Unemployment Stories, Vol. 18: Struggling Every Day to Get By

As millions of Americans wait to find out whether their unemployment benefits will completely disappear at the end of the year, European unemployment reaches a record high. There are lots of unemployed people in the world today. Each week, we bring you true stories of unemployment from the unemployed themselves. This is what's happening out there.

A sense of hopelessness

My story begins like most where I was at a company for about a year and a half until they downsized. In December of 2009, I was a full time employee who was demoted to part time and half the salary. Since the original salary was generous, half was liveable. Like most of the other stories I have read, I did see that the company might not survive. By April 2010, I started telling my husband about all of the trouble the company was having and I didn't think they would be able to keep me much longer. I was proven correct Memorial Day weekend 2010 when my part time job became extinct. At first, I wondered what I would do and being the trooper that I am, I thought, I should get a job with no problem. I have a Bachelor's Degree and several web design certifications. I had 10 years web design experience including marketing. I did qualify for unemployment but that was half of the part time salary. So within a 6 month period, I had gone from almost $4000 month to $1000 month. I should mention, my husband has been employed all these years but I am the breadwinner of the family.. I also thought 99 weeks of unemployment was generous and I would never need all of that. I decided to go back to school to get an Associates in motion graphics while job hunting since I felt it would be good to update my skills. I started in Fall 2010. During the past two years, I have been unable to find a job. I have (like so many others) applied everywhere and anywhere. My unemployment ran out in the beginning of May and it has been extremely hard ever since. While I thought living on a total of $2000 month was hard, only $1200 (what hubby incomes) is almost impossible. I have sold so many things online for so little, pawned more jewelry than I care to mention and have a pile of bills left to pay. Luckily, we had no credit cards and our cars are paid off which we are thankful for. If not, I am sure repossession would be in my thoughts. We do not have kids (I cannot) but we do have pets who rely on us for everything. I cannot imagine life without them so giving them up is not an option.

I am now at the point of possible graduation but cannot find anywhere to complete my last requirement (an internship). I have applied for a million of them but never hear back. The one I did interview for, has decided to keep their current intern for another three semesters (which I cannot even comment how angry that makes me.) So here I am, almost two and a half years without a job, almost no money and completely frustrated. I feel like I may have wasted the time I spent getting an education because it has not helped me very much. The days get hard. Sometimes, I wake up and try and be really positive about things. Thinking at least I have time to clear up all my clutter and sell it on ebay. I have time to further my skills, etc. Most of the time though, I just want to crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head so I don't have to think. I am tired of hearing how talented I am. It baffles me, my friends and even my teachers why I cannot seem to find work. I feel like I have a sense of hopelessness for the first time in my life. I always thought if you work hard and are a good person, things will work themselves out but here I am struggling every day to get by.

Maybe people can get the point

At first, I was working for a contractor with the federal government answering phones and providing information to recipients for a well-known program... Right before the massive layoffs that would have included my team, I was pulled into the office with the managers and human resources and told that I couldn't say that anybody was getting laid off, that if they didn't get called in the meetings, they had their jobs and everything was fine. I saw the writing on the wall and I felt so dirty and filthy because I kept on smiling and kept on telling my team, people that I respected, everything would be fine. When it finally happened, I was not surprised. When the final changes happened, I was given an option: severance package or demotion. I agonized over that decision for a little bit but when push came to shove, I took the severance package because my attitude toward the company and the people left had been sullied forever. This was 2006 and I spent a good 6 months living off the severance package and then my 401k money because I was 31 and foolish. I didn't even think about the unemployment benefits because that was for people who were milking the system. Besides, it was 2006 and jobs were plentiful.

I hit the job search hard. I had a limited money and I needed to find a job quick. Initially, I started off looking only at call center supervisors. Within a month, I had started to look at any call center position. In two months, it was any customer service position. Finally, I was applying for anything that I had a little bit of understanding and thought I could do. By 6 months had passed, I had run out of money, wasn't sure about how I was going to pay my rent and utilities, I had stopped eating all together. A friend had called because, during that time, I slowly began to hang out with my friends less and less and I am usually a fairly social guy. When I was talking to him, I admitted that I just wanted a job and I had been thinking about just ending it right then and there. He stepped up and really helped me out and within a month, I tried the temporary agencies.

Within a month I had a job that I liked with people that were nice enough. My boss was a little bit of a ballbuster. I was working for a small but successful and nationally known business. I had gotten along with my coworkers and had made many friends. Such is my style though. I am outgoing, friendly, more than willing to help, and always hard working. There had been the murmurs of layoffs for some time and I knew a couple people that had been fired, but for gross incompetence and sheer stupidity. I had been hung out with my friends and was enjoying my life. I got back in touch with an old coworker and friend who I found out was single and living about three hours away. We talked and we both dug each other and so romance kindled.

Eventually, I was spending half my monthly paychecks driving to visit her and it was getting expensive. We started talking about moving in together. She worked for a mine and made more than I did. It was agreed that I would move in with her because, with my skills with computers, it was reasoned that I could get a job within a couple of months. This was in 2008.

I gave notice and I made the move. My girlfriend was 8 months pregnant from a previous boyfriend but I accepted that and the two other kids. It seemed that within the month that I had moved in, every major employer in the small town that my girlfriend lived had a hiring freeze. My wife went on maternity leave and had a beautiful little girl. She returned to work within a couple of weeks and within a month, she was laid off from the mine as were a lot of other people. Soon, we were running into problems paying our rent and were forced to move. After much soul-searching in 2009, we chose where we are, another smaller town that my fiance had family nearby that might be able to help.

We made the move and my wife, who thought that she could get a job within months in her old stomping ground, started having problems. Nobody was hiring. Even fast food joints and Walmart wasn't taking applicants. Jobs at another mine were getting posted and within 12-18 hours getting taken down because so many people were applying. It was getting bad, but I thought that I had an answer, a way out. We both talked about it and decided to go back to school in an earnest attempt to make ourselves be more marketable. My wife would get a teaching degree and I would get a degree in Social Work.
My mother had been a real help. The school year before the middle child would go to Kindergarten, my mother had paid for her to go to preschool for a year. My mother lent us some money to keep above water when the months started before financial aid started. It was at the tail end of the school year, my mother was laid off from her job as an accountant. The hits just kept on coming...

There are days that I hit the job search hard and put out as many applications as I can. There are other days that I have trouble just getting out of bed. I want to provide the best for my daughters (which is how I view my wife's children) and give them everything that they need. All I need to do that is a job, any job. This year, the eldest would not have had school clothes to wear if it had not been for my father, my mother-in-law and a community assistance program to help people like our family. I don't know what we are going to do. It seems that every time we see a glimmer of a way out of poverty, something happens, another support system fails or is crushed in some fantastic way.

I try to keep in contact with friends through Facebook as I don't get to see my friends much recently. Recently, I managed to get one of them to give me a ride to see them and it was really nice. I realize more than ever that I am isolating myself. However, my more long-distance friends keep posting stuff on Facebook about how people on welfare should be tested for drugs, how the unemployed are so lazy, on and on. There are days that I respond pointing out the flaws in their posts and how they don't know what they are talking about. There are other days that I can't even get inspired to do that. It's just another thing in a long line of things that are telling me that death might be a way out. My wife keeps the faith and reminds me frequently about the children and that helps but not really long enough to remain positive. I don't want a million dollars. I don't want something for nothing. I don't even want a fantastic job. I want a job, even at minimum wage. I don't have the luxury right now of my principles anymore. I would kill for that demotion I turned down 6 years ago because it would be something...

I want to thank you for the opportunity to share my story. Please keep posting these stories. Maybe something might change. Maybe people can get the point.

Too poor to retire

I am a 60-year-old woman with a Bachelor's degree in History. I didn't get my degree until I was 53; before that I was a stay-at-home mom and then worked for 16 years at the post office. I'd been taking classes all along, trying to work toward my bachelor's and I figured I better get it if I wanted to get a decent job elsewhere. I quit working at the post office for health reasons. I'm on disability but I did get a job after graduating working part-time in an office. I'd still be there, but the office closed down. I can't even get unemployment because I wasn't making the required minimum of $221 a week. (I live in Ohio.) Yet I've lost over $500 a month in income, which is a blow.

I've put in applications everywhere I can think of. I don't even mention that I'm on disability. But I never even get a call. I have invaluable customer service experience from working as a window clerk at the post office, but I'm beginning to wonder if that actually works against me because of the stereotypes about postal workers. Granted, my Bachelor's is not in the most practical field, but it IS a Bachelor's. Any more, though, having a Bachelor's only gets you an entry-level job, if that.

I considered going back for a Master's but that's at least another $25,000 in student loans with no guarantee that I could get a job afterward. I looked into a fellowship, but my GRE scores and GPA aren't high enough (even though I have a 3.41 GPA). I already have more student loan debt than I can pay for and have qualified for deferments. But you can only get those for three years and this is my third year.

I'm fortunate that I do have some income, but I worry about my future, especially in this political climate. I'm know I'm going to have to work into my seventies (if not beyond!) if I'm going to have enough to live on. I have no problem with that as long as my health holds up. But I'm at that pivotal age where it's hard to convince an employer to invest any time in me yet too young—and poor—to retire.

I know I'm not alone and that others have it worse than I do. But it's scary living this way. I try not to worry and trust that God will provide, but I know I have to help myself. The problem is, I'm trying to and not getting anywhere.

Glamorous Los Angeles

I framed my college diploma and moved to Los Angeles, thinking that words like "Double Major," "High Honors," and "Phi Beta Kappa" would impress the shit out of potential employers. They didn't. I went on a couple interviews, but mostly I accumulated internships. I walked dogs, picked up dry cleaning, picked up dog shit, dropped off dry cleaning, and tried to do it all so professionally and cheerfully that everyone around me would think, "This girl's commitment to our dog shit and dry cleaning is so impressive that we must hire her! Or at least reimburse her for mileage."

When it comes to job applications, I'm a machine. I've got accounts with all the major job sites, I have five different form cover letters, and my resume is downright beautiful. I apply to at least 3 jobs a day, mostly by sitting in front of my computer and refreshing the page in hopes that a new listing will pop up. Most of the interviews I get, I'm sitting in the lobby next to a thousand girls like me, all of us applying for the same position, all of us silently hating each other.

The part that gets me is the loneliness. In college, I had a million friends in my dorm. But now I've moved across the country from all my friends and family, and I spend every day alone on my computer. I'm embarrassed to call my friends. I never have good news, and I hate being Debbie Downer all the time. My parents want to know if I've had any interviews this week, and how did they go, and have I thought about moving back home? My grandparents email to tell me about a new website they'd discovered called Craigslist. At 6:24pm, when my roommate gets home from work, she will be the first person I've seen all day, and I'll pretend to have showered and changed my clothes and done something productive with my life, instead of sitting all day alone in the dark with the A/C turned off to save money.

The manager

My last job I worked for a HUGE company that had several other companies under their corporate umbrella. I started off with this company earning minimum wage but after being there for 15 years I was a salaried manager making a comfortable $60k+ a year. I was the top dog of my department, 3rd in the chain of command at my facility. I was divorced and had my kids living with and was living very comfortably within my means.

One day I went to work, just after this recession started. I was told that due to my salary and the company needing to trim down on expenditures I was going to be released. It took a while for the words to settle in. I was being let go.

I was offered a severance package, and the opportunity to keep my medical insurance for a while – which I needed as I had a 19 year old son (1st year college student) whom just had a car accident and as a result had numerous injuries the worst being a traumatic brain injury. Regardless I kept the insurance and lived off my severance until it was gone, and then applied for unemployment.

The humiliation of going from 60k and year (almost 5k a month) to just 1,400/month was staggering. I had to sell off all of my ‘TOYS' a carreer long collection of guitars, amplifier and pedals that would make most musicians red with envy. All gone! Not too long after I was let go, my medical insurance that I had kept for my son – ballooned from $380/month to $890/month. BUT I had to pay it as my son needed it. I also needed to pay this if my son was to have ANY HOPE of getting back to a life with some kind of normalcy in spite of what his injuries were.

Anyway, I ended up being unemployed for 10 months and I finally got a call from a contracting company that hires person to work with Government agencies. I had to take over a 50% cut in pay to join the ranks of the employed. In order to get hired I had to go through an extensive background check in order to attain a SECRET clearance that was necessary to work where I work. I made it and got hired. But somewhere between the date I was offered the job (February 2010), till the date I actually started this job (May 2010) I got a speeding ticket. Unable to pay the ticket due to still having to have the deductions for the best medical plan for my son, and covering my mortgage and monthly bills for food and utilities – I now have a warrant for my arrest... I can only hope that things will drag on until I can get my next tax return so that I can at least pay these fines and get on with a life where I do not have to look over my shoulder from the time I get to work, til the time I leave at the end of a day.

Separate continents

I've been unemployed (with random bouts of abusive employment that once involved a boss screaming at me so loudly she was heard over 200 teenagers) since 2008. I was so depressed and useless that my parents encouraged me to go to law school in the hopes that it would at any cost buy them three years of their daughter being engaged with society again, that it would lure me out of my room. I had taken to sleeping all day and taking a sleeping pill to sleep all night.

The depression is indescribable. In addition to losing my jobs, I had lost most of what I had put in my 401k due to a bad manager. I have no idea how I can ever trust a retirement fund again, and I'm 27. I see myself hoarding cash rather than putting it in a bank.

I had an accident shortly before being laid off from my second job and became partially disabled, and have accumulated massive medical bills. After five surgeries, I still need more surgery to be able to walk normally again, but I'm afraid to seek medical help for fear of accumulating even more debt. I cannot feel my foot, my ankle and leg are constantly in screaming pain, and I cannot afford to have that fixed, even with the weak health insurance I get through school.

My fiancé was unemployed, got lucky, and found a job on another continent. I am so willing to take a job that we are living apart, on separate continents, while I finish my qualifications here, and then travel to live with him. We have written off the United States entirely in terms of a chance of a stable employment future- and this isn't even a guaranteed future. My fiancé has been at his job for five years and is still so traumatized by his unemployment experience in the U.S. that he cannot shake the feeling that one slip up will get him canned.

It breaks our hearts to leave our families behind, but it is what we feel we need to do in order to take care of ourselves- we need to have jobs to eat, to take care of ourselves, and to put a roof over our heads. We would like to have a family one day, but there is no way that we can justify having children in the United States where we don't feel safe or secure in our employment or for their futures.

Previously
The full archive of our Unemployment Stories series can be found here.

[You can send your own unemployment story here. If you'd like to contact someone you read about here, email me.]