravating for it. I've had to stop talking to friends who would flippantly tell me to "keep trying" or scold me for "giving up." Those who complain about their jobs fare little better. A year ago, I would have had sympathy for a friend stuck in a miserable dead-end job. Now, I hear someone complain and think "if you don't want it, I'll take it and you can live on $100 a month."
I don't know what the future holds. Won't know until I get there. Hopefully it'll be better than the limbo I'm still trapped in. But I do know this: I'm tired, depressed, discouraged, expect nothing, and entirely too fucking stubborn to quit.
[Thanks to everyone who wrote in. All submissions are being read. If you'd like to share your own story, or if you'd like to contact someone who's been published here, email me.]