America's official unemployment rate edged up to 7.6% in May; a more accurate measure is closer to 14%. Either way, millions of Americans are unable to find decent jobs. Each week, we hear from some of them in our "Unemployment Stories" series. This is what's happening out there.
I came to New York in 2006 and got my BFA in theater from NYU on a full ride MLK scholarship. I'd been working my whole life at that point. First for my mom who was the sole provider of our family and then, as soon as i could drive, at a restaurant. I imagined that if I went broke once I got to new york I would be a stripper but there are no gay male strip clubs that I'm aware of so stripper turned to prostitute. And for the last six years whenever I've been in between serving jobs, which i often am, that is what I've done.
I've been working in restaurants for over a decade. It's tiresome to say the least. Not what I'd hoped to do, not what I'm interested in, and inevitably I will sabotage, allow myself to lose the job or just stop going thinking that then I'll be forced to find something better and if not then I'll troll craigslist until I've made rent. I'm currently weak with hunger. It's the end of the shortest month of the year and i have no money. Not even change. No job. And nothing to sell anymore. All my books have been taken to the strand at this point. The only thing I own of value anymore is the computer I'm writing this on.
I find the judgment frustrating, I stand by my choices, I understand the nature of the system I was born into (I think much better than many of the critics) but being smart doesn't necessarily mean being successful. I am frustrated knowing I'll have to muster up the strength of a superhero to compensate for my relatively poor background, but if that's the challenge I'll give it my best shot. I wrote, directed and starred in a play during my current period of unemployment. I am committed to several long term creative projects, and I work hard to make progress with them. I have not been feeling like I am getting anywhere. When my boyfriend broke up with me, in part because of my scrub-dom, he said that in his family he was raised to work hard for the things he wanted. That was the harshest thing to hear. My mother is not the cause of my lack of success, the problems and responsibilities are mine and I own them.
It's been three years
I've never had trouble getting a job. I was hired at the very first job I ever applied for, three days after submitting an application. Because that job happened to be for a major bookselling chain, I was able to transfer to the East Coast when I went to college and worked up until the time I got my Bachelor's in psychology. Right before I returned home to Southern California, I quit my job with naive moxy, seeing nothing but a bright professional future ahead of me. That was one of the worst mistakes I've ever made.
A few weeks after returning home, I was lucky to get a job at a treatment center for teens. I was a glorified babysitter for kids just a few years younger than me. It was difficult and stressful and I didn't feel I'd been trained enough, but I was making over $10 per hour and I learned to adapt. I worked at that facility for about a year before it shut down due to a lack of funding. I quickly got an "interim" job at a movie theater, thinking I would only be there for a few months while I looked for something better. After a year at the movie theater, and no luck finding another professional job, I decided to go to graduate school. Because it was so much cheaper than a Doctorate, I opted for a Master's program that would allow me to become a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. The program was supposed to take two years, but I am currently in my fourth year, still trying to finish my thesis. I kept my job at the movie theater for the first year of the program but had to quit when I started a mandatory internship, which happened to be unpaid. I have not had a paid job since then. It's been three years.
I was lucky to have worked as much as I did throughout college because I had some money saved up. I'm also lucky my parents are so supportive because I currently live with them. I just turned 28. Now, however, I have no money, no job, and still no Master's degree. I'm on track to graduate this semester, but that's what I've been saying for the last three semesters and something always goes awry. I've been looking jobs since I finished my internship. Unfortunately, without a Master's degree, all that's available in my field are more unpaid internships. I've applied to maybe a hundred "living wage" jobs outside my field but haven't gotten even one interview. In the meantime, I've been trying to be resourceful. I took a temporary job as a nanny to a child whose mother was out of town. I sold off the furniture and electronics I owned before I moved back in with my parents. I take paid surveys and participate in paid research. Next week, my friend and I are going donate plasma (and get paid for our time). I'm trying to stay positive about everything. Things could be so much worse in my life. I am starting to feel like I'm treading water, though. Last November, I applied to several retail stores, hoping to get hired for the holiday rush. Again, I didn't even manage to get an interview. WHO ARE THEY HIRING?? And why aren't they hiring me? Am I so much more disposable than these other people?
I don't want pity or sympathy or commiseration. I want a job. I want to be able to live on my own.
I don't know what else to do. I saw such a different life for myself when I was younger. Now I spend most of my time at home, obsessively reworking my resume, tailoring it to fit each job I apply for. I have so many skills. I can learn so quickly. I will work so hard. Someone, please, let me work hard.
The sensual masseuse
I just turned the big 40. I've been unemployed since November of 2011. I have a MA in a design degree like "most" of us...yadda yadda. So naturally with my lovely liberal arts degree, I had become a cleaning lady in NYC after looking AND looking for graphic design/advertising gigs in South Florida and NYC to no avail.
It's not really the employers' fault especially since I graduated from the UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE in a crappy program that hadn't bothered to teach one of the most fundamental criteria for graphic design skills: THE TECHNOLOGY. That and my lovely country forgot to appreciate a growing creative force...but I don't blame or expect the government to fix that. And I'm a voting democrat. We live in a mediocrity...so of course, the likes of me are out of a job. Yes, I have skills. I have been touted for it which is all I can say to put it in simple terms. After giving up graphic design job searches, for years, I had worked in yachting industry (catered to English internationals illegally gainfully employed in the US while many discriminate against Americana), retail (which by that time I had grown to hate Glenn Murphy for ever existing as CEO and as a human being....thanks to his super low wage policy and 10 cent per year raise even for more competent employees), that and becoming a cleaning lady in NYC after transferring with the Gap from South Florida to NYC. What can I say, I grew tired of making 9 bucks per hour providing quality CS to customers, weekly credit promotion/processing... including lying to customers about credit inquiries effecting their credit.
So after transferring to NYC, I worked as a cleaning lady for a shady, two bit agency owner for a whopping 12 bucks per hour before finally quitting the Gap. After about a year and half later, I got laid off from that "respectable" cleaning agency (what else is new in NYC...and cleaning agencies...do you know the kind of guys who own these agencies?) due to the fact I finally asked and demanded my over time to finally be paid. So after being laid off by another "CEO", what did I do to survive in the big A while collecting a measly unemployment check of less than 250 bucks per week while STILL looking for at least poverty line waged (yes, it's waaaay more than 7.25, we all know) job or above hundreds of times per week? I, a casual dweeb, became an unlicensed "erotic" masseuse. That's right, ME. And I've never looked back other than continuing to post my resume on Careerbuilder of course. It's not much more money than my "cleaning lady" job, since I'd rather meet a few clients per week, but it affords me the ability to help my struggling mom cope (a little bit anyway) and pay my shitty rent/bills in Brooklyn. I'm not ashamed or obviously proud of my new part time "job", but hey, there happens to be a lot of interesting and / or handsome (mostly married) men who need a woman's touch every now and then when they're on business travel. Plus, I get to go out more...and the tips can be pretty, pretty great. I've been discreet to any high profile or celebrity figure out there....I don't care at all...because it's a job...than I apply my CS skills to naturally. I'm not even a hottie or young...but it's better than working in retail for shady CEOs who know nothing about Social Responsibility with respect to their own employees and wages.
The health care administrator
I was laid off 3 years ago. Prior to being laid off, I was the Regional Recruitment Director for the health care company that I worked for. I was hired in as a Division Manager and was promoted twice over the course of 5 years. In the fall of 2009, I could sense that things were changing, in relation to the financial stability of the company. I could sense it most in my supervisor. She was always a back-stabbing, scatterbrained bitch, but I knew how to play "the game." She had no idea how I truly felt about her. Regardless, in March of 2010, I was laid off. I decided to go back to school and acquire my MBA (my B.S. is in Health Services Administration). I assumed that I would be able to obtain either a full or part time job. I was wrong.
I applied to over 700 jobs over the course of a year. I was willing to dig ditches, do landscaping, any grunt-work imaginable. Every once in awhile I would get lucky and find a job that paid $10 for a few hours of work a week. I was miserable. It really affected my self confidence. After 2 years, I finally found a job that paid 65% of my prior salary. Within 3 months, I was laid off again. The company was having financial issues. Please keep in mind, I have an impeccable work history, references and a track record of accomplishments. I have never been on any type of disciplinary action at any of my jobs. I started working when I was 15 and I have always been a focused, conscientious, employee.
Over the next 3 months I applied to over 500 jobs. Eventually, I heard back from one of the companies I applied to. After 6 interviews, and agreeing to a starting salary of $14.90 per hour (MBA included), I can now say that I have been employed for 11 months with the same company. On another note, I filed my taxes on 2/23/13. I was looking at my W-2's from '09, '08, my income for those years averaged about $90k. It's pretty sad. Thankfully, I didn't go overboard with a mortgage or purchase a vehicle that requires car payments. I know that there are people out there that have it worse than me and my thoughts and prayers go out to them.
Alcoholism and homelessness
I, like most Americans graduated from high school, went to Junior College and then went to University. I studied both art and graphic design because I have a very strong artistic flair. Creative work is the only thing I can see myself doing if I were ever to be plugged into a cubicle. Mostly though I wanted ( and still) want to be a professional artist, though I never went to official art school mostly becuase of the ruthless expense. When I graduated I tried very hard to make sure that I did not have a lot of debt to follow me around. To this day I still have not paid most of it off, although it's a humble $10,000 which is pretty good, so I'll probably be able to complete the debt one day (hopefully).
At first I did pretty well for myself, I lived with my father (my step mom died of brain cancer when I graduated) and I was able to pay rent and have some kind of savings. For the most part I didn't do all the things I wanted to do, didn't pursue art like I wanted (I did get some comic book art published and do get some art jobs here and there) but, yeah, I kinda let things go and went into a numb existence. I have a lot of problems finding direction and sometimes a society that leans towards the side of celebrated-over-stimulation can do that to you. Video games, television, too many options.
Eventually as time passed I found myself continuing to live with my father and the true realization of my dysfunctional family started to come forth. Alcoholism began to take more precedence in my life, between me and my dad we were getting worse. I never to this point have had a family of my own, and neither have I been married, nor have had children.
I went on that up-and-down job ladder at around 2004-2006. Then, one day, I moved out of the apartment that I shared with my dad and lived with a friend of mine. In that eight months of being on my own I applied to job after job after job. I had a few interviews, but I never ever got hired to be a long term graphic designer in a full time office position. As you can probably see, holding onto my graphics skills began to slide and the technology raced ahead of me to an extent to where I will have to go back to school, or something similar to catch up. Basically I need to spend more money to learn something that I already know, just because of accelerating technology and fickle employment demands.
I finally gave up on the idea that I would ever get hired to be a graphic designer in a in office situation and decided that I could only be a freelancer, as I could manage the whole thing on my own and my boss was whatever client I could find. It worked a little bit, and I made some money, but mostly I was living off of unemployment. Unfortunately, my friend threw me out of his place for reasons I still can't quite understand, but I certainly was not ready to deal with it, and ended up living with my dad again.
At this point we were OK, but the alcoholism still persisted and eventually began to grow worse. In most respects my father was the worse drinker, but it didn't help me to control it. I was starting to drink several times a day.
I had some work and my dad had some money. We had all kinds of tricks to get income so we wouldn't be thrown out of our apartment.
Over time I found that I could not keep up with the rent and the bills and I began to lose my confidence in stabilizing the situation. Plus my father began to become more and more demented from alcholism, which was beginning to emotionally drain me.
After the banking crisis in 2007-2008 things just got worse. Even getting basic jobs at grocery stores, or temp work became extremely difficult and painful, and I began to acquire a lot of credit card debt to deal with overall expenses. Soon I just couldn't pay the rent and around 2008-2010 I started to have problems with the landlord who adamantly refused to lower the rent or make any kind of deal with us to help prevent eviction. At this point the dysfunction between my and my dad worsened and we went through a year long eviction process which probably really hurt our landlord financially and ruined my credit for certain.
In 2010 I became homeless.
In 2010 I began to live in squats filled with all kinds of crazy people. As I was doing this I managed to work for a friend who owned a building in a nearby town, but it wasn't very good pay. It was kind of nice becuase I could have my own personal space in his building, but after a year and a half it ended with me on the streets and without a job.
For three months I was sleeping in alleys, in parks, behind a library. All during the cold season, and very few of my friends wanted to take me in.
I had to work very hard within myself not to be filled with hatred and resentment towards the murderous and callous attitude that is directed towards the homeless and other struggling people. Something American society needs to seriously take into account is doing something about the poor and the homeless. It really pisses me off, the wholly insulting attitude people have towards someone like me fills me with indescribable rage.
I even went on a couple of job interviews for some customer service jobs, and after two interviews decided I needed to get an apartment first. Do employers really think that people come to job interviews to waste time? No! People come to job interviews because need a job. Please respect this.
If I hadn't the smarts to save money I would not have been able to find an apartment to share, which I did, just a month before I write this story.
I still need to find work out there. Luckily I was able to find a new skill which may help me to avoid homelessness again.
Before I end this I want to say a few things so people understand this shit. Unemployed people and homeless people are not the enemies of our society. Now I'm going to be insulting to the readers who scoff at someone like me who has to deal with this kind of thing, which would be Teabaggers, Republicans, Wall Street, Main Street, and hiring agents. You think you're fucking safe? You think it's not going to fucking happen to you? How long are you going to keep feeding the rich, keep blaming the poor and the sick and the mentally disabled for their own in-capacities? How long are you going to think that you're OK and the rest of us are just lazy unproductive stupid bums? Well to tell truth, we are growing. The army of the homeless is growing and we are going to take the streets for our own. We are going to take the parks for our own. We are going to take all the empty houses for our own. We are going to protest. We are going to steal your stuff! We are going to stand in front of your business and scare away your fucking customers. We are going to eat up all of societies wealth because you stupid mother fuckers think you don't have to give a GODDAMNED SHIT about people who struggle to make it.
[Thanks to everyone who wrote in. You can send your own unemployment story to Hamilton@Gawker.com. Image via AP.]