The economy added more than 150,000 jobs in January, but unemployment still rose to 7.9%; if you count those who have given up and stopped looking for work, the rate is much higher. Each week, we bring you true stories of unemployment, from those who have lived it. This is what's happening out there.
I still exist
I don't know where to begin, because somedays I have to pinch myself to even know that I exist. Life today is so different since 2011. My first rendition of HELL HAS NO FURY. I can truly testify that I feel so lifeless in my will to exist beyond my circumstances UNEMPLOYMENT. Almost 50 years old in less than 2 years, I wake up trying to gravitate where do I fit in. My job/ career didn't validate me as a person but more so gave me a sense of purpose and allowed me to contribute to society. Family, friends and some people can not comprehend that unemployment is almost like experiencing the death of a love one. You grieve, become depress, try to work and push through your barriers without giving up, but then it hits you all at once, all over again NOT WANTED, REJECTED. Then here comes the generic compassion of DON'T WORRY, it is going to get better soon. It is not that folk don't mean well, they just run out of things to say that holds truth. I don't know about others that are unemployed, but I can honestly say that I don't Want or need self pity, just a fair opportunity to become apart of society again. CREDIT CHECKS, VARIOUS DISCRIMINATIONS, 60 MINUTES INTERVIEWS, QUESTION BY NOW A GROUP OF PEOPLE, that want to know, what have you been doing since your last job. OK, what about trying to survive this unfortunate situation. What about trying to keep a roof over my family head and my utilities on. Lets see, trying to keep food on the table without resorting to animal can food. What about, continuously praying that I don't give up and kiss this madness GOOD BYE. The nerve, of some folks. WHAT DO OLDER UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE DO. Try to maintain the balance to keep from falling through the cracks.
Please stop rejecting us and just accept us for being once dedicated workers with tireless work ethics, dependable and still trainable.
Understand that I did not request an early retirement/ without benefits (LAID OFF) to have my new title read (OLD AND UNEMPLOYED)
I still exist and others like me still matter and we still can make a contribution in today's workforce.
Tips from the front lines
I have never really been unemployed [until recently]. I have been working since I was 15. I worked my way through college. I did once take a 3 month leave from a job to do some travelling, and once I was between jobs in a good economy for about 3 weeks. But that was it. My wife had only recently been unemployed for 4 months and has a good understanding of what it is like. Her warnings and advice have been invaluable. That said, I was not prepared for the full brunt of it. I make a point of applying for at least 2 jobs a day, maybe more. These are not necessarily jobs on my formal career path, but are jobs I am qualified to do based on my career or based on my experience over the last 15 years. Anything and everything. The Kitchen Sink approach. Throw shit at the wall and see what sticks. I call these "Joe Jobs". Meanwhile, keep an ear to the ground for the dream job, or at least the job that represents where I was in my career when I left the last place. Same level, same industry, hopefully more money. Use my networks, friends, and industry connections. The results are most interesting.
As 8 months have now gone by and I remain unemployed, I have a few interesting observations to share. On the subject of technology, I am torn as to it's being a help or a hindrance. Back in the pre internet days, or even in the early internet days, you had to hoof it into the workplace yourself to apply. This would sometimes involve meeting someone face to face. If they " liked the cut of your jib" they would give you a shot, and this was often the single bit of serendipity that got you a job. Although there were less ways to find the jobs and less ways to apply than there are today, there was not a machine filter that searched your resume and cover letter for keywords before even passing you onto a human. And there was less competition. You had to compete with maybe 20 people when things were posted in walk-in job centers and in news papers. On the internet, those 20 competitors are now 3000 competitors including folks from neighboring states. So you learn, you learn to tweak each resume and cover letter to hit the keywords for the filters. It becomes a bit of a game.
With the internet being the main medium for getting a job, you get exposed to the world of those whose business it is to take advantage of the unemployed. Posting up your resume for recruiters to see also exposes it to scammers, who then contact the desperate with vague offers of at-home employment at generous salaries "forwarding packages" or laundering money. Not all resume farming is so evil however, many of it is just invasive marketing on behalf of for-profit diploma factories who want to get the desperately unemployed to indebt themselves more for a useless degree nobody will recognize. Others just sell your information to telemarketers. When you are unemployed, you want your phone to ring. It will. Robo calls mostly.
You can also sign up for email notifications from services that scan the internet job boards for you. This will work. Especially if you are interested in hearing about jobs that have nothing to do with you, your experience, skill set, or anything you set up during the configuration of the service. After all, there is no harm in the forensic accountant hearing about the cruise line that is hiring ship-board barbers and the lawyer being notified of the exiting new opening for a pipe fitter in Zaire. Especially if that information comes in endless emails.
I have had literally a few dozen interviews in the last 8 months. Several a month. I interview very well in general, and I tend to be confident about it. However, despite the great interviews, I have not gotten the job. This happens in many ways, but mostly it happens in the simplest way possible. No follow up. I understand that companies cannot personally reject each person who applies. I can even understand them not contacting each person who interviews..but when you are two or three interviews in, there really is no excuse for that. An email would be nice. I accept that sometimes it may be me, but I have reason to think that most of the time it isn't. When you check the boards every day, you being to see patterns. How long an ad has been up, how many a company posts up, and you begin to see that some of them are ads that not only did you respond to and apply for, but interviewed for. And 5 months after you had the second interview and never heard back, you see the ad is is still posted. Not only did you not get the job...NOBODY got it. You begin to suspect that some companies like to post ads but hate to actually hire.
Being overqualified has been interesting. It leads to more polite rejections than most. I have had several incidences of it. I actually want to do the job. I may be more qualified and a few steps ahead of the job in my career, but I hated what I did and want to go back a few steps to where I was happy. Recruiters will say that they like my resume and will pass it onto their own boss because it was very good, but they didn't think I would be happy taking a step back. Ok..but you had my resume since the day I applied. There are no surprises here. Why interview me in the first place?
Then, there is the old adage that it is easier to get another job while already employed. I know Obama has a new law that says employers cannot discriminate against someone just because they are unemployed, but it is not that enforceable. People ask me what I have been doing. I have re-enrolled in school, just to SAY "I went back to school"..but I am not sure how I am going to pay for it. The longer the unemployment goes on, the bigger the gap in the resume seems. I sometimes think I should pick up in another country..or get some odd jobs ( I cannot even seem to find those) and back pack around South America like a 22 year old. Have a few lost years. Might as well, if I am going to be sitting around at home anyhow.
The experience is one of extremes. There are moments of incredible shame and despair. Being 40 and unemployed. Having my wife support me. Having nothing to do much of the time. The sense that your neighbors know your shameful truth. The feeling that the world is moving on outside everyday and you are doing nothing. As in the workaday world, Mondays are the worst. On Mondays, there are no new job ads. You are looking at the same ones that were posted up on Friday. You already applied. But everyone else is off to work and there you are. You can forget you are unemployed on the weekends, but come Monday, that reality crashes back in hard. There are moments of elation too. The feeling that you have kicked ass in an interview is unbeatable. That call back for the 2nd and 3rd one. Heck, sometimes even that first call is great after a few days of feeling like nothing has been happening. It lifts your spirits for awhile.
I find that keeping up a routine is important. Don't stay up late. Get up at the same time as everyone else. Look for work between 9 and 3. Then use the gym (there is one in my building). Clean the apartment. Run errands. It is very very tempting to be lethargic. It is tempting just lie in bed and give up. I have found myself slipping down that path more than once.
Beauty in struggle
Sadly, I've done relatively well in this recession - because I've been adapted to poverty a lot longer. My parents were immigrants who strove to advance from lower to the middle class. While other kids wanted to "hang out" with peers, I either focused on school or helped in the family business - I was 9 years old when I first learned how to tile a kitchen. School was still primary though. When I got to college, I had 3 scholarships waiting for me as a reward for my effort - happy endings, right?
My father died my sophomore year, throwing the entire household into dire financial problems - we sank back to poverty immediately. My brother had no hope for college - he acquired a security job for a few weeks, then ran away and eventually reappeared two months later to announce he was leaving for the military. I had to quit school - you can't really study if you have no food or shelter - and began working 40 hours at a warehouse with a pothead and a dropout. Being intelligent, I actually improved a few processes my second day on the job - saving time and effort - the reward being that the boss fired the unnecessary "extra workers" since I "clearly" could handle the work of 3 guys (for the same pay). I switched to various terrible jobs in which I excelled but had no hope of advancement or reward (just a lot of employers surprised at their luck, who soon tried to work me overtime without overtime pay). My family moved into a very impoverished neighborhood whose public library was smaller than a Gamestop; where a landlord had a scam with the towing company (towing visitors, charging & then splitting the profits); and where I recall being hit by a car while walking (luckily I landed okay). I lacked public transport so I was on foot for years, walking about 4 hours daily (a couple hours to & from work). I saw roadkill daily on streets with no sidewalks. Sometimes I ate mildly spoiled food (partly out of hunger; partly because I've got an iron-stomach now thanks to gradual exposure). The best job I found paid less than minimum wage but I took it because it was an office job (so I hoped it'd look better than fast food and warehouses on a resume). I slept on a floor. On a few occasions when the power went out on our block, I'd walk to the nearest gas station just so I could read while outside. All this and the recession hadn't properly even started.
I kept striving. We managed to move again closer to my old college and I got a new job in sales - the pay was still terrible, but it was only 3 miles away, easy walking distance in the sweltering Miami heat. Five days a week I walked to and from work; two days a week I walked to and from college, carrying every single book for every single class all day. Where "6 credits" is Part-Time and "12 credits" is Full Time, I managed to do 15 & 18 credit semesters out of sheer frustration to escape circumstance. I acquired 2 Bachelors (Foreign Affairs, Criminology), 2 Minors, a certificate in National Security; I'm fluently bilingual (English & Spanish), with elementary Arabic & French (from college); I'm self-taught in basic web-design (HTML, CSS, PHP, Photoshop, etc) and coding (mostly Java for Android). I'm also versed in construction. I cannibalize information on any topic I find a book on - and I graduated during the recession.
Out of college, I smoldered at my sales job, that had become horrid as cronyism had flourished. I was upset that I had neither transportation nor free time to pursue internships like some of my peers - frustrated hat it's impossible to share "all the above" on a resume, as if my ability to fight against circumstance doesn't matter against another student with no such concerns. Eventually I managed to leave sales for an office job unrelated to my fields of study (which was interesting but despite my increasing responsibilities & upward transfers, they refused to renegotiate pay until I was already out the door) - ironically, the job I took after that (thinking it was more stable) was the one that let me (and several other employees) go a handful of months later. I've been unemployed half a year now. Work related to my fields is a perpetual challenge - budget cuts have butchered our local police departments, so logically, staff that are let go are now competition for other related positions. All the while, my family are firmly American but still immigrants - how do you explain how the first in the family with so much education can struggle to find work? Some job applications take 1-3 hours and are online only but they're still mentally locked in a period where people would just knock on a door, fill out a 1-page form and have a job within the hour. How do you explain continued attempts at self-improvement when they think you're "competitive enough" - they see it as a luxury as if constantly working for free is fun.
The main reason I write is not to complain - rather, I see so many talk about suicide. We'll all be dead a long time - why rush? There is beauty in struggle. I could have given in to despair years ago but I refuse to kneel to circumstance. For quick movie wisdom, I recommend "Revolver" (disguised as an action film, it's actually a psychological critique on the "ego" and how pride gets us into most problems); I obviously recommend "Fight Club" (I've seen it with all the commentary & bonus languages - the "things you own end up owning you" mantra I credit to keeping me sane time and again). A quick search and read on "Minimalist Living" and even "Minimalist Design" can help you downsize and adapt while still finding beauty in spartan environments. And with a huge portion of all our incomes going to rent, I suggest many readers reconsider their local public colleges - for example, as a "non-degree seeking student" for a simple 1-credit course. Compare the fees (which will cover you 1 semester or 4 months) against your monthly rent. As a student you have access to the gym (and its showers & rest rooms), lounges (for students to nap), library (self improvement, napping & computer access), health center (reduced or free services) and parking (to keep your car). It still requires some cash, but it's a lot cheaper than some of the situations I'm reading people deal with. My point is, experiment. Consider fields seemingly unrelated to your focus. I remember years ago seeing some computer-science students dreading the cog-like programming jobs that awaited them; meanwhile, at work, the business-majors turned managers were bemoaning corporate pressure. The only guy who seemed serene was a computer-science guy who ditched software development for sales - thanks to his specialization, he excelled at matching high-end equipment and software to business clients and was mostly 'untouchable' at work. Rather than seek "the ideal profession" that "obviously" matches your schooling, it may be wise to translate your aptitudes to offer new services to other professions that normally lack the bonus. Keep your chin up.
First off, more than likely, I've had more jobs than you since I'm up to 34 jobs in the past 11 years now. And I'm just 28 years old, which means, by time I'm 30 I should be at 45 jobs. I'm from ghettoburbs of South Central LA and most likely should have taken the drug dealer road than the education one...
I use to have normal emotions like normal people, but since I'm mentally numb from the economic situation and educated in fields that people often are confused by. I had to be a black male within a 1500 miles radius that decided to get a Bachelors in History to become a history teacher because I wanted to give back to my community. However, our Governator screwed up everything for new teachers and I gave up that dream to try and become a Librarian. Why? I love organizing books, comics, video games....and anything that's a puzzle to me since I have some organization disorder I don't understand yet.
Did I mention that I have a Master's degree in Library Information science. Did I also mention I'm a oversize muscle bound geek. I would like to be a Librarian one day. A library of video games, arcade PCB's as well books and magazine that are related in one place, with me as the head is one my goals.
Do you how does it feel to be 6'3, body built like I'm a football player, balled wearing glasses and knowing that every got damn interview, in this field, you will have the same setting? Two women, looking terrified as if I'm about to engage in some kind of fornication act right there, interviewing me, a male who wants to work in a library. Library....a field that's pretty much dominated by women these days...
Do you know how it feels to sit in a chair where you, the person that's being interviewed, knows more information about the field and the position than the person that's interviewing you? I've had 8 of these type of interviews in the past 12 months. The person interviewing me is lost and looking at me as if she found out that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. This counts as a threat since I can replace them pretty easily...
I hustle, I grind and I can't help but to cry on my 28th birthday (June 11) because I'm still in the same trap. No job or hope for this black man. I'm already preparing to start breaking into people's home since I'm tired of driving all the way to the valley twice a week to sell plasma for a total of 70 bucks.
I've done everything what America told me do.....go to college, have fun, meet new people, screw someone until you graduate, and rack up a bunch of college debt that guarantee me open doors in the job market. I thought I was V.I f*cking P in the education system against the people who just went and got H.S diplomas. But it backwards it seems these days. Especially in my field. The only field where you can work anywhere in the library (except Page position) and make as much or more money than teachers with a High School diploma, but still need a MLS just to be a librarian. No college degree require at all for anything else. What. The. Deuce?
I just want to live the typical black man American dream for a little bit. Just make a lot money, screw some white women and worry about tomorrow. You know, that stuff that rappers talk about in their songs. All I can do is just laugh because at this point I'm delirious and I kinda wish I was in jail.....at least I don't have to worry money, debt or the stress of living....just have to worry about who I'm turning out next and if I'm gonna turn full blown sissy from the jail life.
But still, I sit here and keep trying. I just submitted a resume to a site, which then makes me fill out the information portion of the same shit I just submit . Not explaining sh!t or what I'm doing it for?
WHAT was the point of submitting the resume? Why the f*ck do I have to enter my f*cking name, address, phone number, education, jobs and job description when all that sh!t is on the GOT (GOD for some people) DAMN RESUME. Who's gonna read this? I'm not gonna get into the personality test that I have to do.
At this moment right now, I'm not for sure if I should blow my brains out or hang myself because I'm starting to believe that I will never find that game changer I've seek for the last ten years. I don't believe in hashtag or care it since I grew up on the terms "number" and "pound" as the idea for #. But....
Bad job vs. no job
For the past 3+ years I have been in a job with a horribly abusive and manipulative boss. Worse than any situation I ever would have imagined myself in.
I am highly conflict averse and my boss thrives in conflict. He makes shocking personal attacks and wild accusations. He has driven people to tears. He has even gone off on a couple of my clients for imagined slights, and lost me major deals. In 3 years, more than half our staff has turned over. My job is stressful by nature; the addition of an unstable boss who doesn't understand my job (and thus makes nonsensical demands and judges me on imaginary criteria) makes it nearly unbearable.
I would have quit after a year but I didn't because it's so hard to find another job, and I've searched for 18 months. I've tried to move internally but everyone knows how awful my boss is and they assume I'm so desperate to get out that I'll apply for anything. I am also in a perverse position of being overqualified for a lot of jobs in my field but under-qualified for areas that interest me, with no way to get professional development.
I have read stories here where people say "stop complaining about how stressed you are, I would give anything for your job." But a situation like mine is nothing to shrug off. I have had serious physical and mental repercussions; I reluctantly went to a therapist and she suggested I have post-traumatic stress disorder, which I thought was silly... but maybe it isn't.
I have sympathy for unemployed people and I know I'm lucky to have a decent salary and benefits. But I feel trapped, unwilling to tap into modest savings to live unemployed for a while, since it's unlikely I would find a job quickly (if at all). I would likely have to move as well, incurring a mess of new expenses. I have little alternative but to stay in a job I dread that's giving me an ulcer and autoimmune problems at the age of 28. And, if I quit out of misery I won't even get unemployment benefits.
The entire archive of our "Unemployment Stories" series can be found here.
[Thanks to everyone who wrote in. You can send your own unemployment story here.]