America is in the midst of a prolonged unemployment crisis. For the past 15 weeks, we've been bringing you true stories of unemployment, directly from the unemployed. Despair, desperation, and depression have been common themes. So today—in honor of Thanksgiving—we're bringing you some stories with happy endings. Here now, a special Thanksgiving edition of Unemployment: It Gets Better.
I was featured in your series a couple of months ago - one of the many unemployed attorney stories. I don't know if you ever plan on doing any updates, but I wanted to pass along to everyone that sometimes things DO get better. I started a new job this week in a field I love (it's basically The Practice but without hot Dylan McDermott). As usual the firm got a million resumes, but they told me it's all about fit and personality.
I'm so much more aware of national economic issues now than I was before my bout of unemployment. I am a true pessimist, and if things worked out for me, there is hope out there for others.
Light at the end of the tunnel
It is with great interest that I have read your "Unemployment Stories" series. Like many contributors, I have been unemployed during the Great Recession. Like some, I have been laid off twice. Unlike most, I have somehow ended up in a better position than when I was first laid off in January 2009. I really don't know why The Powers That Be have chosen to put me with a better employer with better pay and benefits, but getting to this point wasn't easy.
From October 2006 to January 2009 I was an environmental scientist at an international engineering firm in New England. My job was to identify and clean up pollution for our clients. Some days I was outside collecting samples, others I was in the office typing up reports for regulatory review. I enjoyed the work and liked to think I was good at it. In early 2008 my employer was bought by an even larger rival firm. All the executives told us there wouldn't be any big changes, blahblahblah. From September to December 2008 I worked on a large remediation project, working 12 hours a week overseeing pollution removal and soil and groundwater sampling. It was an intense project that was keeping our office busy. I was one of 5 employees who put in a large amount of billable hours. I was proud of my work, and never had any issues arise with the project managers. However, during our Holiday party the other 4 employees on the project got gift cards, extra days vacation, and the project manager even got a corporate award. I did not receive any of that, and never even got a thank you for working lots of OT. For the next month, I was flat-out bullied at work. Everything I did was questioned, my work was scrutinized, to the point where I was being blamed for mistakes on projects that I didn't even work on. At the time I thought it was bizarre. My wife and I took the week off between Christmas and New Years and spent it in Florida. When I came back the same bullying was occurring, expect at this point we had officially merged into the new company. I returned at 8 am on Monday, and by 10 am I was already again being dragged through the mud. My wife suggested I update my resume and try the job market. Unfortunately our foresight wasn't good enough; on Thursday I was laid off. I suspect the decision was made in December to lay me off but they didn't want to do it before the holidays. 3 other people were let go with me, none of whom were on the big project I had earned lots of OT on.
I was unemployed from January 2009 to January 2010. 55 weeks total. I didn't have an interview until May. Any technical job available I applied for. In total I had 15 interviews. Only 3 or 4 ever actually got back to me. Now during this time one of my OSHA certifications expired, so I had to pay out of pocket for training to allow me onto job sites with hazardous materials. With unemployment and my wife's salary we struggled to keep our head above water. We cut back our expenses, didn't go on any vacations, and became quite the home bodies. Staying at home each day was a boredom I didn't know existed...
In January 2010 I had an interview with a firm that maintained landfill remediation systems...It was incredibly tedious and I didn't enjoy a minute of it. Right after I started this job my wife and I got into a fight over our sex life, and it was something I would be angry about for a long time. I was pissed off each day at work. I worked long hours for crummy pay, and it felt like my bosses didn't care about me or what I was doing, just as long as I got the work done. Health and safety was not a priority. I was exposed in some extreme working conditions, ranging from heat waves to blizzards. My wife and I finally bought the condo in August. However, I could not keep a company truck on condo property (having commercial plates was considered soliciting), so my wife and I ended up buying a 10 year old Town and Country just for my commute. Her grandmother passed away in October. In December my employer lost our biggest client. After 3 weeks I was laid off from that job...
First week of June 2011 I started with another environmental engineering firm. They had a terrible reputation and were cheap, but I needed a bigger paycheck. It was a pay increase, but still not what I was making in 2008. At the end of my first week I had to take a day off to attend an unemployment hearing with my ex-employers, who were claiming the GPS tracker on my company truck proved I was not at a job site when I claimed I was. The hearing officer believed them, so I did not have any income for 3 months. After finding this out my wife told me we were $14,000 in credit card debt. She kept it hidden from me because there was nothing I could do about it, and she didn't want me stressed out about it. I became even more angry than before. At this time I started to become jealous of those around me who had not lost their jobs and who were doing well for themselves. It got worse in November 2011 when my paychecks started to bounce. There was clear writing on the wall that another layoff was looming. I once again updated my resume and got looking for a better job.
In February my jealousy just became too much. It began to interfere with my everyday life. I ended up seeing a psychiatrist to address it. I went on nearly a dozen interviews with just about every major engineering firm and manufacturer in my area. Finally in July 2012 I began working as an environmental scientist with a new firm, a firm I had interviewed with twice since 2009. I am now making the most I have ever had, and with some new clients my employer is now hiring instead of laying off.
My wife and I got our debt down to $12,000. We took out a personal loan to pay it off and hope to have it done in 4 years. I am still driving a Town and Country minivan. Since seeing the psychiatrist and the new job, I find myself appreciating what I have and not comparing myself to others. We all have our own issues to deal with, and many others out there have it much worse than I do. I am in good health, I own my car and condo, and I have a wife who supported me and did her best to keep us afloat even while I was being mean and jealous...
Honestly I don't know why I am sending you my story, since it is so much different than the others you have published. Maybe it is my way of telling those out there that there is light at the end of tunnel. Maybe it is my way of telling me it was ok for me to go through these experiences.
Laugh at it
My unemployment story is a bit different. I don't want to appear as though I'm mocking this series by sharing something a bit silly, on the contrary, I've actually cried in empathy with some of these stories. I've been keeping a sort of journal for the last few months, a record of the bleak banalities of my life, currently. I've found that focusing on the petty side effects of being unemployed has helped me to laugh at it, and retain a bit of sanity. Below is an excerpt, a sort of week in the life of a destitute woman.
Monday: You know you've reached a point where job hunting has affected your sanity when you're drawn to the most degrading jobs you find. You see an ad for a Wobbly Bobber at Wobbly Bobs Cafe, and, though it terrifies you, you masochistically click "More Details," saying to yourself in the kind of perversely titillated voice people in movies reserve for exploring sexual fetishes, "You deserve this."
Tuesday: When people ask whether I've found a job yet, I tell them I'm now working as a door-to-door lentil salesman. That works pretty well in discouraging any follow-up questions.
Wednesday: On the way to the gym the other day, I noticed that its parking garage had a banner announcing that it had won an award. It was an award-winning parking garage. I realized the parking garage was now more successful than me, and began to feel envious of it. On return visits to the gym, I found myself belittling various features of the parking garage to anyone who would listen, and on one occasion, called it "loose."
Thursday: My biggest accomplishment today was exceeding the daily recommendation for water intake.
Friday: I've begun keeping numerous to-do lists lately to give my life some semblance of order in the absence of employment. Looking back at them (Blender Ideas, Food Appliances I'll Buy When I'm Affluent, and In Case of Fire, Grab), I realized that this period of unemployment has made me infinitely less employable, as my mind has given itself over to petty fantasies and delusions. I will never make my own chimichurri.
Saturday: The financial imperative to get a job just became real. I can't afford to move up a clothing size. I will now be naked until someone hires me.
Sunday: For some time now, the targeted ads on my web browser had been using my recent job searches to suggest suitable options for me. Now it appears even Google Chrome has given up on me, as it's moved on to predominantly diaper ads. Am unsure if it's encouraging me to have babies in lieu of a career, or whether it thinks that at this point, I've surely given up on life to the extent that I relieve myself indiscriminately now. In which case… thanks for the advice, Google Chrome. I can't wait until the next generation web browser comes along to put you out of a job. Everyone will laugh at you like the antiquated relic you are, and someone will suggest you wear diapers, as you're so old and useless you're probably incontinent, which of course is hilarious. And I'll be there, Google Chrome. And on that day, I won't tell anyone you're going through a rough patch, and you'll probably rally. I'll stand there and laugh with the rest of the embittered, defeated web browsers, glad to see you humbled, joining the ranks of us losers.
The 'Fight Club' mentality
I went back to college four years ago at 31. Majored in accounting because I figured that money-grubbing would be a worthy second act to a Gen-X slacker life in my twenties. Knew by the end of my junior year that I wanted nothing to do with the profession, but continued on to graduation mainly because one more year of student loans I'd never have a chance in hell of paying back would at least keep me housed and fed and let me pretend I was worth a damn.
Besides, I'd taken up a minor journalism habit. Even got featured on a couple of major national media outlets and given ringside seats to cover a live boxing event. The picture of me with Teddy Atlas after the fights were done is, to me, the crown jewel of my Facebook page. Sure, it wasn't paying a living wage, but better a poor writer than a rich accountant, right? Hold onto that thought.
I graduated...and reality hit me in the face. Now, not only was my college education going to be of little use in getting me jobs, but it was actively impeding my efforts to do something with myself. Every interview with an accounting firm or even a bank was a mélange of me explaining my lack of internships in college-they'd all gone to kids who gave a damn about the profession and agreed to come back after passing the CPA exam-and desultory answers to questions as I thought "I hope they don't hire me." It was a revelatory experience, though not for the reasons most would think.
The problem came when the money started to run dry and I asked myself what I ought to be doing if not accounting. I finally decided on writing, being creative, and most importantly staying true to myself. I resolved that I'd rather be homeless and living something like the life I wanted than trapped in a life where (as in Fight Club) I worked a job I hated to buy shit I didn't need.
The strange thing? The homeless shelter set me free. I landed a job at Target, assistant manager in the front end, customer-facing position. As soon as I had a job-even a retail job-I became eligible for transitional housing for homeless working men. I'm working on a novel (then again, aren't we all?) I'm still doing the boxing-writing gig. With a room in a rooming house, an occasional cup of Starbucks coffee to write and be creative-and enough money that I'll be able to pay the deposit on an honest-to-gods place of my own again in about three weeks' time-I'm actually (dare I say it?) happy...
The life lesson learned in that homeless shelter isn't one of "there but for grace of the gods." It's a divine blessing. Because that one thing they always scare us with when we're kids-kill yourself to live or you'll die in a ditch, penniless and alone-is, like everything else in America, marketing-driven bullshit. To steal from another 1999 movie about life lessons, sometimes we're better off trading the job with office space for one shoveling dirt when the whole thing burns to the ground. Fuckin' ay, man.
That was my life
I read the unemployment stories you post and relate too much to too many of them. Most were my life in 2010. I'm fortunate now that I can shop for this food drive, and as I shop for it I find myself scrutinizing grocery store shelves exactly as I did 2 years ago and going for the items that struck me as ridiculously expensive at the time - how Campbell's can justify selling a plain old can of chicken noodle for over a buck is anybody's goddamn guess. Aluminum foil, deodorant, toilet paper.
I arrived at work and the coordinator told me this particular food shelf considers baking ingredients "gold." I was like "huh??" The last thing I was even thinking about when I had nothing was whipping up a batch of fucking cookies, what the fuck are we doing here? ...
I needed help too. I didn't qualify. I have a hormonal imbalance that requires meds, and with no insurance I paid for those extraordinarily expensive meds out of pocket. (It was no choice - without those meds I would sink into depression, get fat, a whole host of ugly side effects.) My unemployment paid for meds, rent, bus pass, Internet, my cat's food/litter (wasn't getting rid of the only friend I had) and food. For me food was typically a bag of microwave popcorn that I made last a full day. My single parent neighbors in my ghetto neighborhood came home loaded down with groceries and my mouth watered nightly smelling what struck me as decadent meals. I starved, because as far as the state was concerned I didn't need help.. Then I got the pleasure of smelling their weed and listening to their fights and gunshots into the wee hours of the night. These people got all kinds of help from the state just for reproducing and staying out of the job market. I just wanted to work. I needed a little bit extra until someone hired me. I needed a break. I got nothing.
I needed help desperately. I had no idea where to turn for it. But I also had a lot of pride. I never googled "food shelf" on those bleak days scouring the Internet looking at job postings and making myself wait another three hours before having another handful of popcorn.
I needed help, wasn't good about asking for it, only knew I really needed to ask at exactly the point when it was too late and I was a week away from homelessness.
Out of sheer dumb happenstance an otherwise silent temp agency finally called in February 2011 and I landed a temp job. The company I worked for was in such chaos that they went through temps daily. I not only stayed, I managed to start settling things down. I had desperation going for me, but I'd also worked in chaos for ten years at an investment firm. I knew something about managing chaos. The company was impressed and practically forced a permanent position on me by April 2011. I was promoted from entry level to management just last week. I've never had a management position before. My life is completely different now, but in January 2011 I was exactly like most of the people who write to you and going to sleep every single night praying I wouldn't wake up...
If I knew how to start a charity that targeted single, childless adults, I would, and I'd call it something like "You're Not a Worthless Sack of Shit, It's the Goddamn Economy, and if You Consider Baking Ingredients Gold You Don't Know What It Means to NEED HELP, Asshole!" It's ridiculous to assume that an unemployed person with no kid is magic and more capable of paying bills than everybody else.
There's work in North Dakota
These stories have touched me so much. My husband and I have both had our unemployment stories over the last several years. Please mention how much work is in North Dakota in one of your future articles. My husband is working there now doing concrete work. There is a lot of work because of the oil fields and construction. We have a friend who was literally hired over the phone to do construction work in Williston. They are paying hiring bonuses to people who work at McDonald's or Wal-Mart. There are definitely more jobs than available workers there. I know a lot of the Gawker readers are well-educated, "big city" people, and these are not jobs they would normally take. But it might be helpful to some, and there are professional positions there, too.
Also, I worked for many years as a caregiver for seniors and developmentally disabled people. Not the easiest or most glamorous jobs, for sure. But they are open-minded about hiring people without experience in the field. Perhaps this could be an option for some of your readers.
Don't lose hope
Once again, thanks for publishing the unemployment stories. In spite of being incredibly depressing, I really believe it's important for people to understand how severe the problem is right now; to so many, it's just a number.
I submitted a pretty long account that was published in volume four, and I thought perhaps you might be collecting updates; I know many commenters had expressed curiosity about follow-ups with many of the installments.
I'm happy to report that it only took me about two months to find employment. Somehow, I managed to have quite a few interviews - at least one of which I still haven't heard back from, two months later (I'd been told I'd be called "either way," and tried to connect with them on multiple occasions). It's not an ideal job: I'm not fond of the instability of contract work; however, it's at least work I love, and suspect will lead to permanent employment. I also recognize that the person who hired me was extremely generous; I have minimal experience grant-writing, but am pretty grateful for the chance to prove my capability.
I know I'm lucky. Two months is nothing compared to what the majority of the unemployed experience; I can't imagine how I could cope with six months of searching, much less a year, and especially without unemployment benefits. Maybe it sounds like an overreaction, but I absolutely experienced massive depression; none of the despair and suicidal thoughts that your contributors express are exaggeratons, I'm sure - I wonder a little how much worse it could have gotten for me. I have only been employed for a little over a week; I still worry that in a week or two, I'll be doing it again. That fear probably isn't going anywhere for quite a while...
Six years ago, even, I wouldn't have been very sympathetic to people receiving public assistance. Today, I wish I could do more to help.
Even though it's incredibly difficult, I hope everyone out there doesn't totally lose hope.
The entire archives of our "Unemployment Stories" series can be found here.
[Thanks to everyone who submitted. I encourage everyone to use the discussion section as a resource to communicate with others who may want to help people out. You can send your own unemployment stories here. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. (Photo via Getty.)]