America's unemployment crisis is so bad that even the people who work in the unemployment office are getting laid off. Each week, we bring you true stories of unemployment, straight from the unemployed. This is what's happening out there. It's not good.
I am a single father with full custody of my 10 year old son. I hold two bachelor's degrees. I am unemployed. There is no end in sight.
I was in the Marine Corps for eight years where I was trained in a variety of Information Technology (IT) skills. I took that job with the intention of having a marketable skill once I left the military, which I did in 2007 (a decision I'm partially regretting). I was immediately hired by the Military-Industrial Complex to do the same job I had in the Marines, just now with more pay as a civilian. All was great until I decided that I really didn't want to be involved in IT anymore. I never found any enjoyment of the job and, frankly, I just wasn't into computers like my coworkers were. I had always wanted to be a teacher, so I resigned my job (a decision I'm majorly regretting), moved in with my dad and started school full time as a secondary education major with a concentration of social studies - just for kicks, I also minored in political science and history.
At the time, teaching was a pretty stable career choice. Now, like everything else, it is clearly not. I did my four years of school and got my degree. I have another bachelor's in Workforce Education which I received from an accelerated program I did while in the military. Long story short on that one: I did the 'major' classes and all I had to do was transfer in all my general education stuff in order to complete the degree requirements.
So here I sit with two degrees and no possibility of employment. Like many others in the previous Unemployment Stories, I send out resumes, I try to track down contact information to further sell myself and I call friends and their friends. All that I have left is that I'm out of money. The jobs I'm qualified for don't seem to want me for whatever reason. The jobs I'm over qualified for, but willing to do to support my son, don't want me either because I'm over qualified. The most annoying thing is not hearing back from someone who I have sent my resume to personally. Tell me the job is filled, tell me I don't qualify, tell me to go screw myself, but just tell me something. Every day I scour the job sights for training or teaching jobs. I also spend additional hours trying to get into any job that will help me pay the bills.
My girlfriend is in the same boat I am - she even has a master's degree. She asked me the other day if I could possibly reenlist. After watching so many friends go off on multiple deployments, the death of one close friend and being racked with survivors guilt, I find that I'm actually considering it. Unfortunately, I think I've passed the age limit - I'm just to scared to look.
I've spent many hours awake because I have no income and have no idea how to make any. I want to take my son to the movies. I want to take him to see hockey and baseball like my dad used to do with me. I want to buy him ice cream from time to time, but I can't. Instead I find myself slumped on the couch cursing some unknown entity for mine, and so many others, predicament. We're not lazy, we're not uneducated, we're not waiting for, nor wanting, a handout. We just want a chance to make a living.
As days turn into nights, and nights fall again to mornings, the exhausting perpetual search for gainful employment leaves me tired and weary. After an honorable discharge from the US Navy in 2005, and being a veteran of both iraqi freedom and enduring freedom i decided to go after my dream of being a harley davidson technician. so naive was i in my almost religious fervor for all things American, i felt that my love of the road and for the great american product that is harley davidson would be a great endeavor as i was what they would call in the navy a "shit hot" mechanic. my original plan was to pursue a career in aviation but after 9/11 that industry seemed to go up in smoke as jobs were eliminated and airline after airline folded in the aftermath. no biggie, switch gears. i rode harleys and had a good repoire with my fellow likeminded bikers, so i decided to go to MMI where i was thrown into instant debt of over $25,000 for a 15 month certification program. i finished school with some of the highest marks a few of my instructors had seen. i was recently married and a new father and decided to move home to illinois from florida to be close to family should we need help with our new child. i searched for 6 months and scoured every bike shop in the area and finally got a job as a set up tech for a local dealership making a whopping 10.00 bucks an hour. after realizing that this company was never going to give me a leg up on anything i was hired at another st louis dealership for slightly more money. i worked tirelessly for these crooks for 12 dollars an hour. i stayed late and worked weekends, i trained other techs, and i always went above and beyond the call of my stated duties. the first year i was there i made $21,000. and kept telling myself that it will pay off sooner or later.
It was now 2008 and i was given a raise to 16.00 dollars an hour..........flat rate. so for every hour billed i was to recieve 16 bucks but every hour i was there that i didn't get to bill was essentially free labor to the company. i say that because as the economy wound down there was less and less work and i was not the only tech working there. as a matter of fact some of those techs that i trained that had absolutely no schooling were getting paid an hourly rate. so they were paid regardless of the work they performed. you can see where this is going right. as less and less work came in the door more and more of that work was doled out to the hourly techs. and as they raked in their 10 bucks an hour plus overtime pay i saw less work hit my lift. i once received a paycheck where i had clocked over 85 hours yet the billed time only amounted to about 265 dollars. as the second year i worked there wound to a close my W2's showed i had made 19,000 dollars, two grand less than the previous year. so much for that raise huh. well i wasnt the only one being raked over the coals. as the end of 2009 approached i was looking forward to the holiday bonus and mine was supposed to be around 2500 bucks. two days before i was to receive that bonus the GM called me into his office and told me he was letting me go for stealing. i was utterly flabbergasted and considered beating the living hell out of that sonofabitch. he said he had me on four different surveillance cameras rolling a rear wheel out to the parking lot and depositing it into the trunk of my car. which in part was true but the wheel in question was the wheel from my own 2006 HD softail. this i proved but to no avail.
I was broke and i was jobless it was christmas and my wife had left me and taken our son with her. tragedy it seemed was to be my vise. but i over came and got a hold of a friend of mine in california whom i had trained at the st louis location. he had gotton a job in temecula at a well known dealership and was making $34.00 an hour flat rate, and he said he could get me a job there in spring. so i rallied and got the money together to get to tucson arizona where another friend of mine had relocated to in response to the squaller that was the job market in illinois. i rented a 9' x16' cool box storage unit and had it dropped in my friends desert back yard and lived in it for three months. he and i would hit the alleys and bulk trash days looking for scrap and working our fingers to the bone for a few dollars a day pay, as we rolled into the scrap yard every day to turn in our previously discarded semi-precious metal treasures. i saved what i could and finally made it to california in march to stay with my harley wrenching friend. i secured a place to live, a shack of sorts and started working again for this company with a renewed excitement and ecstatic feeling of "i finally made it." i was making $34.00 an hour and loving it. a few months into the position i noticed that despite my attention to detail and eagerness to please my boss was not giving me a whole lot of work. soon i was written up for leaving a valve stem cap off a wheel then there was another for an "unsafe turn" into the parking lot, and later still, a third write up for tipping one of my co-workers a few bucks for helping me on a job. they canned me for subcontracting work. and threw me out in the street without even the ability to collect unemployment. when i went to get my tools my boss flat out told me that they couldnt afford to keep me as there wasnt enough work, and that he would give me a good reference. bullshit right?? so ..... broke again i took what i had and sold my beloved harley, shipped my belongings back to illinois and drove my car home with my tail between my legs. back in illinois i searched and searched for work, to no avail. i lived in a campground and sold weed and engaged in other nefarious activities to earn whatever i could to get by. i hunted game illegally with a pellet rifle and fished the lake the campground was on to eat. and continued searching but nothing came of it. in june of 2011, i met a guy there in that campground who had a few harleys and who needed a bit of work done so i fixed one of his bikes and to celebrate he let me ride a different bike he had and intended for me to do work on. we rode around for most of that day and on the way back to the campground the bastard crashed into me nearly severing my left leg below the knee. i stayed two weeks in the hospital and was on my haunches for nearly a year. to this day i still have not recovered fully. i have been looking for jobs everywhere and am told wherever i go that i was either their number 2 choice or that my injuries inhibit my abilities (hard to hide the limp i guess). the bottom line is i still dont have a job. and every day i grapple with the idea of suicide. i was successful at one time and on top of the world, now im broken and it seems i will end up like many other veterans of this country, homeless and on the street looking for the next big thing. thanks america, and thanks harley davidson for showing me what our country truly is about.
I graduated undergrad with honors from my California state university in 2008 with degrees in Graphic Design and Art History, and lucked out and got a job nearly immediately working as a designer for a large company. While working often 50 hour weeks, I also worked as a freelance illustrator, primarily editorial but also some books, and for a time also adjunct lectured at a local university, all before I was 25. I loved working in the classroom and I wanted to grow my illustration skills so I could get out of graphic design, so I applied and got into a prestigious MFA program.
Now it's September 17th, 2012, I'm 27 and I live at home with my parents. I'm over 70,000 dollars in debt from my school loans, thousands of debt in credit cards I can't pay (which were spent on responsible things, like doctor visits and books for school) and I have applied to over 100 jobs ranging from Creative Director to Waitress and as of this writing have not yet even secured an interview. I have applied both locally and nationally but it honestly doesn't seem to matter.
It feels like it all happened at one. The magazines I was freelancing for went bankrupt. Art Directors got their budgets cut. Suddenly to be a graphic designer, it wasn't enough to have a mastery in print, you also had to know web, and animation, and be able to lift 50 lbs and do video editing and make a mean cup of coffee and data entry too. All for minimum wage.
I'm running out of ideas. I've been guest lecturing without pay at local universities just to try to pad my resume. I've also volunteered to tutor homeschool kids to try to help them/stay current on writing lesson plans and to keep my illustration skills sharp, but honestly it's making me more depressed than ever. What's the use of teaching kids how to use art if all it means is an existence of constant suffering? I know that's the long running joke- artists are broke. But I wasn't always. I really thought I had the skill set and the business mind to survive and I was wrong. I am so utterly embarrassed to be living at home with my parents, and it's equally depressing when I get little notes from "fans" who say they love my work/books, asking me how to become a successful illustrator.
I feel like a failure and a loser and I really feel hopeless.
The government contractor
I've had a nice career as a government contractor. I started at the bottom of my field and steadily worked my way up. My paychecks increased with each new assignment and I loved the fact I had a job where I was in charge, wearing nice suits daily and felt I made an impact on government interests. I got a new position with one firm and reached what I thought was the ground floor with a company about to explode with new contracts. They lied. They didn't have 200 employees, they had 78, and they were losing contracts every month. I was horrified. I was totally deceived during my interview. Then they laid me off after six months. I didn't take it personally. I knew they were a dying company. They provided linguists and that business was steadily drying up. I was lucky enough to network into another lower paying position with one of their prime contract holders. Once again, I was not told the real deal about that position. I was kept on for 4 months while another employee was out on disability. I always wondered why this new employer did not want to train me in regards to their daily operations. It didn't make sense. In retrospect it does now; I was a temporary hire therefore it didn't make sense to add me to the network security administration settings, global corporate address book or building access cards.
The company decided to reorganize and I out-processed more than 40 employees on a Monday. I asked my one bosses if our department was facing cuts and she said "we are properly positioned", which set my B.S. radar off. I was let go Thursday one day before my offer letter probationary period was to end. The employee who was out on disability had returned two weeks prior and she was now up to speed on everything. I had served my purpose I guess. I was livid the day they let me go, but kept my composure. See I had two job offers when I went to their firm. The other job offer was a long drive and I choose them since they were in the same county and state. I cringe to think that I would be in much better shape had I gone with the other job. It makes me cry.
Now I feel I have a resume that screams "do-not-hire" since I have been laid off twice (one 6 month job followed by a 4 month job). Before that I was a paragon of stability. Government contracting has slowed down significantly. I'm going to job fairs where I am meeting my cohorts with similar resumes standing in line with me looking to apply to the same ONE job opening with yet another government contractor. I was an expert in what I did. I have a clearance. I'm supposed to be in high demand. If it's tough now, what's going to happen when sequestration hits and a million other government contractors become unemployed?
I'm writing this story for my friend because she can't. She shot herself.
My friend graduated with a bachelors degree in English. She and her husband moved to Northern California and between the two of them had enough money to get a comfortable mobile home. They liked dragons, tattoos and had three cats. I became friends with them because they would come into the store I worked at and we would trade stories about cats. I'm a very suspicious person and a pessimist, but they were such a good couple that it wasn't long before we were having movie night every Sunday.
Then her husband was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. My friend herself had been diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 8 and had barely survived. The human growth hormone she'd been given to try and counteract the stunting effect of chemotherapy had caused lifelong weight issues. When I met her she was 300+ pounds and that was after her gastric bypass surgery. As her husband was no longer able to work because of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she carried the financial burden alone. The VA paid for his hospital care, but they DIDN'T pay for the gasoline they used to drive six hours to the nearest clinic... in San Francisco. They also didn't pay for the hotel rooms they had to stay in while the treatment was ongoing.
Eventually, it was determined that her husband would need Stem Cell therapy in order to bully the cancer into remission. The only clinic offering this therapy was in Seattle, and he would need a caretaker while he was there because his immune system would be too weakened for him to do things like shop for food. His mother was supposed to go, but she ended up needing surgery at the last minute (she is an elderly woman) and so my friend left her job and went to Seattle with her husband.
He had a bad reaction to the radiation therapy, went into a coma, and died two weeks later. She didn't even have the money for a decent funeral at that point. She returned husbandless, and to a job that disappeared after a month and a half. Her credit cards were maxed out, and her savings were gone. She applied for food stamps, and was denied. She recieved unemployment, but it wasn't enough to make mortgage and rent payments. Her father helped her catch up on her mortagage, but told her that this was the only time he would help her.
For the next two years she struggled along, looking for jobs, working a waitress job at a local diner when she could (small family run business, not much money), working whatever temp job came her way. She finally landed a job "babysitting" people who were mentally/developmentally impaired. She had to do overnight visits where she might not ever get a chance to sleep; and her "client" was abusive and sometimes physically violent.
She gave away two of her cats because she could only afford to keep one. She used my internet because she'd cut hers. Finally, she told my sister and me one night that she was losing her house... the mortgage was too much to pay and she was getting foreclosed on in a month. We offered her our extra room and told her we'd help her move and do whatever we could. I should have known when she said that karaoke that night would be her "last hurrah" that she had her own way out.
I won't write down all the details, I didn't find out she had died until two weeks later: two weeks of unanswered phone calls and texts. I had to find out through her Facebook page, her family didn't contact or tell anyone and there was no memorial service. They did tell me how she died, and the only good that came from that is knowing how very deliberately she planned the whole thing. There was no mistake, no second guessing, no last minute regret. She was damned if she would lose her house on top of everything else.
I pay my taxes, and I bailed out banks four years ago. No one bailed my friend out. If I sit down to think about it I'm so filled with rage that I think I'll explode. I'd like to find the bank that held the mortgage on her house and burn it to the ground; but I wouldn't stop there. I'd burn the CEO's house, and the Branch President's house until they all knew how she felt. I'd like to commit so much arson that their bank goes under and THEY have to spend months searching for a job. I want them, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and every last one of the rich SOB's that cares more about their career than about jobs for "the little people" to feel what it's like to lose EVERYTHING. I want them to be so far down that the barrel of a gun looks good. And then I'd take the bullets from them, because fuck them, they don't get to take the easy way out. I want them to live with so much fear, and anger that they can't sleep at night (I haven't slept since I found out, and I have REALLY bad nightmares). I want them to know what it's like to be haunted by the absence of someone you were close to. I want them to lie awake at 4 am and cry because the dreams are that bad. I want THEM to have to stare at the therapist that says bluntly "you exhibit all the signs of major depression. If you don't start eating and sleeping we're going to put you on anti-depressants."
Ghosts are the spaces in our lives where people used to be.
The full archive of our "Unemployment Stories" series can be found here.