A year ago, we began publishing true stories of unemployment, submitted to us by unemployed people across America. Hundreds of stories later, we are wrapping up the series. This will be our final regular weekly installment. This is what's happening out there.
The purpose of our "Unemployment Stories" series was simply to give a voice to people who do not usually get the chance to be heard. We're wrapping it up not because there are no more stories to tell— we still receive new ones every week— but because its point has been made. That said, one thing that this series has made clear is that each and every person's story has value. We will set up a Kinja page on which unemployment stories can, and will, continue be published. The information on that will be forthcoming. In an effort to include as many of the remaining stories as possible, today's edition is extra long. Read it in pieces, if you want to.
My sincere and heartfelt thanks to everyone who took the time to send in a story, and to all of those readers who offered various forms of assistance. Each of you has helped more people than you know.
Suicide as solution
I've been unemployed for about 9 months. I got a job right out of trade school which paid well even though it was physically brutal and repetitive and was a 12-hour night shift. A few months into the job I realized I was "working through the pain" of carpal tunnel, which had started flaring up while I was still in school. I ignored it and didn't complain, which is basically what is expected of you when you work in a trade. Also, I was a woman working in a male-dominated field. If I complain, it's not because I have a legitimate and painful injury, it's because I'm female and therefore weak, right? I bit down, iced my hands for hours after work and took huge amounts of ibuprofen. Then I had an on-the-job neck injury. In addition to icing my hands, I was going home, lying on my couch because it was the only place I could be relatively comfortable, and sobbing from the pain instead of sleeping. My job paid for one visit to a doctor in which they told me to ice it and take ibuprofen. I've now spent 6 months with a constant terrible headache, not being able to turn or tip my head without blinding pain. I lost that job due to missing days when I couldn't move the upper half of my body without crying, and was denied unemployment when my employer contested giving me benefits due to "excessive absences".
Now unemployed and broke due to missing so many days of work, I spent my time not dealing with the crippling depression that set in. It took over and I had no insurance, so I couldn't see a therapist or pay for medication. My mother helped me financially when she could, but it wasn't much help, so I was putting groceries & other necessities on a credit card to get by. My days were spent intermittently sleeping, crying and just lying on the couch doing nothing, thinking almost nothing, staring into space for long periods of time. The depression got bad enough that I decided it didn't matter if I bought things on credit - I wasn't going to live much longer and someone else would have to deal with the bill. I had decided to commit suicide but wanted to see my long-distance boyfriend before I did. I asked him to take a short vacation with me, put everything on the credit card, and planned to die when I got back home. On that weekend, my boyfriend realized something was terribly wrong and - unbeknownst to me - called my mother and told her I needed help. She called me and we started the process of moving me out of my home and across the country to live with her.
Now I spend my days stuck in my mother's house. I have no car and she lives in a remote enough town that I can't find a job that I can walk to, and there is minimal public transportation. There aren't very many jobs I can physically do anymore anyway. I'm now resigned to waiting for my boyfriend, who is working halfway across the country, to earn the money at his job to move us both into a new place together. I look at my future - one that will involve being supported by a man and trying to hustle up any small bit of work that's possible for me to do - with a mixture of relief and horror. I can't go back to my trade due to the carpal tunnel, yet still have $18,000 in school loans for learning how to perform the trade. 6 months after graduating, I couldn't work anymore. My boyfriend will be saddled with the majority of that debt. He's repeated over and over that he doesn't have a problem being the main wage earner. Once we have health insurance his stated priority is to get me into therapy, and he's said he doesn't care how long it takes or how much money it takes, he wants me to be well so I can try to work again. He tells me that as long as I'm trying, it's okay. I'm very lucky in this sense, but I carry constant worry that I'll never be able to contribute enough. I worry that he'll tire of supporting me, that I'll be too much of a burden. I've developed ridiculous anxiety that makes me worry about being attacked by feminists who don't approve of a woman who "lives off her man" when they have no idea that my alternative is death. I know in my heart that what anyone else thinks doesn't matter, but my brain runs in every direction at once, and all those directions lead to being criticized, to not being good enough, to being a loser. I can't seem to do anything right. I'm paralyzed by the fear that I'll do something wrong, something that isn't right for the people around me - something that will make them not love me anymore.
It's amazing how a serious plan for suicide changes your outlook. Now that I've come so close, it comes up as a solution all the time. It's as simple as saying I have to go to the grocery store. "Well, if I'm unemployed for too long, I can just kill myself". "Well, if I realize I'm nothing but a burden, there's always death." I'm not being dramatic. I'm not asking for attention. I haven't told anyone that I think this way because I don't want anyone to help me with it or try to talk me out of it. I want it as an option. I'm willing to keep trying for now. I have to get moved out of my mom's house and just see if things can be better - but if they don't, dying is my option. I have to continually remind myself to have some hope that when I move, things will get better. I just don't have a lot of hope.
I can only write this now...after a two-year and seven-month unemployment odyssey that has literally drained me of my home, my life and myself.
I was laid off in August of 2010. Publishing. Publicity. Do the math. Neither industry has done well with the state of the economy. I should also note that I'm 40, and I'm the only child of a single mother who passed away when I was in my twenties. I have no family. No father. No aunts or uncles to count on. No grandparents. When I say that I don't have a single family member to turn to, I don't mean, "Oh, I don't want to have to ask my parents!" I mean I literally have no one.
Immediately after the layoff, I found on a temporary assignment, covering a maternity leave, while looking for a permanent job. I thought that maybe I'd be looking for three...four months max. In the past, I'd usually been offered a position after interviewing with only one or two companies. I aced interviews. In fact, it was almost like a sport to me.
By the time my temporary assignment had ended four months later, I thought that maybe it would be another month before I got an offer — which would give me some time off for the first time in my fifteen-plus year career to just relax. I had a decent severance package and with unemployment, I had no problems paying my rent on my Brooklyn apartment.
I relaxed, but I also began a diligent search to find my next job. I applied above my title. I applied beneath my title. Three months went by before I had an interview. I was told that I was wonderful and talented...but that I was a little too experienced. Interviews began to pick up, and I heard that same phrase over and over again — when people actually took the time to follow up with me. So I took my graduation year off my resume and deleted the first few years of my career.
There were, of course, jobs I thought were mine. I'd aced the interviews. I liked the people. I'd do my follow-up. One e-mail...two e-mails...three. And then, I'd never hear from them again.
I had registered with over twenty headhunters. I'd check in with them weekly. Not a single one of them ever sent me out. I had registered with several temp agencies. Again, I phoned every week, and nothing. I searched a second, third and fourth time just to make sure I'd contacted every temp agency in the city...and most of them required serious administrative experience. I re-wrote my resume to try and fake it. Nothing.
In September of 2011, I broke what little I had in my 401K to cover my rent. I had a very nasty landlord who was quite verbal about his desire to sell the house. I didn't have a lease to protect me.
By that point, I'd been on close to 100 interviews...and nothing. I'm a good publicist. With solid contacts. And years of experience. Apparently 15 years too much experience. They wanted kids right out of college so that they didn't have to pay them what someone at my level should command. I'd beg — I'd tell them I can live with less. Still, no offer.
One year went into two, and my cash was gone. I was still getting unemployment, but I'm single. I lived alone. I couldn't possibly cover the rent on a mere $405 a week. I asked my landlord if we could work something out — if he could just cut me a break because I was trying so hard. He sent me a nasty letter in return, copying everyone but Jesus.
My eventual debt of nearly $5,000 from friends who helped me to pay the rent for the first six months of 2012 began.
I begged everyone I knew in the industry to help me find some freelance work. But it's amazing how many of your so-called "friends" disappear once you no longer have a job.
In between severe crying spells, interviews and worrying, I began to think of how I might commit suicide. I began to plan. I'd read about a guy who left his final note on his blog, then downed a cocktail of anti-freeze and Gatorade. I'd decided that I'd mix mine with Mountain Dew.
However, I had one thing to attend to before I made any move like that...I had to find a home for my cat. I envisioned I'd just drop him off in his carrier with the doorman at my friend's building — she'd take him in and at least find him a home. I'd leave her a note. I'd shut my phone off. Then head home for my cocktail. I'd be dead, I reasoned, before the cops broke the door down...
[By December] I didn't want to live. I put a notice up on Facebook, asking if anyone could — or knew of anyone — who could provide a good home to my cat. If that failed, I was just going to resort to my initial plan of dropping him off with my friend's doorman.
One of my friends from college called me that night. She said that she and her husband were coming to get me. Pack up. Bring the cat. I had less than a month to sort and box the last twenty years of my life. I threw out a lot of memories because there would be no room to keep them.
At first, I didn't think about it. I just made the decision to do it. I could keep the cat. I'd have a roof over my head. And maybe — it was time to shake things up a little. I'd have food, shelter and the cat would be fed.
What I didn't realize is that they lived on a dirt road in the middle of horse country. I have no license, no car. I lived in New York City, and there was no need. I thought I'd be living there my entire life.
Every other day, her husband lectures me on a variety of topics — usually it involves getting my license. However, I needed money to do that.
I have been stuck on this hill for three months. My friend's elderly mother is also living here, and to say that she drives me crazy all day is an understatement. She's Passive-Aggression's best friend forever. Even though I had no money the last couple of years living in NY, I could at least go for a walk...or hop on the subway and visit a friend. Here...I have nowhere to go but the front porch.
I did finally land a job — in my industry. But the pay is low. Twenty thousand dollars less than what I made at my last full-time job. I keep reminding myself that I have no overhead right now. But I'm not going to be able to afford a car, insurance and rent on that salary.
By the time all of the totals were in, I went on nearly 175 interviews and registered with 25 headhunters in a time frame of two years and seven months.
I miss my friends terribly, and I cry every time I see New York on television. There's no phone in this house — and I certainly didn't have the money to call the friends I miss so desperately on my cell phone. I needed my minutes to search for a job.
I've got a job. But I'm still just as depressed. I pray every night that God will just take me. I'm a shell of my former self. I don't even remember what music I used to like, or what my favorite shows are.
I live and breathe by the rules of this house alone. I spent my entire life answering to no one but myself, and now I have to answer to someone else's husband and mother. My only connection to the life I used to know is the Internet. But it's just so damn upsetting to know that my friends are still surviving and thriving in the city I called home.
All I had ever wanted was to live in New York and have a career. I worked hard in school to get myself out of a small town to do it. My mother worked just as hard to get me there. I promised her on her deathbed that I would never leave the city. And now I feel like I failed both of us. Or maybe New York failed me.
Housewife, and not by choice
I usually try to avoid the unemployment series because I just can't stand the debilitating shame that comes with it. Most of the stories I've read (and heard) start something like "A few years ago...", or "Back in 2006....", or worst, include the phrase "10 years later". I just can't. I feel guilty and ashamed as it is, but truly my stretch of unemployment and underemployment has lasted about 2 years. After graduating college in 2010, I was offered the best job. It was a staff writer position in an amazing non-profit in the heart of my favorite city. 15 minutes from my mom's house in my hometown where I lived. Perfect. I could see myself working there for years, the potential for growth was so obvious that every day excited me. Through all this, I knew my boyfriend of 4 years was joining the military. He asked me to go with him across the country and I wanted to go so desperately. I accepted the job, knowing I would be leaving at the end of the year. In my naiveté, I believed what everyone around me was saying: "You're so young! Don't limit yourself now! Opportunity is everywhere! If it doesn't work out, you're young enough to continue your life!" So when December came, I left the best job I've had since and moved to a place I'd never been, 6,000 miles from my family.
I had two conditions for moving: I had to have a job to move to, and we needed to be committed to each other. Both happened within a couple of weeks of each other. My boyfriend made a big show of proposing (to my honest surprise) and I got a job at another huge non-profit making a little less, but it was a job. I moved, and everything was great until people started dropping like flies at work. One person after another was quitting or moving, or just checked out. I came home stressed and crying. I gained weight. I developed an ovarian cyst the size of a grapefruit and had to have surgery. Then my fiancée dropped a bomb on me. EVERYTHING was falling apart. I fell into an incredibly deep depression. I was too ashamed to move back home. What was I supposed to do? Beg for my old job back? At 23 everyone around me was saying the same old thing, "You're young! You can start over!" Not me. That's not who I am. My entire life, I worked toward a secure job where I could grow. It seems silly to some of my friends who traveled after school or just "Took time off", but I felt I didn't have time to waste. I was so ashamed. I had to quit, for my own sanity. No good reference, my boss quit before I did.
I had another job, though part-time, lined up immediately. For 3 months I worked for 12 hours a week editing. All with the promise that after 3 months I would be full-time. At 3 months to the day, I was called into the office and asked if I could consider coming in for 1 hour per week. This was not the conversation I was looking forward to. I responded that I would be forced to find and job and their response? "Uh huh." I stormed out. I wasn't getting a good reference from them. This hurt me the most. That same day I got a call from my hail Mary application. One week later, I was hired for a full-time job at a Fortune 500, the largest of its kind in the world. It was seasonal, but it was an amazing opportunity. At the end of the season, we were all laid off (as is the tradition with this company) and I applied for unemployment. This is where the shame really set in. We could afford to live off of my now husband's salary, but that was 't enough for me. Who was I to be 24 with no kids and a housewife! This was not where I though my life would be. I didn't want to sit on the couch anymore. I gained another 30 pounds and spent the summer applying like crazy. I had two interviews, but nothing came of them.
Another season with the company started and I was able to even negotiate a higher salary. Everything seemed great. Some continuity on my resume, more responsibility, etc. Then my boss started harassing me and no one helped. No matter how high up in the company I went, I was basically told to focus on the season at hand...it would be over soon. At the end of it all, all promises were broken and I was too they were "letting people go early this season"... odd, but ok. My boss harassed me until the bitter end. I left knowing I couldn't rely on him for an unbiased recommendation.
And here I sit, unemployed again with nowhere to go. Volunteering isn't coming together well, no one is calling, despite all the applications I fill. And we are due to move back to a bigger city across the country in 6 months. To others reading this, they may say I have it easy. I am very fortunate to not go hungry or homeless with the help of my husband, but my self esteem is in the gutter. I feel like I've fallen behind. Everyone is lapping me with their promotions and jobs. I'm a 25 year old housewife and not by choice. This is NOT where I'm supposed to be right now. I apply and apply, but I get nothing. I hate when people put my shame aside and tell me I'm taking this too seriously. Unemployment isn't just about not being able to pay the bills, it hits you in the gut. Every day I'm not contributing, I feel like I'm getting smaller and smaller in the world. I'm not growing, I'm not developing. How can I become the woman I've been planning to be if I'm wasting precious time? Then I read these stories and get so depressed. With it be another 10 years before I feel worth anything? This failure to launch feeling scares the shit out of me. How do I get back on track when no one will hire so done who has had 3 jobs in 2 years and quit 2 of them? I get this sinking feeling that I'll never be worth anything. That even if I do find that position to get me back on track, I'll always be looking over my shoulder. I'm tired of people telling me I'm being too hard on myself. I AM ashamed. Shouldn't I be?
I’ve been a radio deejay for most of my adult life, but the days of transistor radios and the Sony Walkman are long gone. Radio’s been dying a slow death for years and I should have known better.
In 2008, I moved my family to a new city for a new job. Within a month my wife was gone, she’d been having an affair and moved back leaving me with our 3-year-old son. It hit me like a ton of bricks: new town, new job, no friends, no support system and I was suddenly a single father with a little kid to take care of.
Thankfully I did have a job and barely noticed the recession until 2010. That’s when I lost it and became a late player in the unemployment game. I couldn’t find a job … any job. For several months I looked for work in my field, then as things got more desperate I looked for related jobs, then any job, then it was fast food, box stores, cutting grass and cleaning toilets.
Three years later I’m still unemployed and kiddo is finishing the 2nd grade. I’m either overqualified, too old or because of my single father status, not mobile enough for work. And I’m surrounded by grown adults who are all in the same boat. We all stopped collecting unemployment benefits some time back.
The recession has permanently displaced a generation of workers and it’s gone unnoticed because they are no longer counted. In economics they’re referred to as discouraged workers, but politicians and CEOs don’t want to hear about that. The country is bouncing back and the unemployment rate is at its lowest in year or haven’t you heard?
There has been one benefit to being long term unemployed … I have ample time to spend with kiddo. We like going to the park on sunny days and shooting video game zombies on rainy ones. If I could turn this into a career, I’d be rich.
Fighting with fibromyalgia
I am 24 years old. I graduated almost a year ago with my college degree in music education. Before graduation I had presented two graduate-level research posters at the state level of a music education conference, earned a spot at college nationals in ballroom dancing, competed in table tennis tournaments, played all the brass instruments (I was on scholarship for tuba), and had a job.
Halfway through my last semester at college, while I was student teaching, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I had to quit playing my tuba because of the TMJ that is so prevalent among fibro patients, quit dancing because of the stress, and I barely made it through student teaching, because I missed so many days with doctor appointments and high pain levels.
I haven't been able to take a job since graduation because I have to keep my stress and activity levels low. I am incredibly lucky that my fiancé has a job. I started a blog and website (ChickOpinion) to try to generate some interest in some of my skills (writing, sewing, knitting, designing, education consulting), but so far I've just gotten $11 through Google ads; since August!
I had a lot of people telling me that they really liked a bunch of scarves I donated to the victims of Superstorm Sandy, so I started an Etsy shop a month ago. I haven't sold one thing. I contribute to a couple of websites and blogs, but it's unpaid. I am on oDesk and Elance, but feel like working for $3/hr is a little bit below my intellect and also counterproductive to building my own brand.
My rejection letters for seated full-time jobs or more active part-time jobs number in the 50s now. I am a bright, driven, young woman who cannot find a job because chronic pain. I'm very honest about it in follow-up calls because I want them to know what they are getting, but people hear that and "forget" to call me back.
Not only do I have to fight to co-exist with my condition, but I have to fight to be a fraction of the Superwoman I used to be. And I have to do all of it with no job. People don't hire the smart girl who can't work nights or weekends, can't travel, and can't work long hours because of an invisible condition. When I go to places like the DMV where I absolutely could work and I see people who didn't go to college but can work 12 hour days, it kills me. That's a job I could do. It's seated, it's not high stress. When I get my application bumped from a secretary position for a dean of a university because I can't lift 30 pounds, it feels like I got slapped. I am brilliant when it comes to organization, innovation, and communication, but they don't even take a chance to see that.
I'm working on a book right now and I want to build ChickOpinion into something that can help young women with chronic pain. But there's no guarantee that my book will be published and writing it now sure doesn't pay the bills.
Unemployment has done a number on my self-esteem, but it's also strengthened my resolve. I will not be silenced because of my condition. I will not be defined by my condition. I will succeed beyond what the statistics of my condition predict. I will help others who are weighed down by their conditions rise and do nothing less than their best.
Subsisting on spite
Nothing around me is my own. The apartment I sit in is not my own, even though I clean and cook in it. The car that ferries me is not in my name. The computer I am typing this on was a graduation gift given during halcyon days. All I want is a bed of my own. Is it so much to ask to die without being a burden to society even after I pass? I was raised with the soul purpose that I would take care of my parents until I died. My brother was to be the one with a life, but as he failed I began to chafe at the role assigned me. I rebelled late in life, and now I wish that I were either still under their thrall or in the ground. When I left my Father told me that I could take nothing, even my childhood toys belonged to them. Fuck them; I would make my own objects of value.
I thought at the time that I could replace these trinkets once I had a job of my own...
I learned everything and anything that I could, from plumbing to game theory. I worked and paid my way, with the majority of my funds covering health insurance. I needed more time than most to graduate but the end result was worth it as I stood to receive my diploma. A degree in Biology seemed to strike the perfect balance between my passion and the reality of the job market. I now had family, not in blood but in deed. Then things fell apart. My varied experience seemed to only garner ridicule from prospective employers. My savings dried up as I funneled them into my health insurance. The loan debt that I thought would be paid off has now reared its hungry maw. The temporary handyman job for a friend stretched on for two years, ending in disaster for the friendship and my mental health. I found a cashier job through a friend, and at this job I find myself at a loss. I cannot advance in the job further than I already have. I loathe the job but remain grateful, for even my boss thinks I would have had a better job by now. Job-hunts through recruiters and my own searches only lead to dead ends. Some dead ends take me to deceivingly promising interviews only to lead to hopelessness. Hope is the last thing to die, so for now I will subsist off of spite...
I know things will somehow change and I will either adapt or perish. I just want to truly live before I die. One cannot live in these times without a lucrative job you can only survive.
It changed him
I read your unemployment stories every week, and finally feel compelled to write one. I have not been unemployed, not for any measurable stretch of time. It has always been relatively easy for me to get a job, although, admittedly, I have had few standards for my jobs and have worked in some pretty shitty environments. However, unemployment has played a huge role in my life, and reading the stories, I sometimes wonder about the characters who are sometimes glossed over—the wife had to go back to work when her husband was laid off, the family who supported the unemployed. They deserve more of a voice.
When my ex-husband graduated from college, he had the brightest future of really anyone I knew. He got accepted to the best grad school in the country in his field and they paid him a rather large stipend to come to school. We married and moved across the country for him to enroll. And things worked great for a while. By his second year, however, he had started faltering in his classes, citing depression and kind of typical quarter life crises moments, and by the end of the year, he had been asked not to continue in his Ph.D. program. He graduated with his Master's. I remember the day he told me how all this would play out. It was a beautiful day and he took me to lunch—I was working a low-level office job at the time in a warehouse building—and we drove across this huge hillside and watched boats come in as we ate burgers and talked about our futures. He had a lot of plans, and to 24 year old me, it sounded amazing.
None of it ever happened. He spent the next year applying for jobs on and off but couldn't get a job teaching (he needed the Ph.D. or a certification to do that) and couldn't do anything else either. He had no work history—all of his time in college had been spent making amazing grades (Phi Beta Kappa!) and doing internships and thus, he had no work history—not even the coffee shop employment and waiting tables stuff that I had when I graduated. Finally, two months behind on our rent, we decided to move back across the country to a city near our hometown. When we got back, he spent weeks sending out resumes in the new city. Not even an interview. We gave up on that dream quickly and moved into a house my mother owned so that we wouldn't have rent to pay.
I worked a series of jobs, all pretty crappy, but all jobs and all more or less adept at keeping us with food. He tried, heartily at times, but nothing ever worked out. Nothing. He worked for Target for a while but his hours were cut soon after the holidays passed. A friend hired him for a job that ended quickly two months after it started when the friend decided he needed job security and decided to quit freelancing. We would hear of something and he would get excited about it and then it seemed to disappear over night.
It changed him. Bad habits he had had as a kid became magnified. He became mean and obsessive. He yelled a lot and his eyes became hard and dark. He would make fun of my jobs, seemingly pitiful as they were to him, yet knowing they were the only thing that gave us food to eat. He stopped changing out of his pajamas. The anti-depressants he went on were expensive and the side effects were brutal.
I walked away. I did. I asked him to leave and he fought it a bit, but then, eventually, he gave in. He had lost a lot of fight over the years. I felt eternally guilty—hell, I still do in many ways—but I couldn't do it anymore. I couldn't allow myself to be treated the way that I was. When it was over, I looked around and realized that his sadness had alienated me from everyone and everything that I had once loved. It was no way to live.
Both of us have a hand in the way our marriage ended—it was, as always, a two way street. I wonder sometimes how things would have been different had he gotten a job easily and nicely out of college, like so many of our friends. We were not right for each other, not really, and I have few doubts that we would have ultimately ended up in the same way we are now. But this expedited things. And it made just a seemingly bad pairing into something much more heart wrenching.
I don't pretend to understand anyone's situation but my own. Unemployment is a sad, awful place to be, no matter what side of it you are on.
The IT woman
I’m a 27 year old from Michigan with a degree in Information Technology. When I got my B.S. there wasn’t a lot of IT jobs in the area. It was strongly suggested that I should start my Master’s degree as a part time student while I looked for a full time job in my field. I was told that it would improve my chances to get a job regardless of when I finished my degree. At the time it seemed like a good idea but most companies that interviewed me didn’t seem to care. I was told I didn’t have enough experience. As a result I pursued internships and other entry level positions in my field in the hopes that I would improve my chances at finding a real full time job.
Sadly very few internship programs were willing to give any compensation. I explained my dad the situation and he was willing to help by paying some of my bills. Eventually I decided to stop pursuing my Master’s due to financial reasons. I was still hopeful that I would finally be able to get paying job with my degree even though only a handful of my friends from my field have been able to get a job with theirs. Some of my friends haven’t been able to find any jobs and the few that have jobs are working retail/service industry since they graduated.
A few months ago I thought I finally had my big break. I was offered a part time job at a small web company. When I was interviewed I was told how much the company was growing, how much money I could make, and how they were excited to have a person with an IT degree. (The only person in the office who had any type of technical degree was CEO of the company). I was sent an email stating how much I would get paid as well as how many hours I would start with. Even though I wasn’t going to get paid for my full hours I was still happy. (It was listed in the email that some of my work would count as an unpaid internship for the first 30 days)...
Shortly after [coming on as a full time employee] my boss started “forgetting” me when it came to projects that he would assign... Eventually my boss told me I was getting let go and that he felt he couldn’t communicate with me. He even admitted during our last conversation that the lack of communication was his fault. I wasn’t surprised I was let go but I felt disappointed. I worked hard at my job and he used to praise my work. But it seemed like when I brought up money, his attitude towards me changed. It’s strange given he was the one who gave me the time table for the discussion in the first place. A girl, who still works there, tells me that she’s overheard them discussing the company’s financial problems and that they still don’t have a project manager.
As much as I try to be optimistic, I’m horribly depressed. I’ve had internships, interviews, gone to job/networking conventions, talked with contract houses, and I’m working on improving/learning new skills. Every day I search the internet looking at company websites, career sites, and the newspaper for jobs that I can apply for regardless of whether or not they’re connected to my degree. My dad’s worried that I’m never going to have a career and his friends don’t think I’m trying hard enough. (I know his girlfriend is using my unemployment status to push him to making me move out of the house – she hates me and wants to move in). It’s getting to the point I’m going to have to move out of state even though it’s risky financially. I’ve even applied to jobs in cities that are considered dangerous (on a national level).
I feel like I’m letting everyone down. My friends were disappointed when they found out I was searching for a new job. (A few of them had hoped that I would be able to help them get a job.) A friend of mine tried to get me an interview at his company but I never heard anything back. One of the hardest things besides hearing no is not hearing anything at all. Even when I do hear back, every rejection breaks me down a little more. My dad tries to understand what I’m going through but when he was my age he was able to get a job just by having an engineering degree. It was a job that he worked at for over 35 years. I don’t want to be a burden to my family. I’m at the point that I’m willing to take any job. Given the way the economy is right now I’m afraid that is it going to be a long time.
Inside the bubble
I've hesitated to write you, because, well, I'm not unemployed. I have a job that pays relatively well, as does my wife. We're living in the very heart of the American Empire, where the housing crisis apparently never happened (go 5-10 miles into the burbs and it sure did, but not here, not here), where cheaply-built faux rowhouses go up on the site of a train switching yard (right beside a rail line and underneath the flightpath for Congress' favorite airport) for absolutely jaw-dropping sums of money. It's like a dream world here - even the momentary panic about the sequester has given way to a sublime, unstated confidence that the future will be just like today, only better. Everything will work itself out. It always does.
We've been looking hard for jobs, though, outside of the capital of the Empire, for personal reasons. I've been looking for nearly two years now, and it's really rough out there, even for someone who already has a job. I can't tell you how different the job searching universe is from where it was before the beginning of the Depression of 2008 (let's be honest with ourselves - that's what it is). I've sent out countless resumes - first for just federal jobs, and then for the past few months for anything, public or private. And I've gotten interviews. But the interviews have been surreal. I've had two interviews in which I was informed that the duties of the position were substantially different from what was listed in the application. Interviewers have gotten aggressive and confrontational with their questions, to a degree that they never had before. It's almost as if, somehow, they're taking this new world as an opportunity to show the job seekers who's boss, to make sure they know their place, rub their noses in it a little, rather than just, you know, find a good candidate to fill a position. Even federal interviews are tacking on new requirements - extra essay questions after the interview, for example - that I'm not 100% sure are even legal.
I can tell you that I have never heard anyone inside the bubble I'm living in - not once - express any concern over longer-term unemployment, and I have a lot of friends here. The attitude increasingly is "well, I've got a job, and there are so many jobs around this town, so if someone can't get a job in Kansas City or Dallas or Phoenix or Buffalo, they must be doing something wrong". No one cares. So if you are holding out some hope that your government is about to come and save you, think again. It's not that one party is being held back from doing the right thing for you by the evil other party - nobody here cares on either side. It's not even on the radar. Not in the free political papers by the light rail stop, not in conversations, not on blogs, not anywhere. They don't care about you. Burn those words into your memory...
I came from a working-class background, and I got to where I am by pretty much banging my head against door after door until something gave. Persistence, persistence, persistence. That's the American dream, right? Anybody can make it if it they just put their shoulder to the grindstone. You don't have to know the right person, kiss the right ass, or grease the right palm. Sure, it was never close to perfect, but it used to be better than it is today, and not very long ago, either. Now it's increasingly all about "networking", which is a euphamism for connections, guanxi, nepotism. It was always thus at the higher, WASP-y echelons of the aristocracy, but now? It's trickling ever-further down. There's a whiff of the stereotypical banana republic about it that wasn't nearly that strong before 2008. Secret handshakes. I wonder how long it'll be before it's part of everyday life to slip local officials petty bribes as a precondition to get anything done. I have a bad feeling it won't be very long.
God bless Occupy, because they saw what was happening, and by merely sticking their heads up, they stood up against the most pernicious lie, the most damnable (literally, I sometimes think) lie of them all - "blame the victim - it's all your fault". I've hated that lie all my life, and yet I can't escape it, even inside my own mind. Something's changed out here, something huge, like a shifting of tectonic plates. This isn't like any of the other recessions in my lifetime. This is different somehow, and we - well, everyone but the 0.1 percent - are all in it together, whether or not we think we are. Everyone's vulnerable. If you don't think you are, you're wrong.
We are in a depression
I started getting kicked out of my home at 17 when I was still in high school. I wasn't a straight A kid but I didn't do drugs and was terrified of boys. I was a self starter who was dedicated to my school's TV production class, had 4 AP credits, and had started the first Gay-Straight Alliance in my very red county. I was outspoken and knew I was destined for something bigger than the suburbs of Jacksonville.
Between the age of 18 and 21, before I moved to NYC, I had already slept on multiple couches, lived in a domestic violence shelter, moved to LA and back because nobody back home would help me, been viciously dumped by an ex who joined the military and left me to fend with people who were stealing my money and throwing me onto the streets. I couldn't go to college. I was accepted once with a free ride to a community college but there were no buses and I had no car. I was out of work most of the time but also held jobs as a dishwasher, janitor, and cook (all for little pay).
In August of 2011, I finally lost my apartment. I was working for a well-known retail company but was getting 5 hours a week. My coworkers hated me, even though I was excellent at sales, because I caught one girl stealing which lead me to find out almost everybody but me was stealing. I needed my job and wouldn't have said anything if the girl wasn't doing it under my employee ID. My hours were cut. I got a second job at a mall pizza chain and a Dairy Queen only to be fired after a month from both jobs for stupid reasons...
My mom, by this point, had already gone bankrupt and lost her home. My roommates all screwed me out of rent and I was miserable. I ended up sleeping at my on and off again hook-up's house, where he lived with his parents. My father refused to let me live at his house, even temporarily, even though 3 of my 4 step brothers had lived with him and my brother currently did.
I was very lucky in that my now fiancé said he would help me get out. And help me he did. With $400 to my name and a suitcase, I moved to NYC. I transferred my retail job. I briefly lived on a love seat with no cushions for $100 a week but me and him hit it off with instant chemistry. I moved with him at his parent's apartment...
I had a brief job in retail this past holiday but was laid off in January. I cannot get any calls back. We survive on his SSI payments and his financial aid and student loans along with his parents paying our power bill. I attempted to do Welfare. They wanted me to put in 35 hours a week at their center for $215 a month. I was the only white person there and it made me feel even worse since the perception is that white people have it easier than minorities (it's true but I'm still fucked over). I couldn't do it...I've been trying my best to make money from home (I'm proud to say I made $60 last month) and anybody who has been through the system knows how difficult it truly is.
All I can hope is that my online sales take off enough for me to make $300 a month. That's a lot of work but I'm taking advantage of the little help we do have now. I need to be making that much a month PLUS a part time job by October otherwise we will be homeless again.
The young are so screwed over right now. My father and most adults (aside from my mom) keep saying how easy it is to get a job. My fiancé's father has had the same job for over 27 years now and his mom has a degree and does decent paying office work so they have no idea what it is like for us. I want to go to college but nobody knows how hard it is when you have no clue what is happening month to month.
I am not miserable though. I am happier than I ever have been. I am getting married this month (the whole wedding is a projected $300-400 which is a LOT for us) and I do believe in my new small business. I just know that we are in a DEPRESSION and living in the Bronx has forced me to see it first hand every single day.
Temps vs. unions
I had a labor issue that's been buggin' me at my own job, and didn't know quite what to do, The factory I work in is Teamster unionized, though another factory owned by the same company is un-unionized, and uses mostly temps. Following that same model, the factory I work in tries to use temps and overtime inasmuch as possible instead of hiring new union members to take on a greater workload—I was a temp for a year and a half until recently when management finally caved and added third shift back to the mix, and hired a bunch of us young temps. Anyhow, for those temps still remaining on first and second shift, who I still view as comrades nonetheless, there is a huge exploitative issue besides the normal temp issues of low wages and no benefits. Basically, the company has shifted to preferring temp agencies that use vulnerable labor, primarily african-americans and latinos from north philadelphia, and sometimes very recent immigrants. The reason is, I suspect, because they won't complain, and/or don't know their rights, when it comes to one issue in particular—the temp agency typically sends several more people to the job than the company says its going to need for that day. Now, this might be ok if the people who were sent home—after a rather arduous commute via public transit from north philadelphia to norristown in the freezing cold after waking up at 3 or 4 am— were also paid at least 2 hours for their bother, but they are not! It used to be that when a temp called the agency to tell them they're being sent home, the temp agency would blame the company for not telling them about a change in the quota. And vice versa—the company would tell the temps that they had in fact told the temp agency, and the temp agency must have made the mistake. But now they don't even bother—they tell the temps that there is a quota system, that they're going to send more people than the company needs, and that it's first come, first serve. Like day laborers, only they have to ride the bus 2 and a half hours and pay like 8$ to get to their destination. And now, since everyone knows this system is in place, they all come in early to sign in early so that they can make the quota! People started coming in at 5 a.m. for the day shift which starts at 6:45. So then some people started coming in at 4:30 am to beat the people that come in at 5 am. It's a race to the bottom, so to speak. I saw people today who came in at 5:10 am, and it was too late already, and they had to go home. Temps for second shift come in even earlier relative to their shift, often at noon, a full 3 hours before their start at 3pm. I mean, people are handing their time over—in effect, working for free— just to obtain the "privilege" or working. And this all at a union shop!
So anyway, when I try to get the people who are being sent home to at least do the meager protest of just telling their temp agency they won't come in, or at least filing for unemployment for the days they are sent home, I can't even convince them to do that. They say, oh , "unemployment is for lazy people." What the fuck dude?
Unemployed on two continents
Unlike many of the folks featured in this section, I left my last job voluntarily. I gave notice in August and departed in September 2012. I liked that job but I didn’t love it. I put in a lot of hours and was just burnt out. I started with the organization as an intern. After I year I was offered a permanent position (at 80% of the hours and salary of full time); then I moved to full time, got a few promotions, and was eventually was tapped to fill my supervisor’s role (if I stayed on whenever he left). I had business cards and health insurance and plenty of impressive anecdotes to share when anyone asked, “So what do you do?”I gave notice largely because the woman I was dating had accepted a new job and was moving abroad for it. Although our relationship was fairly new, I optimistically decided to follow her. When I shared my plans with colleagues at work, they said things like, “Oh, you’re still young (I was 29 then); you should have those adventures while you still can.” I left on good terms. I thoroughly documented all of my work for posterity, and I wrote thoughtful thank you notes (actual cards, not emails) to everyone with whom I had worked closely. The first challenge of living abroad was that (unlike my girlfriend) I didn’t have a work permit or a job. Her employer provided free housing and she joked that I could be her “house husband.” After years of working 40 or 50-something hours a week though, having nothing to do didn’t sit well with me. Obtaining a work permit proved much more difficult than I anticipated. Within about two weeks I was able to start working “off the books” and was happy just to be doing something. I couldn’t open a bank account; I signed my checks over to my girlfriend, which made sense because she paid for shared expenses like groceries, internet, and transportation. After the novelty of living abroad wore off, I realized that I hated the only work I could get. I hated going into work, but I hated staying home with nothing to do more. I kept vying for permanent positions, but companies are obligated to hire locals first and have to pay about $1,000 in legal fees for hire a foreigner. After three months I realized that my job prospects and my relationship were both doomed. I broke up with the girlfriend and moved back to New York. A few days before arriving in NYC, I saw vacancy posted for my old company and I sent in a cover letter. I interviewed for the position on the same day that my +12 hour flight landed at JFK. I envisioned myself getting the job and then tweaking my resume to omit the three months I spent abroad. In short, I thought the job could fix everything. I didn’t get the position and a few weeks later I turned 30—with no job and my life kind of in shambles. I spent my birthday playing cards with my roommates; I wanted the birthday to go unnoticed and I deliberately didn’t remind anyone...Perhaps the worst point of unemployment for me is contacting old supervisors and colleagues to ask for references and letters of recommendations. It feels demeaning, especially when I have to call the same folks repeatedly. I also hate checking voicemail and email because my mind wanders and I imagine that every missed call or unread email is a job offer (or at least an interview offer). My cell phone used to have the same alert for text messages and incoming calls. I had to change the settings to differentiate the two, because for a while I hoped that every text message could be a prospective employer calling...The number of cover letters I sent out waned while I was sick, but on a productive day I’ll try to write five to ten—that includes doing some research and customizing the letters a bit. Sometimes it’s tough to justify that effort, because my generic cover letters have about the same success rate in yielding interviews. Here’s the main difference I’ve noticed between this job search and when I was looking for work a few years ago: When I do get contacted about a job, the first step is almost always a phone interview or a pre-interview assignment. I rarely go straight to an in-person interview, and I’ve had several rounds of interviews (upwards of three) for some positions. When I do get an interview, I do as much research as possible. I go into interviews having read extensively about the field, the company, and my interviewers. I’ve left several interviews thinking, “That was the best interview I’ve ever had,” or “That couldn’t have possibly gone any better.” Interviewers who have ultimately not extended offers have nonetheless described me as “bright,” “impressive,” “competent,” and even “overqualified” once. It’s a small consolation...At this point, I feel like I would take any job. I’ve applied (and interviewed) for part-time work. I worked retail and waited tables throughout high school and college, and I would do either again to have some income and sense of fulfillment.
Two years in hell
From an early age, I was told, having a degree is everything. I never graduated but I've seen what my friends that have graduated go through and it's the same b.s that I go through. I had a dream job working for a luxury company and 2 years into in to it, I was laid off in 2009. All thanks to the economy. I got unemployment and looked for work for a year straight, and then I was hired temp for another company. I worked so hard to prove that I deserved to be there full time that they offered it to me a year later. I took it and ended up working there for another year before leaving to do something that I really wanted to do. Put it this way, I thought the economy cleared up and all was well.
I should have stayed with the company because fast forward 3 years later, I have held 12 temp/freelance jobs and I'm still looking for a permanent job. I am with about eight temp agencies also. Went from spending money like it's nothing, to scraping up $2.50 just to get on the train. I have also deleted myself off of any social networking sites, because it seems as if everyone is having the time of their life and I am struggling just to buy a cheeseburger. These past 2 years have been hell. It seems as if these large companies sense the need in people because I have broke my back for pennies and was mistreated just to prove myself, only to have the door shut in my face. I am not a drunk, a drug addict or a criminal, I just want a job.
Where else do I turn? I don't know where else I should look for employment. I wan't to give up but I can't give up because I have 2 children counting on me.
The full archive of our "Unemployment Stories" series can be found here.