Unemployment Stories, Vol. Eight: 'They Use You Up and Then They Throw You Away'

Three years of strong corporate profits have done little to solve America's unemployment crisis. The looming decline of corporate profits won't help, either. The official unemployment rate is still over 8%. More than 13 million Americans are jobless. Every week, we're bringing you their stories. This week's are particularly compelling.

The rent-a-cop

I started out with a B.A. in journalism and great newspaper jobs until Jimmy Carter got elected and my world began to disintegrate.
The only job I was able to get was as a rent a cop— for which you don't even need a high school diploma and it was hell. You are abandoned incommunicado absolutely alone to watch things —sometimes without a rest room or potable drinking water—and forbidden to leave. They expect you to pay for your own pistol and gear but you are too broke to buy the ammunition or the gun range time for practice! It's like being in solitary confinement —you are being punished because someone else has stuff they think should be guarded and you are the someone that should be guarding it —and give your life up if necessary...like hell! If they put a gun in your hand, then you'll be expected to use it and. no, they won't stand behind you.
You do not get health insurance, retirement — nothing but a paycheck. And it barely covered rent, mandatory car insurance,groceries, utilities —forget anything like movies or concerts unless you were hired to do the security! Without other humans to interact with since all of your work is going to be at night, all night, on weekends and holidays, you have no one to provide feedback about your appearance and general demeanor and things can get weird. If you can take it, the more hours you worked, you got overtime and you could do quite well. Many got hooked on speed or prescription meds —not a good combination when you had a pistol.
I managed to get by until I worked for a group I suspected was a laundry for a drug cartel and I had to leave town. By this time, Bush 41 was tanking the economy. I got a nice job as a corporate security office which ended with the dot com recession in 2000. I had to take any security work I could and got hurt on the job in 2002. I had no way to call a supervisor to take me to the ER.When I did manage to get to a pay phone, I got an answering machine which was conveniently erased.
I crawled to the car and barely made it home. I was told if I went to the ER if I got hurt on the job, they wouldn't pay & I would be fired, I didn't want to get prosecuted for theft of services anyway. The company ended up going out of business and the owner absconded with all the money leaving me with a life-changing injury and 52 years old.They did not help me.
I was able to get into a state program that was going to retrain me but I noticed the economy showed no signs of letting up. I also hadn't counted on the tremendous age discrimination here when combined with gender discrimination made it virtually impossible for me to find a job.
I started looking when I was still in the program. I sent out exactly 1,500 resumes into the black hole of the internet.I got three job interviews,one of which began "You sounded so much younger on the phone!Quite frankly, you need to go home to your grandchildren."
The other one went "We can't hire someone like you and have you up and die on us!": and the third was "Whatever it is your panhandling for, the answer is 'no.'If you don't leave, I'm calling security!" When I pointed out I had a job interview, the young lady called someone to tell them that "there is just this incredibly OLD person to see you about the job..Tell them it's been filled? Alright, then."
Illegal as everything but nobody cares because without a job or family or anyone to help you. you are a nonperson and you have no standing.
I overstayed my grant money so I sent out about 500 resumes after having worked with the premier job club to do everything right, If "I hadn't gotten some film extra work I would have lost my home!
I filed for Social Security disability but was tuned down. I filed again but I was told it had been too long since I had held a regular job and I was no longer eligible. i got my congressman to reopen my claim and with that denial in hand,I went to a disability attorney who took $4,000 of my future earnings but got me on SSI.
Being on SSI means you better not even try for work unless it is cash off the books or you will lose it all. With SSI and food stamps, I feel lucky and I thank god every day.
You see, all the homeless people I see are my age and even older. some never held a job.
At the food stamp office I heard an elderly man say "Yeah, they use you up and then they throw you away & expect the government to pick up the pieces."
I don't want to be homeless and hungry again. I was 3 years sleeping in my car & using the training school's restrooms to wash up in. I ate whatever I could find.
I am extremely articulate, eminently presentable,literate, well-educated, courteous and know the appropriate decorum. If I had the opportunity, I would be a great employee but so would countless thousands and thousands of others who are thrown out of work.
Living in fear that even the scant resources that you have could be taken away, you don't want to rock the boat so I mainly stay here out of sight.It's lonely and I feel alienated, rejected by society at large. If I didn't have my computer, I'd be totally out of touch with the real world.
You feel like a survivor, a survivor for what purpose? Flat reactions to everything.
Constant pain and for lack of a dentist,more pain,as your teeth fall out one by one...

The editor

I'm writing this because my loving, supportive partner thought it would help with the way I've been feeling about myself.

I've been unemployed since January of 2010. I graduated college in 1996, and in those pre-Internet days I spent time in the print world as an editor at a medical magazine, and then years as lead editor at a small daily newspaper. Then I got my dream job in 2004: web editor at a huge e-commerce dot com, writing product reviews and editing several landing pages on the site.

I had no experience with the online world, but as the position was focused more on writing and editing, I was hired. I learned how to use a content management system, taught myself the basics of HTML, and chose which products should go on which pages every week.

When I was laid off I discovered that I had spent six years in ignorant bliss. Had I have been ten years younger or had been involved in the online world from the beginning, I would have learned that to be a web editor now means being able to write, edit, design, layout, code, troubleshoot, and know marketing and social media for each step of the process from beginning to end. After years of working my way up and expanding my knowledge with each job, I was woefully out of my depth.

After getting laid off I didn't know what classes to take to improve myself. I didn't know what I should apply for. I had no network. I was a print editor who got lucky.

First I had to leave my apartment, since despite getting the maximum benefit of $405 in unemployment, there was no way I could pay my rent and utilities. I placed all my belongings into storage (which is surprisingly expensive) and moved in with my girlfriend. I take care of all the housework, the laundry, the cooking, whatever needs to be done. It makes me feel like I'm contributing something.

I sent out resumes, went on interviews, read the helpful newspaper articles my mom sent me, emailed everyone I knew, researched online on how to write a better resume. I cried every time I was forced to go to the unhelpful "Career Counseling Center," to ensure I would keep getting my unemployment checks. I did this for two years, and couldn't even get hired for temp or contract work.

The entire job-hunting process is filled with self-loathing and self-doubt because you are constantly wondering WHY. Why wasn't I called back? Why didn't I hear about that second interview? Why aren't I good enough? Why can't someone give me a chance?

I have never cried so much in my life. There is a feeling of worthlessness that never leaves you. Sleeping late is the norm because when I roll over and look at the clock, I can't think of any reason to get out of bed. I dread social situations because everyone else is going on with their lives and I have nothing to talk about. I stopped telling my partner and parents how I was feeling because I can tell they don't want to hear it anymore. I have gone from being an emotional wreck filled with worry to simply being numb. I don't think about the future anymore. I don't dream about vacations or buying a house. I don't even think about tomorrow.

Finally, in October 2011, after I had gone on three follow-up interviews for a job and they never bothered to call me back, I gave up. In November my health insurance ran out. Then my unemployment ran out. Then my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

In January of 2012 my partner found out she was being transferred to Chicago. I'm going with her, in the hopes that I can find something out there.

Better with weed

In April of 2008, I had been fired from my last job as an administrative assistant at a prestigious lawfirm in Los Angeles that handled gory, macabre accidents. Completely unfun, my boss was a total fucking psycho who liked to talk cats and multi-level-marketing. So, it was almost a blessing to be fired. I track my story in the shades of weed I was smoking at various stages of unemployment, because without a job, time is irrelevant.

At this time, I was also in my final year of college, and really needed my last paycheck to pay my final tuition payment. Because my boss was a total bitch, I didn't receive my final pay on time to make the payment and get my degree. I had to say good bye to my degree and HELLO! College dropout!! Yeah!

Being an attractive female definitely helped while I was unemployed. While I didn't have an income, legit or otherwise, I went through my phone and went out on dates for 3 months solid with lawyer-types who had asked me out. In the past, I'd summarily turned every single one of these men down. Now, dinner and coffee with these losers sounded great. Sometimes it WAS great! I connected with some pretty interesting guys. Most of the time, I secretly hoped to get propositioned and become a prostitute to avoid hours of whining and bullshit in the ears. No luck. BUT My weed was still green. I managed to be able to trade webdesign services for an ounce.

Surely I had sex with one of these fellas? No. I had no idea if I would even get unemployment, or when. I had a really nice apartment in an amazing location in West Hollywood, so I turned to online apartment rental sites to rent out my apartment to vacationers. This covered only my rent and utilities, and not much else. Also, that money meant not losing my permanent place to live, but did mean random periods of homelessness while richer people with means (and sometimes leftover food) rented my place. So, even if I wanted to, I couldn't have sex with anyone in my own place. Going to theirs to do it meant having to eventually reveal my gypsy ways and the contrived dinner-based relationship I had curated. At this point, I was smoking shared lawyer-weed, which was excellent.

For 4 months this was my schedule: Go to the park to steal wireless, check in some renters, meet with them to get payment and drop off keys, go to the community gym for a shower and prep for a dinner date, go said date, sleep in my car. Repeat. Sometimes I could sleep at home when there were no renters.
Once my unemployment checks started a-flowin ($88 per week for only 30 weeks), I would squirrel that money away, and upgrade to a cheap motel for the night before a job interview. At this point, I downgraded to buying shake, which is the remnants of good weed, but never a bud.

However meager, my apartment was also my income, and I had to maintain it. Not going into too much detail, but I know what hotel maids feel like. It is awful. I had an emergency stash for cleaning days.

Eventually, I walked into a shitty 24 hour diner, got to know the owners, and asked if I could work for them on the night shift, only for tips. They agreed. So I got 10-hour shifts at this diner, made roughly 50 bucks a night in tips, crashed in my car, rented my apartment, and showered at the community gym. 3 month in on this grind, I attended my college graduation, saw my classmates walk, knowing although I was definitely smarter than them and capable of everything they were, I couldn't pay my last semester's tuition and therefore I was now a dropout with even worse job prospects. Tuition at my state college was raised, so even with this new job, tuition went up 50%, so I couldn't even afford to continue on even if I wanted to. I was smoking shake still, but occasionally picked up some hash which lasted longer.

My friends dropped me like flies. It sucked. I tried suicide. Then I started seeing my friends post their own tales of unemployment and news of successful suicides on Facebook. I felt angry that their parents allowed them to live at home rent-free and angry that some chose suicide. The lonliness was the worst of it. At this point, I was forced to choose between schwaggy brick weed or pot cookies. I'd secure and ration out 6 pot cookies per month as a reward for resume-sending goals.

Tragedy struck — the owners of my restaurant were killed by a drunk driver. Their kids shut down the restaurant, and I was once again purely living in my car and renting out my apartment. At this point, I was scraping resin and supplementing with schwag.

Grand total: 200+ resumes emailed, 16 interviews. After a while, I started a business which has flourished in so many senses of the word. It was difficult and it took forever to dig myself out of the hole, but I'm a better person for it. The weed definitely helped because I couldn't have clawed my way out of depression without marijuana, because "generic" pharceutical antidepressants are expensive and destructive as all hell. Weed was basically my only social bargaining chip without money. Unemployment is better with weed if you can swing it.

I'm glad I didn't finish school and paid for tuition myself, because otherwise, I'd be hung up on my "credentials" and how I "deserved" a job and loans. I'm also glad I got birth control and avoided having kids this whole time. I'm also glad my parents taught me to be resourceful and solve problems instead of bitching. I have a lot going for me, and I'm grateful. My kind buds are evergreen, my stash jar is secure.

Mental health and unemployment

I haven't worked since 2005. I have chronic depression and severe social anxiety, which has paralyzed me emotionally. I managed to get through graduate school and earn a master's degree in Library Science. I graduated last May and I really don't know how I managed to get through it without breaking down completely. My husband is (thankfully) employed, and he makes enough money to support us both, but living paycheck to paycheck has taken its toll on our marriage. He's tired of being my "caregiver" and he wants a separation.

I'm willing to give him one, as it breaks my heart to put so much emotional baggage on the person I love most in the world, but I'm ashamed to say that I don't think I can live independently. I don't drive because of panic attacks, I avoid social interactions like the plague, and whatever social disorder I might possess prevents me from fitting in at an office environment. I know that I need regular therapy and medication, and thankfully I have a prescription for antidepressants. Hopefully I'll be able to refill it indefinitely, because I don't have health insurance. My husband makes too much money for me to qualify for any type of free/reduced health plans, but not enough to pay for insurance on our own. I've applied for Social Security benefits, which was a humiliating process and, if I am accepted, which I probably won't be, I can look forward to receiving about $800 a month. That's not enough to live on, especially not in Northern California.

I don't know what my passions are anymore. I don't know what to do with my life, what to strive for, who I am. I have a crippling fear of failure and success. My best friend calls me the poster child for Generation X. I've been sending out resumes left and right for about 6 weeks now with no response. I'm applying to telecommute & freelance writing positions, jobs that I think I can handle without too much emotional stress. I'm considering going abroad and teaching English as a second language, which I think I would excel at and would give me both a place to live and some money in my pocket, but I'm concerned about my mental health. I have a healthy sense of adventure, but I feel lost and ashamed and unable to act on it.

The teacher

I graduated in December 2010 with a dual degree in two soft sciences. Rather than stay in the economically depressed area where I went to college, I moved to Nashville so that I could go to grad school at Vanderbilt and have a better shot at landing a job.

Almost two years later, I'm still waiting tables and living with my fiance's parents. My fiance has been unemployed for almost a year. There just aren't jobs out here. I can't afford to take the GRE, so I've given up a lot of my dreams. My self-confidence is at zero. I work 60 hours a week and barely make ends meet. I can't afford my medications or anything really. Every morning, I wake up to about five or six employment rejection emails, as does my fiance. Both of us are suffering from depression and anxiety over the situation.

We were naive enough to think that teachers would always be able to find a job. That is certainly not the case.

The therapist

It's been heartening to read stories of folks helping each other out in these rough times. Reality is that we can't fix everyone's problems: not everyone will find a job, loved ones will get sick and the insurance will run out, people will turn to criminal pursuits, mortgages will go underwater and some people will go belly-up within their own four walls. If nothing else- if we don't have the means to hire our unemployed brethren, or if we're too broke to donate to charity- sharing stories is the best thing we can do. We remind one another that we're here, going through this, too. And that is absolutely vital. It keeps us going and keeps us connected. Thank you for providing a forum for this important discussion. Thanks for the chance the vent and share with others, even if, in my case, it brings on the big-time Schadenfreude. Sickeningly, it helps to remember that others are worse off. Reminds me of something I was told: if everyone in the whole world put their troubles in a big pot and could then fish out a different set, you'd be damn sure you'd turn around quick and get your own troubles back, instead of someone else's.

My own story is pathetic for its ubiquity: grad school followed by soul-crushing debt. After school I found a job relatively quickly (went to grad school for a profession that is a growing one: speech and swallowing therapy for people with diseases/stroke, etc in nursing homes), but I was unemployable due to state bureaucracy hang-ups. I couldn't accept anything other than sporadic, low-paying daily temp work because "any day now" I could start at the place I was technically hired. "Any day now" stretched out six months. I signed up for online surveys and focus groups. Clinical tests. I had my brain scanned while looking at Coca Cola ads. In short, I did all kinds of shit to make a buck. I camped out at Occupy Oakland, and felt like I belonged.

Every day was a reminder at how small an individual is against a whole system, which made me felt awful about myself from the moment I woke up. I'd scan craigslist for odd jobs and then, if nothing panned out, planned how to keep myself from spending money that day. What a strange, backwards way to live. I feel very disconnected to those six months, as close as they are temporally. I'm hugely indebted to family and friends who helped support me. Loans were deferred until I started work. The Great State of California helped me out with EBT aka, food stamps. Thank you gracious taxpayers: I will make it worth your while when you are sick and in the nursing home, I promise!

Previously
Unemployment Stories, Volumes One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven.

[Please send your own unemployment stories here. If you'd like to contact anyone you read about here, email me.]