Officially, 11.7 million Americans are unemployed, including 4.4 million who've been jobless for more than six months. Millions more have dropped out of the labor force entirely. Each week, we bring you true stories of unemployment, straight from the unemployed. This is what's happening out there.
Not even a statistic
My story could sound like any of the others, and yet it has its own quirks. Where my story differs, is at first, I was unemployed by choice. I would receive no benefits, and quickly thereafter I realized those benefits extend to sympathy, and understanding when applying for new jobs.
I lived somewhere in the rustbelt, and just prior to everything collapsing around us, my wife lost her job. Her job had been a pretty decent engineering job, but over time the quality of the employer had degraded. Layoffs were announced, work was increased, pay and benefits were cut. She lasted through the first and second round of layoffs, but by the third round she was among those walking out with a box on a Friday afternoon.
We quickly exhausted our savings as I continued to work and she was collecting unemployment while looking for something, anything. It took some time and even a brief work-induced separation as she landed a job out of state. I stayed behind as I was still employed and trying to sell the house. Selling the house took an inordinate amount of time and I continued to work in one state, and my wife had an apartment in another.
The house finally sold, and luckily for only a minor loss. Probably the last real bit of luck I had.
I quit my job, packed up the last of the belongings and moved to join my wife. I was naive; I moved from a smallish rustbelt town (that was only getting smaller), to a much larger city without any job. I had thought quitting voluntarily, a solid work history, and an employer who was happy to provide a recommendation were all I needed. I was wrong. I had spent the past decade working my first real job out of college. I had grown while working there, from just another office jockey, to a department manager. I was someone who was able to have a voice, even if a small one, in the company. My history didn't matter. My record of saving money for the company, of increasing revenue, of increased responsibility didn't matter. What mattered was the term unemployed, and that my social network was now in a state nearing 2,000 miles away.
At first I had a couple of job interviews as I placed my resume online, searched out local companies that I thought were a good match of my skills. I spent time online reading articles on job hunting, interviewing and the like. I had a few promising interviews and then after about three months the calls just stopped. I've been unemployed since. It has been over three years now.
I still look, I still apply. I have had three interviews since those first three months. One position was with a Fortune 500 company, and I thought I had a chance. I had an email interview, a phone interview and two in-person interviews. After the two week flurry of activity it was silence. I still think about what I said or did that was enough to kill my reentry into the workplace. Was it something I said? Was it something I DIDN'T say?
And just this month I had a phone interview. A brief phone interview. The person screening the resumes was setting up appointments for another person. We spoke for twenty minutes, and the screener on the other end asked for a few final questions as they were "filling out the appointment calendar", and I was asked why I was looking to leave my employer. I answered honestly, that I was unemployed. The screener said "Oh, I see..." and the line clicked dead moments later.
I was quizzed on my experience, my education, and even about the pay range. I had called back from a different phone trying not to hyperventilate. Was it just my cell phone, was it a glitch on the phone system? I was transferred to the person, and before I was finished saying "Hello" the line clicked dead again. I never got a chance to interview for the job because someone sneered over the word unemployed. I was acceptable to interview for the job just minutes prior.
I know I'm one of the lucky ones. I KNOW IT! My wife is employed, I have a roof over my head, and we can pay our bills. Yet I'm still bitter.
I don't show up on a government report. I'm not even a statistic. I don't matter to the numbers that come out from the government every month. I did everything I was supposed to growing up. I worked hard, went to college and earned a degree. Supported my spouse, and we made the best decisions we knew along the way. Yet I sit in front of a computer typing away about how now three, no shit, now four years later I'm among the ranks of the long term unemployed.
What has four years of unemployment done?
My motivation is decimated. I still search for a job, and send out countless resumes but the rejection is a forgone conclusion. It has to be since receiving a rejection notice is not part of the process anymore. I think I now search and apply out of a sense of obligation.
I'm far more introspective. Analyzing and overthinking everything, and carrying around a degree of skepticism that I have never known before.
I feel guilty. I left a middle class job without a plan, and without a new job. It is my fault for not preparing for the future? It is difficult to enjoy the same activities I did before. Starting any new hobby or activity is nearly as difficult because part of me doesn't feel I should do well or enjoy it after a very brief time. It reaches even beyond hobbies and exercise...I want to believe my wife when she tells me that I'm doing everything I can, that it isn't my fault, but I don't believe it. Even if she does.
I'm more isolated than ever before. It is a combination of factors: I'm far away from where I grew up and went to school, I don't have coworkers, and going out is difficult when spending even an extra dollar brings about feelings of shame. Even phone calls with old friends and family are terse, and a bit tense. I invariably hear suggestions, or an offhand comment about “the lazy unemployed moochers” and I end up feeling like a liability even in conversations with old friends.
I've done some concrete things. Beyond saying that I search for jobs and apply for jobs. I learned new software packages. I've done personal projects. I've attempted to freelance by networking with friends and family. I've attempted to volunteer. All to no avail.
I want to scream at the world, to vent, to rant, and have someone look at me when I finish, and say, "You know, you're right. Be ready to start Monday." It hasn't happened for several years, and I'm not sure when, or if, it will again.
A hopeful story
Over the past ten years, after a number of IT manager jobs, I knew a dead end was approaching. I was assigned to our company's first Sarbanes-Oxley project for financial controls in 2003/2004. While I met a number of smart, good people, I saw a chasm of failure for my company's getting to compliance. I was hopeful we wold pass muster with our external auditor (Big 3), but worked recklessly long hours to be sure my (public) company wouldn't get a black eye from the SEC.
I never worked so hard to ultimately take a cannonball for my company - six material deficiencies out of hundreds of financial controls. It was truthful but not well-received by people who, a year earlier, were convinced the SEC would find nothing. In short, I committed career suicide.
At the time (2005), I had paltry call options, a decent 401(k), and had been divorced for several years, with large bills and debt. In my exit interview, through what I can only say was divine intervention, I received a 17-week severance by not being vengeful or vindictive, but by stating my accomplishments and how I didn't earn a rating that would get me fired.
I was left with a tough choice: try to find work in New York City, close to my kids, or to move elsewhere, lose 30% of my salary, and mercilessly target people and companies who (still) needed securities and IT analysis personnel. Luckily I got the job - at at 30% discount.
Forward five years - the analysis work I'd done, as well as customer retention and project management, served my company well. I was (luckily) able to help fund my kids' college education. Then, the bottom fell out when I was no longer needed by our CEO. Again, I was fortunate to get a severance (13 weeks this time) and in late summer, 2010, I had given up on networking and resumes. The market was dead.
In late August I found my dad had a relapse of colorectal cancer. I stopped looking for work. My brothers and I stayed with him for many weeks until his death on November 19th.
Job searching at this time was fruitless. My brothers and I settled my dad's estate (not huge, but able to keep us going another year) and we all went to our homes after Christmas. For me, the next three months elapsed like many of the stories here: not enough food, desperation, hopelessness.
I tweaked my LinkedIn profile (went Pro for $39/month) and larded it with every legitimate accomplishment I could substantiate.
Two months later, I interviewed with a good company. They offered, I accepted.
I am not sure whether you'll find this a hopeful story, but it is for me. Thank You.
Prayer for the non-religious
I was the valedictorian in my high school. I was the sort of kid that wanted to be a whole bunch of different professions, everything from archaeologist to veterinarian to the President of the U.S. I had not yet decided what direction I wanted to go when I graduated high school, so my plan was to "go to college and decide", I would surely be able to figure out where my true passion was while in college, right? Besides, with my parents and family and teachers and guidance counselors, I felt like I had no choice. Of course the valedictorian goes on to college. Not going to college was not an option for me (at least, at 18 I felt that way). I was a people-pleaser with no genuine career ambitions. Here I am with a liberal arts degree, Human Development with an emphasis on Gender Studies. I took classes that interested me, this is where it landed me. I wish I had known that I had an option to not go to college. I am working an internship with a website development company now, because my life partner works here and was able to convince his boss to let me intern.
I am living in an expensive city. Sometimes we can't afford food. We are living off of my partner's income, which is not enough to cover our basics. My student loans take a huge chunk of money from us every month. I know I would qualify for deferment, but at this point, I don't think that I will be in a better place career-wise in six months, a year, five years. Why defer the loans when it just means we will be scraping by for even longer? I would rather pay for student loans now and get out of debt as soon as we can so that this weight is not hanging over me.
I was a student that did everything "right". In high school, I got straight A's. I joined every club my school offered so that I had enough extra-curriculars to get into a "good college". I got scholarships (not enough to cover all of my tuition, though). I went to college. I was told these things were the keys to financial success, to being able to provide for my loved ones. I really want to adopt kids, own a house and let go of the constant worry I feel currently. I don't think I will be able to live the type of life I want to live.
I don't have insurance because my partner and I are not legally married. Right now, when I get sick or injured, I pray. I am not even religious, but that is what I do. I pray that my simple home remedies and self-healing methods will be enough. I dread the day that they aren't.
I am just taking each day as it comes at this point, trying to be present and grateful for what I do have. I wish I had known that I didn't need to go to college. If I had not gone to college, we would be much better off financially, because we wouldn't have the expense of my student loans every month for the next ten years. I am angry that a choice I made when I was 17 can have such an impact on the rest of my life. I am angry that every adult in my life made me feel like I HAD to go to college, that I had no choice in the matter. I had no boundaries when I was 17, I didn't think for myself. I did what adults told me to. I was a "good" kid. I listened to my parents, I got perfect grades, I was told that for all of my being "good" there would be a reward at the end: I would get into a good college, so that I could get a good job, so I could be financially stable. I should have been a bad kid and not cared about my grades and just focused on having fun, because I am actually worse-off because of my conformity to "the rules".
I wish I had gone to a trade school. If I had learned to be a hair stylist, a nurse, a mechanic.... At least I would have a useful set of skills. I still might not be able to land a job or have a career but at least I could help my friends and family in a concrete way. Right now I am just a useless mooch.
I left my job back in February 2012 to administer an estate of a family member (my mother) who had died unexpectedly and left a collective mess. I wanted to do both, job and estate but the company I worked for suddenly demanded that I relocate across the country to their home office. Against my better judgement I decided to answer the wishes of my family and resigned my FTE position to fulfill the legal requirements of the estate.
I was highly sought after while I was employed with calls from recruiters coming almost daily. I have a double degree with twenty-plus years of experience working for healthcare manufacturers. When I resigned I thought I would finish my estate work and get back into the game. Not! I have hit wall after wall with one common reason for rejection, I am unemployed. As stupid as it sounds, I am now poison for any open FTE position. My enemy is the HR department who doesn't know what they need to fill the position so they make their decision based on my present employment status. I see less experienced people get hired at higher salaries for the positions I applied and there is no platform for rebuttal. The stories I can tell about the interviews I am granted could fill a book. Sadly, it would be a tragic comedy.
So in the real world today it is not what you know or who you know, it comes down to where you are in employment status that will land you your next job.
I don't fault them
I have been reading these all along, and finally have decided to share my story. It really begins in May of 2007 when my son was born. Shortly after that, I was promoted to a very good position at the finance company I worked for. I was pulling in a big salary, commissions, bonuses, car allowance, as far as the job goes, I was set.
My personal life was also set, married to the love of my life, a young son, we were living were we wanted to be, and more importantly, we were doing it all on our own and in our own way. We lived in South Carolina, a thousand miles from both of our respective families in the Northeast. When my son was born, my wife and I decided she should quit her job, and that way she could focus on our son, on our family, and our lives.
In July of 2007, the first wave of layoffs hit the company. I felt secure, there were only 4 people who did what I did plus my direct manager in the country, and the company at that time had more than 3,000 employees. Then September came, and the second round of layoffs. I was spared, but was the only one left. At that point, it seemed like a race, people liked me, and wanted me around, they really did just try to make me feel comfortable, wanted, and as a valuable employee.
Then came January 2008. I can't say I was blindsided, a good executive at the company gave me a good heads up at a Christmas party. The company had two phone calls set up, one for the safe people, the other for those who were to be let go. I was at a basketball game of my alma-mater the night before the call, and I just remember emails and text messages as everyone tried to figure out who was on what call and what it all meant. My wife was visiting family in MA, and I was all alone. The next morning, I called in, and right away, the executive at the other end thanked us for our service, and informed us of their tough decision.
I don't fault them for that.
I put the phone on mute, called my wife, turned off my computer and waited for the phone calls to come in. I was lucky, I got to keep some of the stock options I was offered, was offered a very generous severance package, and was free to do what I wanted with the rest of my life.
After two months, I realized that wasn't going to be as easy as it sounds. My wife was able to get some work at her old job, but only part time. We survived through the summer, and at that point, we realized we may need to expand our searches. We had been left a house from a deceased family member in Western Massachusetts. We looked for jobs first in South Carolina, and second there. I came to realize that I was classified as either a person who would be bored with the job I was applying for because it wasn't demanding enough, or someone who lacked the specific experience employers could afford to hold out and wait for.
I don't fault them for that.
My wife ended up getting a job in Massachusetts, and we moved. I didn't work from January 2008 until October 2009. However, I didn't just sit around and sulk. I applied for every job under the sun, even had some promising interviews, only to watch another wave of financial uncertainty ruin any chance of expansion or risk at the banks I applied to.
That time will always be the favorite time in my life. Generally speaking, fathers don't get a chance to know their children as well as I know my son. We spent every day together, every hour during that time. It just came to a point that I needed to work, we were finally beginning to run out of money.
I took a job with my father-in-law, as a carpenter. I wasn't great at it, but I didn't hurt myself, anyone else, and the buildings got built, and as of now, they are still standing. Thankfully, his clientele of wealthy New Yorkers looking for summer homes in the Berkshires never dwindled. In April of 2010, I started to think about my future. The company would be mine if I wanted when he retired. I could deal with that. But I wasn't sure that's what I wanted.
I had always been a part of the literary festival at the university I attended. I was allowed to pick an author every year. So I picked a current author I had enjoyed, and got to be the peon who drove him around, and showed him the sights of rural South Carolina. We spoke a lot on that visit. About our lives, about what we wanted and who we were. He told me about going back to school to get his undergrad degree in his 40s, the previous spring he had finished his MFA. I spoke with a professor friend of mine about this, he talked about getting his MFA in his early 30s, married, with a young son, just like me.
Driving back to Massachusetts after that trip I thought about who I was and what I wanted. I had always had an interest in law school, and I probably would have done that if I was not offered that first job in the financial sector after undergrad. I bought a book on studying for the LSAT.
I just finished my third semester of law school. I absolutely love what I am doing right now. I spend the week at school and go home to be with my wife and son on the weekend. It's really not much more travel that I had during my job before he was born. I won't lie, that part sucks.
I would not have this opportunity if it wasn't for the love and understanding of my wife. I would not have this opportunity if it wasn't for the strength and inspiration I get from my son. I never would have taken this risk if I hadn't spoken honestly to the author, and to my friend. I wouldn't be here if I was not laid off in January 2008.
Sic of it
10 years ago [I] knew the economy was gonna tank when i graduated with a 3.6 g.p.a. in media art and couldn't find a job to save my life (when the economy takes a down turn advertising is the first thing a business cuts, hence no work for noobs). A year later i ended up working at a coldstone creamery owned by a pair of people bad at running a business (the place was between a bus stop and a train station and we BARELY made money in the summer). I was for all intents and purposes the Manager, except i couldn't hire and fire or nor did i have the official training to be the manager.
6 years ago I moved to another state with my parents because i couldn't afford to live on what i was making and the job i thought was waiting for me wasn't there (hiring freeze). I now live in a state with one of the higest rates for unemployment. I haven't worked for pay since, though i've been doing a lot of volunteer work to fill the hours because i honestly stopped looking. I go to the interview in a suit with a professional resume and they look at this HUGE gap on my resume and toss my name in the trash meanwhile a guy who walks in in ripped jeans tons of piercings and a ratty t shirt and gets a job because he's already working somewhere else (that actually happened by the way).
I can't find work because i no one will hire me, no one will hire me because I CAN'T GET WORK
and i'm effing sic of it
[Thanks to everyone who wrote in. You can send your own unemployment stories to: Hamilton@Gawker.com.]