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Down and Out

I was unemployed twice in 2009.  I had a six week spell between a layoff and finding a job, and then went nearly nine weeks between leaving that job and finding another.  I think once you’ve been unemployed, you live with that fear breathing down  your neck.  I do, anyway.  I am constantly terrified of making a mistake because I know what that mistake could cost me–cost my family.  If it was just me, I wouldn’t be so worried, but that kid likes to eat.

Gawker has been running a series of stories from the unemployed and under-employed.  Like me, a lot of the writers express shock and disbelief at finding themselves out of work.  They had jobs they thought came with security, and believed that with their educations and experience, if they lost a job, they’d be able to find one quickly.  One writer put into words a side-effect I experienced during my second stint at job hunting:

But the material losses weren’t the hardest. In less than ten months I experienced the complete eradication of everything I’d worked for in my career, along with my confidence, my dignity, my identity, my optimism, and any hope I had for the future. I started tanking my (elusive) job interviews. The pressure of knowing the opinion of a perfect stranger was the deciding factor in whether or not my life improves dramatically or just keeps careening off the rails began to manifest as overly self-deprecating humor and compulsive joke telling. I used to be great at interviews, confident and easygoing, suddenly I’m Rodney Dangerfield. Except I wasn’t funny. I was raw and desperate and completely gutted, and now I can add makes other people feel uncomfortable to a growing list of unemployment side-effects.

It didn’t even take me ten months to get there.  I went to one job interview where I was perfectly qualified.  I made it through the first round and was asked to stay to talk to the hiring manager.  By the time I got to see him, I was fighting tears and started overcompensating with–ugh–okay, the front desk girl joked with me that they called this man Big Poppa.  I actually threw that into part of my interview.  I knew when it was coming out of my mouth that it was horrifying and wrong, but he had just asked me why I wanted a job with his company and the other option was for me to burst into tears and tell him why I had really just left the last job, and how afraid I was that I would never work again because because because.  Instead I said I found the company interesting, and I liked how the office called him Big Poppa.  His face…horrible.  Then, I did go sit in my car and cry.  I still had to go home and try to be positive about my prospects.

P.S., I did not get that job.

I think the Gawker series is important because it reminds us that not everyone unemployed is there because they are voluntarily unemployable.  There are millions of stories out there right now, and most of them are worse than mine.  I did find work.  Yes, I started at the very bottom again, but I found a job with a company I really like, and I’m slowly working my way back up the ladder.  I have a working partner who is excellent at managing our finances.  I have two parents and a set of in-laws who would have made room for us in their homes–we would never have been homeless.  I remind myself that while I may have lost a huge chunk of pride, and I could have lost a lot more of that, I was never in any danger of losing a place to sleep, or of a way to feed my family.

Bottom line, I suppose, is that I’m preaching compassion again.

Taxes are probably about to go up, and that means we’ll all be tightening our belts.  Keep an eye out for people whose belts aren’t even keeping their pants up anymore.  Let’s help each other where we can, even if it is just through sheer consideration without condemnation.  You never know.

Posted in Uncategorized

Get a Job–no, really, try this!

Back a few years, when I was working a job with a stress level so high that I was getting anal fissures (you know it’s bad if it is making your arse bleed–nothing good makes your arse bleed–and, yes, my doctor said it was stress), I had someone who kept telling me to just quit.  I tried explaining mortgage, and diapers, and food for the child, and kept getting back, “Just quit.”  I couldn’t quit without finding another job first, and in 2008, no one was hiring for my line of work, at my grade of pay. 

“Just accept less money,” came back at me.  Easy to say, isn’t it?  But I was having a hard time finding something else that paid less, too.

I did end up getting laid off, and my severance package and unemployment helped us limp through the next 3 months, until I found another job–paying $10k less base than I had been making.  When you took away the bonuses, it was more like a $15k pay cut.  It hurt.  Although, I did use the time to potty train Thor, so that saved us about $200 a month in Pampers.

Because B has always been very good with our finances, and because we bought a house and cars below our means, we were okay.  We weren’t going to starve, and I never had to make decisions about whether to buy milk or diapers.  Still, we were extremely fortunate that B never lost his job, and that I was able to find one before things got bad.

Over 14 million Americans are unemployed. asks you to imagine you are one of them.  Imagine you have lost your job.  You are a single parent.  You are down to your last $1000.  Can you get a job and make it til the end of the month, until your first paycheck?

I’ve gone through the scenarios 3 times and never made it more than 9 days–because I’m a rules girl and afraid of going to jail, and when I crash my car into someone else’s, I pay the damage instead of hit-and-running. 

Getting a job is not easy anymore.  Losing a job is terrifying now–maybe less terrifying than it was in 2008, but we’ve also gotten used to living on my pay cuts.  Unemployment isn’t just a lazy people problem.  Unemployment  happens to good people, to smart people, to well-educated people, to highly skilled and experienced people.  I challenge you to go to and come away without a new empathy for the people who are struggling to get by.

“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.