The official U.S. unemployment rate sits at 7.5%; a more accurate measure of those who can't find work is closer to 14%. Each week, we bring you true stories of unemployment, straight from the unemployed. This is what's happening out there.
The Navy veteran
Back in '98, I had just finished my junior year of high school, and unlike many of my friends, wasn't looking at the coming break as my last summer vacation, but as a wake up call. Being one of those kids who managed a 1590 on their SATs (back when 1600 was perfect,) while hung over, I knew my grades wouldn't get me any scholarships, or even into a college even if I or my family had the money. We did not. So that summer, I ended up joining the U.S. Navy. After graduation, I left Southern Oregon, while many of the people I knew went off to college somewhere else, or worked at the mill with their parents. I trained to be a nuclear power and propulsion plant operator, and id so quite well, with a few adjustment hiccups. Nine years later, while on shore duty, I supervised over thirty personnel in a repair facility. When one of my sailors, whom was frequently bruised, et cetera, showed up having 'fallen down the stairs,' I threw the flag and sent her to medical. The problem? Her husband was a Master Chief. The abuse was swept under the rug, and I was prosecuted for adultery.
Over the next year the charges were proven to be unfounded & dropped, but my working environment suffered greatly. I was branded as someone who wouldn't play ball. My wife left me, moving with her boyfriend, another sailor who had worked for me, back to her parent's place. With so many things having happened that were tied to the culture of the military, I decided to leave the service and pursue college, the original reason I went in.
Many people tried to get me to stay in, citing the economy. I said I'd be graduating in three years, and if the economy was still in the tubes after five years since the crash, we'd all be screwed. How prophetic that was.
Here I am. an Associate's in Nuclear Engineering, and a B.S. in Industrial Design, minored in Sustainability. I am a ten year honorable veteran from submarines, and nuclear non-proliferation. I speak three languages fluently, and a handful more, poorly. I have won awards and been selected to present locally, regionally, and nationally within the design community.
It would also seem that I am unemployable. My service is seen as a liability. On the few interviews I've had, I've been asked if I suffered from PTSD, while acknowledging that they can't legally ask that, and stating that even if I did, I'd most likely just lie about it. I'm overqualified, having been told by three employers that they won't hire someone who could do their (the interviewer's) job. I have applied nationally to jobs in engineering, design, and nuclear power, and no one's hiring. The next time I'm told 'we'd love to hire you, but we've just laid off x number of people,' I'm going to hit someone. Why post openings then? I can't get hired cleaning tables, making coffee, or washing dishes, because I have 'no experience.' The one job I've had since graduation was assembly line work making paint brushes. They went under three months and a week from when I started. I worked full time at school while taking 15 -18 credits per term, but since I was in school full time, those hours don't count for unemployment, and as a result, I don't qualify.
I have student loans that need to be paid, because our government was never exactly punctual with GI Bill payments to the college. Ever had a student loan collector recommend that you eat less? I have. I had to cancel my phone due to finances, am nearly homeless, and am sending the only things that really matter to me, my two cats to live with friends. And just like so many people out there, I don't know what to do. I'm overqualified for work, but lack experience. I don't qualify for any of the social programs/safety nets, but am nearly homeless and frequently am only able to eat thank to the occasional 16 hour day of moving hay for $50, or other like work.
I don't know what to do, but I'll keep trying, because there's so few other options left.
I really appreciate the focus Gawker has put on the unemployed, which is a topic that apparently mainstream media has either incompetently abandoned or decided that unemployed people do not boast ratings. I have to assume it is the latter. Through reading all of the stories submitted by everyone in this series, I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences. Through all the negative and sometimes destructive emotional torments I have read on these pages, I genuinely pray and wish everyone the best. While well wishes and blessings from afar will do little to cull the physical and emotional burdens, as someone who has experienced and hopefully to never experience again what everyone is going through, I know that sometimes knowing my suffering is not unrecognized is a little bit of solace. I also want people that has historically opposed any kind of government assistance to really open their minds up to the sufferings of those whom may be closer than you think.
My experience is comparatively minuscule. I graduate from one of the SUNY (State University of New York) colleges with triple degrees. More importantly, I graduate with no debt. Life was good, plus a job in finance during the heydays of the mid-00's meant I was having the time of my life. Unfortunately, I worked for one of the many Too-Big-To-Fail Investment banks and out the door I went. However, I took this as a God-given sign and decided to make a career switch. Because I had no undergraduate debt, I enrolled in a top business school for my MBA, without blinking an eye at the $100,000 debt. Things went smoothly again, summer internships at a reputable company and I started at a really small but interesting consulting company almost immediately post graduation. However, with the tuition loan payments and now a single guy living in NYC, money was tight and saving in the most expensive city in the country is essentially impossible. After about a year working in this really small consulting company, I was let go as a result of poor management, mismatch and the economy. Essentially, I bookend'ed my MBA with two layoffs. This second layoff was tougher because now I have a massive amount of loans to pay off, plus housing and living expenses. I filed for unemployment immediately and began the arduous task of rejoining the workforce.
Luckily, I knew something was up and started my job application and search months prior to being laid off. But this is a sign of how tough it is out there. I was still gainfully employed, with top degrees and experiences, and strong referrals and connections; I only managed to scrap together 1 interview in a 3 month period. It took almost 3 more agonizing months for me to find and start another job. Fortunately it was in my field and level. However, those 3 months of unemployment really made me feel insecure and traumatized about the whole experience. The experience of waiting to see if unemployment benefits are paid, living on credit and scrapping together 3 meals from one takeout traumatized me so much that even now, I still pack leftovers at work and refuse to leave any morsels of wasted food . Furthermore, it changed my perspective on things. When I was employed, I was one of those tax-hating, poor-people despising, elitist who felt his tax dollars are going to waste on people who are just mooching off others. I voted Republican, I voted for reduction in benefits, I voted for low taxes. That has since changed. Nothing like being on the other side of the coin shows you what life is like for other people. For my inconsiderate actions, I sincerely apologize. Would a 10% reduction in unemployment benefit significantly impact my life? 5%? Would that meant deciding going hungry or going cold? You bet. Those decisions are made on a daily basis. Do people abuse the benefits, of course. But we would never stop selling Vicodin because some people abuse it, because there is still a horde of people who legitimately depend on it. Unemployment is that way. Yes, I see people in supermarkets paying with their Benefits Card and driving home in a BMW, but for every one of those, I see 15 people waiting at the bus stop. How to better fix these issues is better left to people much smarter than me. However, the next time you vote or listen to a politician, please think about how your vote may hugely impact another person's livelihood. I also give much more effort to any and everyone who reaches out to me for either employment advice or assistance. My current role came as a result of an acquaintance's casual forward of an email to HR. (Literally, she showed the email to me. It just said, "Hey, do me a favor, check this guy out. Thanks") You never know what little action may or may not lead to something great. If you are in a position that may benefit others, do pay it forward as you may never know when you will need it.
Life on a string
In January 2012, I landed my dream job right out of college doing Social Media, and Online Marketing. It wasn't exactly what I wanted at first, but I grew to love it, and I decided that the job was worth it, and I was good at it. I had done it before while I was in college, but when I got out of school, there were no jobs left in Journalism, and a job in Marketing seemed like a natural next step.
All along I had a boss who never gave me direction. I would ask him for direction, and he would tell me he didn't know what to tell me. I would ask what kinds of metrics he wanted to see, or what kind of information he wanted to know about what I was creating, and he just always shrugged me off with a "we'll figure it out later." I should have kept pushing for concrete answers, because it came back to bite off my entire ass.
In November, after a new COO came in, and when it came time to lay people off because the company wanted to start saving money, I was told that there wasn't enough ROI behind my job to make my job worth it, and I was laid off with a large pile of other people. I remember calling my best friend and telling her "I have good news! I don't have to work tomorrow, but I also don't have to work, like, ever...because I don't have a job."
I was angry, and upset at first - I was let go of without being given direction, and for something that I had been proactive about asking about. I wanted to know what I could do. I wanted to go above what I was doing. Of course, my boss got to keep his job, and eventually moved on to a bigger, better company, while I'm still in this job searching rut because he sucked at communicating.
It is now February, and despite searching, and having an online portfolio, and tailoring my cover letters to the 80+ jobs I've applied to in these 3 months, I am at a loss for what to do, and a loss for words. Every so often when I'm applying to jobs, I close my laptop, and I just start crying because I feel like I have the skills, and the drive, and the knowledge, but tiny trivial things (like having 3 years of experience, instead of 4), take me out of the running for a position. I literally had an employer tell me: "You're the perfect candidate, but you only have 3 years of experience, and we're wanting 4.". I almost feel like they like having me on a string, and dangling a job in front of me, only to see how desperate I'll be to work for it.
I also hate looking for jobs where the application takes an hour. A personality test? A work-life balance survey? You have to be kidding me. Even if someone had time for that, WHO WANTS TO DO THAT? Do HR departments honestly think a 90 question survey is the best representation of who I am? It makes it easy for them, but their job isn't supposed to be easy. Hiring someone who is a great fit for your company SHOULD be hard, but whatever.
Hunting for jobs is demoralizing. It's this huge series of highs and mostly lows. At this point in my life, I feel like I would sell my soul to the devil just to have someone give me an opportunity instead of putting me through the ringer, over, and over.
Master of resume redesign
It was in early October, when I didn't get the job at a temporary Halloween store, that I realized I would be unemployed for a while. I had just gotten laid off from my job at an internet startup. Like many of the other posters here, I have a Useless Advanced Degree (tm), which I thought would assure me a job that at least paid the bills. Instead, that degree has given me 90k in student loans and no position lasting over 1 year before a layoff or end of contract. I've become a master of resume redesign and academic major critique deflection.
So here I am, unemployed again, pantslessly filling out online applications for my very own exercise ball at a cool new venture or cutting-edge company with no benefits but "a great way to get a foot in the door!!!" Again. Except each time I do this, it becomes more difficult and ludicrous. My latest interview went well - until the manager requested 7 professional references for a temporary contract job lasting about 9 weeks. This is something I could easily provide, but why should I?
At another firm, I actually completed a full day's work - including writing for the company website - as part of the interview, and was denied the position. At what point in this recession did employers gain the power to turn every vacancy into the Hunger Games? I've been asked about my personal life, my politics, and my plans for the next 10 years. I do work for free. I spend hours on custom-tailored materials knowing that the tiniest detail could disqualify me from a job I'm perfect for. I go to interviews and eagerly meet unreasonable demands because I have no choice.
I'm even applying for jobs in other cities. I try to temp but all the agencies tell me I have too much experience for their clients. Retail won't take me because my last stint behind a register was in high school. I guess the moral of the story here is that it's difficult to maintain dignity and standards when everyone tells us that we should thank the lord for the chance to dehumanize ourselves in the name of job searching. While I am grateful for any interview, I'm waiting for a company where I am treated like a person. I hope I find it before I run out of money.
One day at a time
I'm 30 years old, live at home, and I work part-time as a writing tutor. Last year, I made $9,300. My mother is incapacitated, my older brother is schizophrenic, and every day I feel more worthless. I try to remain sane by meditating and writing. I don't worry about my $30,000 in student loans. It's a trifle compared to what others are facing. Right now I'm just trying to remain positive while searching for full-time work or at least a better paying part-time job. I'm working on a 2nd book (my 1st was my MA project) and am also working on a zine (www.santanerozine.com) with some friends. I look forward to one day having a job that pays a living wage and provides health insurance. Until that day, I'm taking every cliche to heart one day at a time.
[Thanks to everyone who wrote in. You can send your own unemployment stories to Hamilton@Gawker.com. Photo via AP]