Unemployment Stories, Vol. 33: 'We Will Not Bounce Back From This'

America's official unemployment rate is 7.5%. But among young people, our unemployment rate is one of the worst in the developed world, and we are rapidly developing a new permanent underclass of the long-term unemployed. Each week (now that a brief sabbatical is over), we bring you true stories of unemployment, straight from the unemployed. This is what's happening out there, still.

Fast and Furious

As I read through the volumes of submissions from the unemployed, I find comfort in the knowledge I'm not alone. Our personal nightmare of unemployment, financial devastation, shame and sadness seems to have no end. I marvel that every last person I know escaped the ravages of the recession. Not a single job loss amongst our friends or family members. Not one lost their employment, their home, their savings, or their quality of life. My husband and I have had to endure watching them work, party, travel, remodel their homes, buy new cars, dine out, and shop as if the recession never happened. But we are left with nothing. Our downward spiral was fast and furious. We lost our home, our savings, our insurance, our joy, pride, self-respect, dignity and everything that made us, us. I have to drive past my former home. It sits there with its new owners tucked safely inside; making memories for them now. Our little home that we worked all our lives for. I am haunted by the memories of it, and especially of my little rose garden which I tended to happily, year after year. I miss my home so much I can hardly bear it. We weren't rich. Just middle class. A simple middle class life. With my husband and my dogs and my roses. And the ocean nearby. Now we live in a ghetto. My view is of trash, graffiti, abandoned shopping carts and the homeless. My personality is a shell of what it was pre-recession. We are broke, uninsured, have health issues, our clothes have holes in them, and we are looked upon by our friends and family members with a mix of pity, fear and disgust. We can see it in their faces. I try to hold my head high, but it's an act. A pathetic act. And they know it. I'm embarrassed, and terrified. I know things are only going to get worse. The free-fall continues. We will not bounce back from this; we are too old. Too damn old. I envy the young. They are marketable. They are beautiful. They are what employers are looking for. They have the hope of tomorrow. We do not. If I were not such a gutless excuse for a human being, I'd drive my old, broken down car off a cliff. Alas, I do not have the courage. And so I am trapped on this hamster wheel of poverty and shame and desperation. But I am grateful too. For my husband, and my dogs. I hold on tight to them every night. They are all I have now.

From law school to retail

I am not a stereotype. That is what I tell myself before going to sleep every night. I am not like the majority of people who've unemployment stories Ive read on Gawker in that its been years since I had a fulltime job. I am over 30, Black and from a lower working class/occasional impoverished family. Most of the kids I grew up with dropped out of high school, yet half of them are doing as well or better than I am right now. When I moved out west to get out of my native backwards state full of acceptable racism, sexism, homophobia, and small minded red-state-hate (as I call it), I thought I was moving to a region where I actually had a fair chance at success. Now I feel like I was lied to by everyone who told me growing up that if I worked hard, went to school, and put in an effort, I would be successful. That's all turned out to be a load of shit.

I have been attending graduate school and racking up loan debt for the two years, applying for job after job and yielding zero results. I applied to and started graduate school after completing my J.D. and finding out that not only are there no law jobs out there, but having a law degree on your resume will turn off most non-law career employers. I would go to headhunting temp placement firms and get told I was "too qualified" for any jobs they had, or that they couldn't place me because my degree meant that it was unlikely I would remain with the company in the long term. I even edited out my law degree from my resume, and it got me an interview. Sadly when they asked me what was I doing for the 3 year blind spot between my last job and starting graduate school I didn't have the nerve to lie about it, and I was turned away again. The last job I had was late in the summer after law school, which I also only gained by using an incomplete resume, was at a big market chain retail store in a rural suburb. It was soul draining to work standing up in retail with people that were still in high school, or were ex convicts or the 'return to work-retiree', but it was something.

Everyone was friendly at least, until I made the mistake of telling a coworker that I had a law degree during a 'unemployment is so high because people are just lazy' debate between two coworkers in the breakroom. I stepped in to say from experience how bad things are. Bad idea. I was ostracized from everyone else from that moment on. I was moved from the 'nicer' unloading station to the 'not so nice' shelving by the manager. When I was accepted to grad school and requested a change in shift to day hours, I was turned down. My choices were continue working 30 hrs a week for minimum wage around people that clearly dont want me around or try my luck with grad school. I would like to say I chose school because I saw a better future in it, but deep down honestly I didnt want to have to tell people people I met or friends from college/law school that I was working at *x-anti labor retail giant*.

I keep reading that going to graduate school is a bad idea to 'wait out' the economy, and that it will only add to my debt. It probably is. I don't give a damn. I literally have no other options. An slew of conditions I have prevents me from going into the military (not to mention what remains of my conscious opposition to the wars), Ive applied for hundreds of jobs with zero leads. If it were not for fin aid, I would literally be sleeping under a highway overpass somewhere. I cant afford to move back home and there is no space for me to go to if I did.

My relationship with my live in girlfriend is just beginning to fracture because of the lack of a job... I hope we don't have to call it off because we love each other and have been through a lot together, but I don't see any way around it other than lucking into a career.

There is a silver lining. Ive stressed out for years over this, and my 'hopes' that things would change are now completely gone. I have now contented myself that after finishing graduate school, Ph.D or no, if I am not able to find at least a living wage career job, fuck it, I'm leaving the country. Better to start from zero somewhere nicer than work your ass off through school and remain in worst shape than people who never attended college or even dropped out of high school. If my choices are start anew with a clean slate as an immigrant and take my chances somewhere else or live the rest of my life dirt poor in massive loan debt with education I'll never be able to use, I choose clean slate.

No friends, no family

Friends? Family? No help. Anywhere.

I had a great IT job back in the 90's. It quickly came to a screeching halt though- between a corporate buyout, Y2K, and the tech bubble bursting, things were started to strain at the workplace. By 2001, things were dire, layoffs were almost a daily occurrence. In 2001 I got married, we spent our life savings on our honeymoon and a small down payment on a new house. Unfortunately for us, we bought the house at the beginning of September (mere days before 9-11).. talk about bad timing. Needless to say- I was fired, not laid off, but fired, on 9/15, for a bunch of made-up BS, including gross negligence. My employee reviews to that point were all 100%, the highest possible score. This couldn't be happening! Can't collect unemployment. My state is right-to-work, so I had zero legal recourse (lawyer confirmed it). Oh yeah, my wife was pregnant, too. We were trying at the time, but didn't see this coming. She had also quit her job when we moved because it was too far away, and she hadn't been able to find work since moving.

Unable to find work in my field (Corporate america was laying off IT departments like they were leper colonies), I ended up going back to retail. The best I could find was a sales position at a department store in the mall. I quickly moved into a commission-based position that allowed me to make some ends meet, but not all. This was all before the RE bubble- the house we purchased ended up being a lame duck and it both lost value, and needed to be fixed up to be sellable. The perfect storm. My wife got a job at the same place, but only as a PT cashier. She worked almost all the way to her pregnancy term. We fell behind on the mortgage in a hapless attempt to keep the house, and back then, there was zero tolerance on mortgage payments.. It was "you pay or we forclose", when we hit the 2-month past due mark, the foreclosure papers came. I was two years into this job, sent out about 1000 resumes during that time, resulting in not one single interview. Most rejection letters were either painting me as overqualified or under-qualified. There seemed to be no in-between.
It's important to note that during the time we started falling behind on our mortgage, it came as a surprise to me that friends started backing away, family stopped inviting us to dinners and get-togethers. It's extremely depressing that people so willingly and callously back away like that, as if I'm going down and trying to take them with me or something. It didn't help that my father, who was the only person in my life with the means to help us had outright refused. He was just that type of man, he grew up in the 50's and 60's where anyone with ambition and willingness to work could be successful beyond imagination. He just refused to acknowledge that times had changed and basically told me to "man up".
So we went bankrupt. We were foreclosed on. We moved into a crappy apartment, credit ruined, our car repossessed, so we found a 23 year-old crappy car for sale on the side of the road.. We were bringing in barely enough to pay the rent and basic bills, but surviving. I'm the kind of guy, who back then still carried the philosophy of my father- that hard work would bring eventual success. I knew we were living check to check, but something as simple as a 'bad economy' wasn't going to hold me back and couldn't possibly last forever, could it? Well, more bad luck... Something is wrong with our child. At 18 months, shes not talking, sitting up, or anything, she screams all night, and I mean SCREAMS ALL NIGHT, we don't get much sleep. Visits to literally a dozen doctors and specialists yield no answers. Finally just past age 2, she sees the "right" neurologist and the diagnosis is.....: severe autism. Not your "functioning" levels you see today, but to the point of zero comprehension and ability to do anything except scream. Scream all day, scream all night. Now my wife can't work. Nobody will help us or even watch our child for us, because they can't handle the constant screaming (and I can understand that!). One night, we tried to go out to dinner and since nobody would babysit, we had to take her with us, she screamed half the time and everyone in the place hated us. More and more, I felt like a leper. Nobody seemed to want anything to do with me. Not friends, Not family.
5 years in the commission sales job, I had for the last two years of it completely given up on looking for work in my field..
But alas, in 2007, a friend who tells me he got a job working for a startup software company that is growing and hiring. I jump at it. I got the job. It's actually a decrease in salary from what I was earning in sales, as I was earned about $45k that year. My new job manager assures me that after my first year of entry level ($35k), as long as I get a good review, they will "take care of me" and give me a huge raise. He guesses confidently at least $60k. That's freeking great. Most of the employees there had been there for 2-3 years, since the inception.
I work the year, struggling with raising a special needs daughter both financially and physically, helping my wife as best I can. It was a good job, or so it seemed. At 11 months, the company announces a corporate buyout. Oh no, here we go again. First comes the wage freezes. All previous promises are gone. I get a stellar annual review, and a spectacular 1% raise. At this time, I also begin to notice that I'm not fitting in well. My department is a frat-boy club. This came to light later only because we had a girl in our department and she left at about my one-year mark, so the man-filters all got turned off. Obscene practical jokes are the norm, the boss laughs about it. Now, I'm not much of a frat-boy, but I work hard and thought I did a great job...
Just after xmas, I was given a task that I knew was designed to fail, I was on my last warning and did everything in my power not to fail, but fail I did, and I was immediately terminated. This time I fought for, and won unemployment. But it only paid half of what I made, I needed more to pay the rent. I did get a rather large (planned it that way) tax return and figured I had about 4 months combined with the unemployment. Of course, the market is toast, there's no jobs. I found a job selling cars.. yeah, it got that bad. I discovered that the car business was a cruel and the most horrible people in the world go there, both to work and to buy. People assume you are out to screw them (and yes, car salesmen ARE out to screw you), and would treat you like crap. Every car salesman is a racist jerk, and I became disgusted with myself not only beause I couldn't sell cars worth a crap (and was going broke trying), but also because I too, was becoming dismal and increasingly angry. I've now struggled my entire adult life when I honestly and diligently had worked my ass off, and at this point in life, I'm broke, have nothing but bad credit, a lot of debt, doctor bills out the wang, and an increasingly cabin-fevered wife who is ready to leave me. We fought more often than not at times. I start having suicidal thoughts. The only thing that saved me was that my wife would be even worse off if I left.
One day, I just walked up to the sales mgr, told him I'm done, handed in my keys, and left. Never looked back. I immediately went back on the job search. I submitted resumes to anything that looked like it was real. I'd haul rocks, lift engines, plow roads, I didn't care, I needed work.
Out of nowhere, I found an IT job at a small, yet well established company. Everything about the job is amazing. Well, not everything. The salary is extremely low for what I'm doing, but it's a full-time job. It's a good job, I like what I do. I'm still here, right now, sitting in my office and typing this. I'm still driving a 20something old car. I'm still struggling check to check. The continuing increases in the costs of living are killing me. My child DID get better, she's talking, not much, but able to communicate, is now very loving, and never screams anymore. Shes in a special school that helps her.
We don't talk to either of our families anymore, with exception to my immediate siblings (who are all hurting as bad as we are), we all support each other when we can. My wife has been looking for work again, as my daughter is in school now, and my job is flexible enough that I can come and go as needed to tend to her (it's really a great job!), get her off the bus, and even bring her to work with me if necessary (the boss loves her like his own!).
My wife's story comes now- She's been a stay-at-home mom for 10 years now. NOBODY will hire her. Mostly because nobody is hiring. She's on the roster at no less than 5 temp agencies and countless recruiters. She used to get temp work from time to time, sometimes for a month, sometimes for a week, and once, just for one day. These jobs have all dried up. The agencies have no work. The job listings are mostly scams now. I absolutely cringe at the thought of trying to find work in this market. There's nothing here. I've never seen so many vacant shopping centers, stores, warehouses in my life. Even an entire mall closed, and another is saying that it will likely close soon. It's depressing. My wife is depressed, she can't find work. She works at home, 8 hours a day. Her job is "job seeker". She can't get unemployment because she hasn't worked any consistent jobs. The world is now a permanent temp agency to people like her. Even McDonalds has turned her down three times, no reason cited. Worse yet, even Wal-Mart never called back. How dissuaded can someone become when the lowest possible crap job in the country wont even consider you? We haven't been able to afford health insurance for her in two years. In fact, I just dropped my single coverage because my take-home pay was too low to get us into the black. What's the difference anyways, the co-pays and deductibles are so insane that I couldn't afford to even use it anyways. I'm always looking for something new to cut from the budget.. We're eating ramen at least half the nights of the week, and I'm starting to wonder how much longer I can keep the internet up at home. We don't even have an hdtv.. we still got that rounded tube tv with the rabbit ears on it.

15 hours a month

Thank you for posting these stories.

The first entry roughly coincided with my cross-country move, where my husband was starting a new job. I could immediately relate to the stories people shared. I knew the job market would be incredibly tight within my field, and began networking several months prior to our arrival. Each new contact led to informational interviews and informal meetings, but it quickly became clear that there were very few job openings in the area.

Although I obtained a contract position with a small firm relatively quickly, my hours have varied wildly since my first week and I have never stopped looking for full-time work. I've fielded calls about joining other firms full-time, and have continued to interview and network, but instability seems unavoidable in my industry - clients back out of commitments, managers decide to hold off on bringing in new hires until they feel more secure, and priority is given to hiring cheaper interns instead of filling mid-level positions. It's understandable, but it sucks. I kept up with Unemployment Stories on Gawker throughout, and it's really helped me feel less alone. I know that there are many, many people out of work, but this has been one of the most isolating experiences I have ever gone through. Like a lot of people who've written in, I tried to do everything right - education, skills, professional experience, attitude - and found that it hasn't been enough.
I cycle through shame, fear, insecurity, anger and jealousy. And I feel like an entitled jerk just for harboring these thoughts. I worked 15 hours last month, but I have my partner, who has a good job, and help from my family. I am so, so lucky to have a safety net. But luck seems to determine everything in this economy, no matter who you are - whether you've got people in your life who can help, whether you can score the right interview at the right firm at the right time or whether your company decides to lay off 15 people or 16. I'd say it helps keep it all in perspective, but that would be a complete lie.
You don't have to post this - "Married Woman Sad about Sitting at Home All Day" doesn't make compelling copy. But in today's posting there were a few other women my age, being supported by husbands and hating it, just like me... So thanks for running this series. They're always brutally honest. And for the ones with happier endings, a reminder to keep trying.

Even hedge funders...

Not sure if you can use this, as it's about a former colleague of mine. I work at a mid-sized hedge fund in NYC. 2 years ago, our COO left to pursue what he stated were "bigger and better things." Nobody heard from him again, until last week when we found out that he turned down his first 2 offers in hopes of something "bigger and better" and has now been unable to find a job since he's left. He got his undergrad and Masters at Ivy Leagues and had a solid 15+ years of experience in his field.

This scares me because I was hoping to leave and now I'm thinking that might not be such a good idea...

Previously

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.]