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.