Six Things the Unemployed Wish You Knew

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Since becoming unemployed, I’ve become extremely sensitive to the opinions and stereotypes of others. I know I shouldn’t worry about what other people think, and maybe the fact that I do shows that I’m not quite as a mature as I wish I was. But, with the national conversation happening in the media surrounding the failure of Congress to extend emergency unemployment benefits and so much of what is being said coming down to stereotypes and generalizations that are damaging and untrue, I am compelled to add my voice to the mix. Here are six things that the unemployed (or at the very least, this unemployed person) wish you knew.

1. We are unemployed through no fault of our own.

Sure, every state has their own laws for determining what being unemployed through no fault of our own looks like. But most likely, we didn’t quit our jobs because we thought, “hey it’d be fun to collect unemployment for a while.” We didn’t decide we’d had enough and walk out. We weren’t fired for being poor employees.

Sure, some people leave their jobs, leave the workforce, or get fired. But we aren’t those people. We didn’t want this reality; we were handed it, on a pink slip, in one of the scariest meetings most of us will never forget.

2. We don’t enjoy receiving only a fraction of our previous salaries each week.

We often have to dip into our hard earned savings or rack up credit card debt to maintain our standard of living. And if we can’t maintain it, we have to watch it slip away. We don’t want to have to tell our children that they can’t have that new toy they’ve been looking forward to receiving. We don’t want our significant others to have to return to work to support our family, but they will if they can and are lucky enough to.

We liked the lives we had before. And we can’t wait to get back to our previous salaries, or even close to our previous salaries, so we can have a sense of normalcy back in our lives. The money we get from the unemployment office every other week isn’t enough for the life we really want, but if we’re lucky it’s enough to keep us afloat while we work to get back the life we lost, and for that we are thankful.

3. We don’t enjoy feeling dependent on a government program. 

We work hard. We landed a job, earned a living, and paid taxes before losing our employment. But we feel bad about taking what many of us still view as a handout. We don’t want to depend on unemployment. Just as you think we’re dependent, many of us do too, but it doesn’t feel good and it isn’t gratifying. We’re often ashamed and embarrassed, and your stereotypes do nothing but make us feel worse.

We shouldn’t feel dependent. We are only eligible for unemployment because our employers paid taxes for us to be enrolled in unemployment insurance while we were employed. We should feel no more dependent than you do when you go to the doctor and your insurance company  pays for 90% of your medical expenses.

4. We sit around the house all day sometimes, but not because we’re lazy.

Revising our resumes, building portfolios, scouring job boards, applying to jobs, reaching out to business contacts, participating in phone interviews, and scheduling in-person interviews are all activities that most people do from their own homes. That is, unless we have to do those things at the library because our unemployment insurance ran out and we had to sell our laptop and cancel our internet service, but I digress.

We love the days we are lucky enough to get out of the house for an onsite interview or for a networking event that may provide a promising lead. But, just as most of your days are spent in an office chair doing the mundane everyday tasks, so are ours.

5. We allow ourselves some downtime for things like spending time with family, watching television, self-reflection, exercise, participating in hobbies, and whatever else keeps us from losing our mental health after spending hours on job hunt (or, dare I say, professional) pursuits.

Don’t you? You never come home after a long day in the office, grab a beer and turn on ESPN? You don’t spend an hour of your day going for a run or a weekend afternoon at the park with your family? Studies have shown that this kind of downtime is good for your health, and for the unemployed, it’s even more important. The unemployed are at higher risk for both mental illness and medical illness. Our relationships are at risk and our sense of self-worth is challenged.

So, when you see us doing something we enjoy, don’t automatically assume we’re living the high life on your tax dollars while you slave away. (We pay taxes too, you know.) Chances are you’ve just caught us in a rare moment of rest and relaxation. We look happy because, for the moment, we’ve briefly forgotten about our stressful professional life, or lack there of. We’ll be back to the daily grind tomorrow, just like you.

6. We will make some of the most loyal, hard-working employees for the company that gives us another shot. 

Everyone knows it’s easier to get a job when you already have one. Companies don’t like to see that you’ve been out of the workforce. Of course, being out of work is evidence that our skills our rusty, we aren’t worth your time, and we forgot how to behave in a professional setting. Right? Wrong. There’s evidence that times are changing, companies are becoming more understanding about periods of unemployment,  and recruiters are increasingly sympathetic.

But for those of you who aren’t thoroughly convinced we are worth bringing in for an interview, let me just say this. If you give us a shot, a career, hope for the future, we will give you everything that we have to offer. We will work harder for you. We will not take our jobs for granted, even on the worst days. We will show up with a smile and always count our blessings. We will be loyal to you because we always will remember what you did for us. You gave us our lives back.

 

Now that I’m done speaking on your behalf (please tell me where I misspoke or took liberties with your personal situation), tell me, my fellow unemployed people: What do you wish people knew about being unemployed?

I am Unemployed. But I Didn’t Ask for This.

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I am unemployed. But I am not lazy. I am not similar to an irresponsible child refusing to do chores. I don’t actively look for work each week just so I can say I did in case the IDES chooses to audit me. I am not interested in sitting on my couch.

I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask to be laid off and spend my days at home scanning job boards, or at networking events making small talk with strangers, or driving around to job interviews while praying that this one will finally lead to my lucky break. I don’t want to be receiving less than half of the income I was earning a few months ago. I don’t want to watch you go to work while I sit at home with no obligations, a painful reminder that I’m not quite as successful as I was before. I don’t want to deal with the anxiety or the shame or the condescension.

I want to wake up tomorrow morning, take a shower, get dressed, and drive to the office of my previous employer, ready for another day of meetings and an inbox full of unread emails needing my attention. I want to discuss industry trends with my coworkers over sandwiches in the cafeteria. I want to come home at night and feel proud, telling my husband about the things I accomplished that day or the new project I just took on. I want to receive that promotion that my boss said I was on track for during my mid-year review. I want the meeting where the head of my department got weepy as he told me that my position was being eliminated as part of a reduction-in-force to have been a simple nightmare.

But that isn’t my reality. My reality is that I was laid off right during the holidays, not too long before the annual review that I thought was going to yield a promotion and a raise. Some of my best friends, the people I often spent more time with during the week than my own husband, were laid off too. One day I was an employed professional and expectant mother, working with the HR department to plan the maternity leave I would need to take in a few months. The next day, I was an expectant mother meeting with the HR department to find out that my position was being eliminated.

I was reduced to a terrified woman, wondering if the health insurance I’d been relying on would still be active for the ultrasound I had scheduled next week. I went from being my family’s main source of income and health insurance provider to the woman who had to tell her husband that it was no longer possible for him to cut back his hours at his retail job to focus on finishing his education and landing a job in an extremely competitive field. I became the young woman walking into Destination Maternity, trying to find a suit to wear to interviews that would disguise her baby bump because she isn’t naïve enough to believe that pregnancy discrimination doesn’t exist during the hiring process.

My reality is that after six months, my unemployment compensation will run out. My reality is that I’ve been on eight interviews over a two-month period and I haven’t landed a job. My reality is that there are too many qualified applicants for too few positions. My reality is that if I don’t have a job by the middle of June (just a few weeks after my due date), my savings will start to dwindle, and before I know it, my family will be forced to move back in with my mother because although my husband works full-time while attending school, his minimum wage retail job isn’t enough to pay the rent for our modest apartment and put food on the table. My reality is that while Republicans in Congress refuse to pass legislation that will allow me to extend my unemployment benefits should I still not have a job, there are millions of other families with emergency circumstances who will watch their unemployment compensation end as well.

We didn’t ask for this. We don’t want this reality. Yes, there may be some people who abuse government aid, but we aren’t those people. We don’t deserve to be punished for what we can’t control. We weren’t fired and we didn’t quit; we lost the jobs we had through no fault of our own. We want to go back to work so that we can get back to living the lives we are used to and proud of and so we don’t have to feel put down by stereotypes any longer. But if we can’t get back to work, we just want to stay afloat while we try.