As we spend the day arguing over a satirical tweet about a Hollywood awards show, more than 12 million Americans remain unemployed. Millions more have dropped out of the labor force entirely. The upcoming sequester deal could cause sharp cuts in unemployment benefits. Each week, we bring you true stories of unemployment, from the unemployed themselves. This is what's happening out there.
The other Hollywood
I am a twenty-five year old woman living in Michigan and I don't see the point in living. I did everything I was supposed to do: I graduated from high school, I went to university. I got my bachelors and I worked hard. I love to work, I have a strong ethic for it, and I'm at my best when I'm busy. But there is so little decent employment out there and I wonder what all that time and money spent on school was worth.
I got my degree in Film just when movies were starting to get big in my state. "The Hollywood of the Midwest," I heard it called. The timing was serendipitous and like most young people I felt I was destined for great things. But those film jobs were scarce and competitive— hiring only so many people in state— and no one seemed interested in a fresh grad.
It has been many months since and after an internship and a deferred paying job I didn't see a cent for, I'm back living with my folks. I'd go elsewhere for work, but I honestly can't afford it. I'd take the terrible, boring jobs so many of my contemporaries accept without complaint, but I'm so depressed over my state in life I can't seem to find the energy to care enough to survive. I have been so very lucky and blessed to have parents that support me both financially (though I wish so hard I could finally be totally independent) and emotionally. But my dad (very reasonably) said he won't continue to help after I turn 26. I know it's supposed to give me initiative to get my life together, but even with this date looming I just can't find the energy to care about self-preservation.
Lately the guilt sends me combing the web in the wee hours, searching for a soothing solidarity… so finding these volumes of Unemployment Stories is like a hand reaching out to grab hold of. But I still feel worthless. Useless. A waste of space and life. And the response to my bemoaning is almost always some variant of "I have no sympathy for you." It's like no one wants to listen and frankly I'm inclined to simply disappear into silence.
The Great Depression, part two
Over the last 10 years I have had 7 different jobs all which I have been laid off from or fired due not fitting in with the culture of the companies ideas. I have always worked hard and have tried to impress the powers that be so I could move up in the company. All I have ever wanted is to take care of my wife and kids. It never really worked out, for some reason I seemed to always be picked out of a group as the first to go if there was a firing or lay off. I never understood that, because I always tried my best never missed work never messed around, but never really buddy up with the powers that be. Each time I got laid off or fired my confidence became more and more non existing. Now I have a part time job that doesn"t pay that great and my world is crashing before my very eyes.
I am helpless to stop it. Nobody will hire me for jobs that I used to have and I have to fluff up every resume to look like I know what the hell I am doing. I have always struggled to find out who I am and what I want to do, I think this comes from being adopted and never knowing really where I came from. I never had a father figure in my life to show me how to be a father, a husband or a provider. I have been winging it my whole life. My mother was divorced twice and was always chasing my older brothers since I was the good and responsible child. I was alone and had to fend for myself. I struggled through high school like most kids, but never really thought I was college material because everyone always told me so. The only one who believed in me was my wife so four years into our marriage I had a college degree. I was working part time for a marketing company through college and they hired me full time when I graduated. It was a great time in our life my wife had just got her master's and I got my undergraduate plus daughter was about to be born. My mother came down from Utah to watch daughter while we both worked. I was promoted at work to a field manager shortly after that. It was a great time. Then we were having rolling blackouts throughout the summer I had no Idea that companies where going through difficult times. It was my first real job at thirty years old. Then in the late summer early fall I was laid off from my job. I had no idea this was coming, I just got promoted. So this was the first time in my life that I was out of work. I had always had some type of job. Seven months I had no work and watching a new baby life was different but I was working through it. I got a job working for a manufacturing company as a sales guy traveling all over the country. I loved it seeing new places meeting new people. I was making 55,000 a year! A big step up from where I had been. It was hard work always being held accountable to a guy who was younger than me and smarter than me. He had a Harvard MBA and let everyone know it. I was up to the challenge. I work there for almost two years. The company was struggling due to the fact there were two different bosses and two different visions. So the company was sold to another company within our industry. I survived the first rounds of cuts, I lasted a year there. The headquarters was in LA and we were stationed in Orange County, so after a year they let everyone go. Another setback and we just had our third baby. Life was great but disappointing that I was out of work again. Meantime my wife was working and really enjoying being a mother and having a life outside the home. This time I was out of work for almost a year and a half. I got job at Qwest software a really great company here in also Viejo; I was now making a little over 65,000 and finally thought my dream job was here. It was close, I love the people and the company culture it was ideal for me. I worked there for a year and a half, always got along with my co workers and bosses. Then it happened again, I was laid off. This was getting depressing; I mean what is wrong with me. Is it the economy? Or is it really me and I just enjoy telling my wife I am out of work again.
As the depression gets more and more severe I fall into a fog that I can't get out of. I hate myself for not being the provider that I should be, I am mad at my kids for reminding me that I am home watching them instead of working and supporting them. I am angry with my wife since she is cold and distant and un-empathic towards my feelings and depression. She wants me to take medicine I refuse, she wants me to go to a therapist but I don't want to, but when we go she doesn't want to go anymore because the doctor is not ripping me the whole time. They actually tell my wife she needs to work on things. This infuriates her and then stops going. It was my entire fault and these doctors are too blind to see it. When I got laid off at Qwest my dream job I was so depressed that I could care less who I hurt or what I said. I mean I was really hurting and nobody cared. My wife wasn't always mad at me, she never told me how sorry she was that I was hurting so badly nor did she comfort me in my darkest hours. My mother never talked to me and when she did it made me mad because she would think it was all my wife's fault. Nobody from the church came over and said how can we help or what can we do. I was alone and hurt and depressed. Not a very good environment for the wife and kids. I was always angry, I mean nobody would talk to me it was all bottled up and I was explode when I couldn't take it anymore. I was miserable to live with never knowing when I would be set off. All I ever wanted was my wife to help me and to understand the pain I was going through. My lashing out was the only way I could get her attention. I was dying a slow death and nobody cared. I was screaming for help but it was like seeing a couple fights in a store and everyone watches but does nothing. I was out of work for almost two years. Any normal person would have ended their life and been done with it.
In the last two years my wife served me divorce papers twice and filed a restraining order against me and change the locks to the house. Told me it was over and I was dead to her. This is all the while that I am in a depression that was so bad that I was sleeping in the streets for two months. Did I deserve my wife to take action; yes something had to be done to get me to realize that I needed to change. I was at a crossroads in my life. What will history end up writing about me? Was I going to give up and just end it or was I going to change a fight for the family that I love. I decided to fight, I decided change the way I acted to take my medicine and to treat My wife like a princess and the wonderful mother that she is. It was rough at first she didn't want me around she didn't want me near her. I cried everyday just wanting her to accept me back into the fold of the family unit. She wanted me to move, she wanted me out of her life. I fought it because it was worth it. I never wanted to go back to the way I was before. Finally I got a job selling copiers door to door to businesses. It was a tough job, but it was income and I was happy for the work. Things were going well between my wife and I, we went on family vacation and had the best time ever. Our relationship seemed to be healing. Then over the summer, I got fired for not selling enough copiers per month, like I said it was a tough job but I was willing to do anything to make it work. So back to no money and the pressure on my wife, and more depression to follow. Although I keep taking my medicine, it is rough. I am wondering what the hell is wrong with me. We fight more; we bicker about the stupidest things. I am so paranoid that every time that I see her talking I think she and her friends are conspiring against me. Don't get me wrong I understand why my wife doesn't want to do this anymore. Either do I, but I can't and won't give up on us. I understood why she wrote me a letter for the third time in a two year span telling me she wants out. You would think that I would get it, hey stupid she wants out of the relationship. I can't something bigger than myself is driving me to stay, to not give up...
Nobody talks about how bad the economy really is, all the media portrays is the life styles on the rich and how everyone else is doing fine in this economy. Nobody talks about what is really going on in the country that we are living in the same times as our grandparents, the great depression part two, although this time it is harder because you have everyone in the world instantly telling you that it is your fault for not being a better provider. If you can't make it with support from family and friends, then there is no hope.
Such a creature as me
Let me preface this by saying my story is not as compelling as the others I have read in your articles. I still feel I should write about it, at least as a therapeutic exercise.
As of two days ago, I am 24. I graduated high school with fine grades and was attending a 2-year college for my associate's degree when I had a minor health scare. Well, not so much a health scare as a slow decline in my physical state. I had become deformed over the past several years because of some malformed vertebrae in my spine. The result was a severely kyphotic back (hunchback) and a bowed chest. I realize I've gotten a bit off track here, but bear with me.
I stopped attending school out of shame for my appearance. It seemed that everyone around me was normal and there was just no place for such a creature as me. I was only a couple of classes short of my AA, but I was not going back. So I started applying to jobs. I figured if I could get some income going, I could at least finally move out of my parents' house. I applied all over town and never heard back from anyone. I didn't have any references or work experience so I was never seriously considered. I wasn't too upset though, because I have never had any interest in going outside. I always see normal people and become immensely spiteful.
I realize there are many people far worse off than I am, but those aren't the people you see when you have such a condition. You see the people who are making easy progress through life, buying houses and starting families. It becomes harder and harder to make an effort to apply when you know you'll just be starting at the bottom again, always working towards what they got years ago. It's easier just to wait until the pot reaches the boiling point and let yourself cook.
Working those connections
I'm writing this; in its place, I am not writing my final essay for grad school. I was moved to write after realizing that I was budgeting even my words for the day.
I just turned 27. I did everything "right": went to college, graduated with minimal debt, studied in an area that was professional (accounting, CPA track). As if that mattered in 2008, when no one was hiring. Or 2009, when I graduated into what seems now like an endless room of people my parents' age waiting for a callback. I had four years of professional experience, but that did not matter. I had paid my dues after solving every little problem for attorneys as a file clerk. Suffering actually nets you nothing, which was especially awful when I couldn't collect unemployment. I was an intern at a Big Four accounting firm; there were CPAs in line for accounts receivable jobs.
And holy hell did things turn bleak. Through social media I had built a vast network of potential business contacts. And I really mean that, despite what people think of the Internet and its noise. I knew commercial real estate agents in California, lawyers in New York, used car dealerships in Texas and medical specialists in Utah. Freaking Utah. I lost touch with some of those people, and I no longer hear from many of them. It wasn't simply a recession, where you couldn't get a job at Walmarts. In the years since 2009, it's as though some of those people died. Prospects abroad dried up and blew away and only the local connections I see face to face existed. I had never heard such silence.
I worked those connections to the bone, and it did pay off: I landed a parttime job with "fulltime" responsibilities, less pay and no benefits. But it was something on a resume I had been building since I was 17 and goddamnit, I wasn't going to stop that now.
That job was so awful, the environment so toxic, I can only say this: the high point of that experience was a potential cancer diagnosis. If I was going to die, I thought, I could just give up. No one could blame me for not having insurance; no one could ever say that I hadn't tried. And seriously, tried at what? As with everyone in my generation, there's an ever-present voice in the back of my head yelling at me for not doing better, or "trying harder" (what the fuck does that even mean?) or struggling with the guilt of loathing a job but being unable to not work.
I didn't have cancer. I lost the job to an employee's child who was going to work for free. She was more than welcome to it. I have since nearly finished a second bachelor's and am applying to grad school. I am so afraid of looking for work again. I am terrified of what I am going to find when I try to get out of my parent's basement. I have no idea what I am going to do when I complete this program with ever more debt.
Today, after being unemployed for three weeks and one day, I have decided that I have no future. I have no future because, I had plans and goals that have yet to be realized despite how creative I try to be, despite how many cover letter drafts I write and resumes that I revamp. I am bright, articulate, driven, motivated with decent experience and a graduate degree and yet these three confidence draining weeks point to the fact that I have no future. There is so little that I can apply for out there and even a smaller number still that I get interviewed for. Patience was never one of my strong suits but, I didn't think that after working since I was 14 and going to school for most of my life that I would not be able to land a position that required education above ‘some high school.' I have applied to, on average three jobs a day since 11/14/2012 and have gone on a total of three interviews; two of which were for jobs that I applied for in early November. One of which, was a job I had held earlier. No one calls you back after you have donated your time to an in person meeting, no one cares. I had interviewed for a job on Friday 11/30/12, a job that just feels right. The company is growing, I have a networking in and the office is so beautiful that it just speaks to me. I keep checking my phone in hopes that, they call back soon. They telephoned Monday to ask me a question regarding our conversation. The human resources director could not remember whether or not I left a prior position to pursue my graduate degree or left after receiving in. I still can't decide if that is a good sign or a bad. Hopefully, a good one – meaning they cared enough to want to have all of the facts right. I spoke briefly to my networking in and he says that as far as he knows, they haven't made a decision yet. I am going to send out formalize thank you notes in addition to the thank you emails that I have already sent. I am hoping that it sways them. I never thought that at 25, I would feel as though everything is so bleak I've searched for almost three years now to find a job in my graduate degree field with no avail. I have however spent plenty of time in retail looking for a way in and up. I did make it to department manager for a large retail chain and to assistant store manager for a smaller one. But still, I was hoping, for more based on interpersonal skills, experience and school. No such luck. I call it luck because ambition and motivation have failed. It is exhausting to be driven and go nowhere, although, I assume that would make me a great NASCAR driver. Just keep driving until the race ends, go fast, go hard. You still end up going nowhere.
They say try this job website or that. They say network. I have regularly gone to networking events since graduation in May 2010. I smile, I firmly shake hands and I give strangers my business card and resume. Not only that, I give them a piece of my desire to land a career. Floating from retail positions, only builds my resume in one direction. They don't see that I have counseled, trained and developed a team. When they see retail, they picture me with a name tag, behind a cash register, getting yelled at by some middle aged slob because I didn't fold that shirt to her liking before putting in the bag.
Here is what you should see, someone bright and ambitious. Ask me about my experience in the Academic Judiciary or as Treasurer for Student Government. See my presentation skills, in my stories about being a Teaching Assistant and running training seminars for the staff and for other building leaders. Understand, that although I fit the birth year definition of a Millennial that I am not shiftless or lazy or living off my parents with a big entitled grin on my face. Understand that the customer services that I have learned from retail, translate to being able to placate delicate situations and show that my interpersonal skills are among the better out there. Read my cover letters – specifically tailored to each position that I apply for. See that they are not only position specific but tell stories that my resume cannot. See the story about working with autistic youth or volunteering for an arts council and homeless shelter. See what I see in myself and you will see why not interviewing me wasn't a mutually beneficial decision. But, perspective employers can't see that, no matter how pressed my suit is at networking events, no matter how calm, informed and articulate I am during interviews. And because they don't see anything in me, I am starting to doubt myself and once that doubt fully creeps in, I truly will have no future.
My daughter's unemployment
This is not my unemployment story, but the toll that my daughter's unemployment has taken on me and her. I was lucky. I got a master's degree and had job security for life. A job in 30 days after graduating. My daughter has a master" degree in Library Science and is underemployed at a library that seems to be hell bent on proving that no one who works there and then earns the degree will get anywhere. She works part time. She has been working on a computer certificate and is in an internship for web design but still no offers of employment or any recognition from her employer. It is disheartening to hear more fortunate family members behave as if she is not trying hard enough. One member told me"well she isn't getting any younger." She must apply to 20 jobs a week for the past 3 years. It has made me depressed an anxious about her future to the extent that I can barely sleep some nights. I think about the waste of her talent. She graduated with honors from college and a high GPA from high school even with learning disabilities and ADHD. She was bullied throughout grade school but still fought her way through. Still no reward only criticism. I want to avoid family and friends whose children have had more luck. One friend especially rubs it in. I have lost faith in America. My father was a WWII vet disabled in the Battle of the Bulge (but he still worked all his life) and why did he do that - so his granddaughter could be treated like scum and passed over for employment.
The full archive of our "Unemployment Stories" series can be found here.
[Thanks to everyone who wrote in. You can send your own unemployment story here.]