Monday, October 28, 2013

I Hate to See October Go

Where do we go next? There's got to be a way out of unemployment.

Halloween is this week, and for the love of all things wise and wonderful, I still haven't found a real, full-time job. Because of this, our candy offerings are going to be a bit shy this year. We might have to send our daughter out trick or treating just so that she can come back with the neighbors' candy to fill our coffers. Re-gifting, you say? Recycling, I retort. Halloween is now green, orange, and black.

According to the Georgia Department of Labor, I have just exhausted all my regular unemployment benefits. They sent me four separate letters in four separate envelopes, all with the same postage date, telling me to come to the One-Stop Office today and apply for Tier 1 Emergency Unemployment Compensation (that's EUC to you). I had been under the impression that EUC was not available to Georgians. There had been, I swear, a statement on their website proclaiming that Georgia had chosen not to participate in this funding. Either stress has lowered my reading level or EUC was reinstated. In any event, it's good through December. If I qualify.

One of the requirements to maintain these benefits is to "make a more diligent job search," as well as to prove what I've done to get hired in the last week. They want "tangible evidence" that I've tried to get a job. So I went back to several websites through which I have applied, plus some email records, and printed out all the "tangible evidence" I could find. While it might make them feel better, it actually made me feel worse. shows that I've applied to 58 jobs since getting canned in May. Ziprecruiter shows only 18. Northside Hospital doesn't link you to all the jobs you've applied for, but they did send me email confirmation of the 10 jobs I applied for on October 21. Children's Hospital shows three jobs, Kennesaw State University, 12. The grandaddy of them all, though, is Gwinnett County Public Schools. They did keep a list of all the jobs I applied for -- and I mean all of them -- and that print-out was 16 pages long. Sixteen pages of jobs for which I wasn't hired, only one of which even landed an interview. Sixteen pages of rejection.

If I had to guess (and I do), I'd say I've applied for about 250 jobs in that school district. I've applied for almost that many in my former school district, and will continue to do so until SOMEONE out there is willing to give me a chance. At something. At almost anything at this point.

The numbers above don't include applications for which I lost "tangible evidence." The day I put out 80 business cards in car windows at a local tech school to drum up some editing work. The mail-out to 15 businesses in a local business park. The resumes delivered in person. The 911 application which led to a three-hour test, and ended when I failed the section on dispatching. The phone calls where I literally begged for work. So many I can't even remember them all.

A more diligent job search? Not possible.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Workin' at the Car Wash Yet?

September 20th came and went with virtually no mention of the August 2013 unemployment figures compiled by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. For those of you who still don't know, here is what they found out:

Both the number of unemployed persons, at 11.3 million, and the
unemployment rate, at 7.3 percent, changed little in August.

A careful reading of the summary also revealed this unreported tidbit:

The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for June was revised
from +188,000 to +172,000, and the change for July was revised from
+162,000 to +104,000. With these revisions, employment gains in June
and July combined were 74,000 less than previously reported.

Apparently none of this was newsworthy, because not one major television network covered it. I watched with baited breath, hoping against hope that the dismal unemployment picture would be spotlighted. People need to be aware that there are 11.3 million Americans who still don't have jobs despite trying. There are nearly 900,000 more "discouraged workers" who have simply given up hope of ever finding work again. Nine-hundred thousand. That's close to another million people not being counted as unemployed.

The Employment Situation for September that was scheduled for release October 4 didn't occur due to the government shutdown. Don't even get me started. Those poor federal employees currently furloughed can look forward to back pay once the government grinds to a start again. I'm not without sympathy for their situation, but I know state employees who have faced annual furloughs of anywhere from two to eight days for as many as seven years now, and they will NEVER be reimbursed. Cobb County, Georgia educators took a 2% across-the-board pay cut several years ago. That money isn't ever coming back, either. And then there are those of us among the 11.3 million jobless, who don't see any end in sight.

The Deeper Meaning of Unemployment (and really, employment)

Lately I've been thinking about applying for a job at a new restaurant. It's a few miles up the road from me, not open yet, in a different county (meaning less chance of running into people I know). I'm beginning to see a string of jobs ahead of me that all involve some sort of silly uniform, like Trish in the Disney show Austin & Ally. Maybe it's not humiliating to take pay for wearing a rubber cheese wedge on your head, or to dress up as Wonder Woman and stand on a boulevard advertising a Halloween costume sale. There is freedom in punching a time clock, doing unskilled labor, punching out and going home. You are less likely to get sued, to get yelled at by a boss, or to have to face the judgment of a complex evaluation.

 The question is, when do we make this backward leap out of professionalism? Most of us have mortgaged ourselves around a higher salary and will have a hard time letting go of the dignified lifestyle we earned by reaching middle age. We were salaried people! We got paid not to work on national holidays! We had ID badges and office keys and mail boxes. What's going to happen to us now? Please tell me I'm not going to have to settle for minimum wage and run into my old boss driving a van shaped like a giant hot dog. 

I'm afraid, though, that reality bites. As our unemployment insurance runs out, so goes our pride. One kid needs braces, another has college looming. Some of us simply can't afford to fall victim to discouragement and give up the search. How long does one hold out for a "real job" before settling for work at The Yarn Barn? And will this be the start of something small? Is there ever going to be a time for hope again?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Unemployed Need Not Apply"

This weekend I learned there is a chilling trend of employers advertising jobs with a tag line similar to this:


While one's initial response might be to question the logic of such a tactic, the underlying meaning soon becomes clear: If someone else didn't want to keep you on the job, then you must not be worth hiring. What?! WTF? Lay-offs are a disease now?

Feelings of worthlessness and rejection, no matter how undeserved, are unavoidable when the ax first falls. We try to salvage what's left of our self-esteem by reminding ourselves that in most cases it was not our fault. There are of course situations of bad employees being fired with cause, but the vast majority of today's people without jobs were let go through no fault of their own. Budget cuts, lost business, and misplaced priorities from the Great Recession continue. However, this latest development is even worse: People who have never even met you may have decided that you are "damaged goods," and therefore unemployable.

Discrimination is not always black and white.

Alex Comana, an apartment broker in San Diego, California, was asked why he didn't want to hear from anyone currently without a job. His response was, "Each case is different but when you have a person [who's] currently employed applying for a job it tells me that that person is valued enough to still have a job and brings a certain level of experience that they can immediately apply.” 

So what are you saying, Mr. Comana? That a person currently working for Burger King is a more valuable human being than someone with a college degree and 20 years of experience, whose expertise and intelligence had just become "too expensive?" Do you really think that getting laid off makes you a bad risk? And for how long? Forever? Is there no redemption, no understanding of cause and effect?

So what happens now?

People without current jobs often have PLENTY of experience that they can immediately apply. However, if employers are allowed to continue to discriminate against us for other people's decisions, then we will continue to be unemployed, continue to drain the resources from social services, and continue to literally tear away at the fabric of our society. So...

Point one: Discrimination against the unemployed must end!

When we see unfair ads, we should contact that employer immediately and let them know that this isn't right. We should follow up with our state and national legislators, and we should probably bring it to the attention of the media. Stop patronizing businesses that disrespect the unemployed!

Example: Sony Ericsson of Buckhead, GA

Point two: Educate yourself on this issue. 

Research facts on unemployment in your state in general, and find out what lawmakers are doing to try to help -- or how little they are doing. A truly great organization is Over 50 and Out of Work. As part of their massive efforts, they have put together an award-winning video airing in November on PBS

Example of a less-than-great organization: US Joint Economic Committee, led by Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar. She likes to put a positive spin on a desperate situation, making vague proclamations of improvement without citing statistics. Ra ra, Amy. But at least she attends the meetings (which apparently is more than some of her committee members do).

Final Note:

The last statistics on unemployment rates for each state were released by the Department of Labor in August. At 8.8%, Georgia is not the worst in the country, but we are worse than California (8.7%) and New Jersey (8.6%). New figures are scheduled to be released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics September 20. This site also states unequivocally that:

"In August, the number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was about unchanged at 4.3 million. These individuals accounted for 37.9 percent of the unemployed. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term unemployed has declined by 733,000."

Goody. So do you agree with our President that the economy is growing, and getting better all the time?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Stages of Grief in Job Loss

Around 30 years ago, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the most common emotions linked to grieving the death of a loved one. By now many of us are familiar with the five stages, which she labeled as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. She and others have further refined this paradigm, pointing out that these stages are not necessarily experienced by everyone, or in this exact order. Sometimes whole stages are skipped, and although progressive, they do not occur in a linear fashion.

The stages of grief, then, are really a guideline for what most of us will endure after any great loss, and unemployment is no exception. The loss of routine and identity is a shock. Suddenly there's no reason to get up in the morning, no good answer to the "What do you do for a living?" question. Thrust into home life all day long with no end in sight, you now have all the time in the world to mull over what happened. Goody. Twenty-four uninterrupted hours to pretend you're taking a personal day (denial), rant about the unfairness of it all (anger) and stare into the abyss, realizing you have to create a resume and start interviewing for the first time in 20 years (depression).

Rejection hurts.

Some job coaches advise against grieving unemployment, but to me this has been too big an experience to just "get over it."  The day I was terminated, I came home, took a blanket and my dog into the backyard and sobbed. We sat there in the grass on a sunny afternoon fit for a picnic, and it began to sink in that I had just lost not only a job, but a career. At 50 years old, there was every reason to believe I would never get back into the lay-off ridden, youth-oriented field of education. I would have to tell my husband, and we'd have to keep it from well-meaning parents who would only worry too much.

In a country with 11.3 million unemployed adults, grieving job loss is completely acceptable. Knowing your workplace goes right on without you hurts. Finding out that it'll take the average middle-aged person six months to find a new place to go to every day is mind blowing. Then there's the really personal parts of initial unemployment. Removing that work phone number from your list of contacts certainly makes it real. Many professionals, and teachers in particular, keep a lot of stuff in order to do their jobs. When you have to take it all home and deal with it, anger and resentment and despair and regret will flow with every workbook and professional tome you pack for Goodwill. Just move on? Just give me a minute!

It's going to be a bumpy ride.

You might travel through all five stages of grief in 24 hours, and still not have even scratched the surface of the healing process. A new normal must be developed against your will, and it will take time to accept that reality, let alone embrace it. Yesterday afternoon, for example, after filling out what had to be my 500th application, I flipped from hopeful to angry, and frankly I'm still there. I'm angry that I keep getting emailed job alerts unrelated to my search. I'm angry that I keep filling out reams of applications that seem to disappear into space. Friends and family give me pep talks, but sometimes they just make me angry, too. They don't understand. I can only pay for so much retraining. I can't get younger, and I can't make offers appear. Then I'm back to depression, hating myself for being in this situation. It's a roller coaster.

So what are the unemployed to do about this potent mix of emotions? Here are some tips from me to you:

  • Take a break from the job search once in awhile. Skip the rejection for a day or two and enjoy the time off until you are strong enough to get back in there.
  • Watch a movie about unemployment. Seriously, it will make you feel like somebody out there gets what you are going through. My favorite is The Company Men, a 2010 film about the effects of corporate downsizing on those who get sacked -- and those who don't.
  • Remind yourself that there is more than one way to live a life, and not all of it has to be about work.Your family mattered more all along. Plus, any work can glorify God if you let it. If you feel you need some new ideas about how to approach life in general, check out blogs like Tiny Buddha (linked on the right). Change from your choice is empowering, and anyone can change if they want to.
  • Try not to use excess alcohol or food as escape mechanisms. In the end they will only make things worse. Embrace healthy choices; it's a way to be kind to yourself when you need it most.
  • Finally, if you get really, really down about everything, seek counseling. The downward spiral of depression is real, and it can be truly dangerous. Likewise, anger that festers and grows has ended in more than one tragedy. No job loss is worth that.
We jobless are in this together. You are not alone, and neither am I. We just have to keep believing that we are worthy of kindness, respect, success, and eventually, maybe -- another job.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Depression and Unemployment in Middle Age

On the scale of life's most stressful events, unemployment is in the top ten, usually around number eight. Obviously there are worse things that can happen to a person, but it should also be obvious that losing your job deserves -- or even demands -- a grieving process similar to other major life losses. Depression is a common theme among the unemployed, and for good reason. I'm not saying we should get stuck in it. But overcoming the devastation of job loss will take time. It will require being open to the stages of grief, and facing an extremely potent mix of emotions.

First, getting fired means rejection. It means that people in positions of authority didn't value your contributions enough to keep you around. Even if you thought you were doing a good job, others did not. They picked your colleagues over you, and that is painful and frustrating. Unless you were part of a mass layoff, you are probably left wondering who you offended, what exactly you did wrong, and why they didn't pick that crazy person everyone talks about? Oh my God, were they talking about me?

Then there is the sense of personal failure. The grim reality of rejection brings feelings of worthlessness on an epic scale. After years of working for a company, it comes down to this? No gold watch. No retirement party. Not even a thank you for your many years of service. Instead you get a bunch of empty boxes your office roommate keeps helping you pack. Your ego deflates like a big balloon, and you have trouble making eye contact with anyone as you prepare to leave. Did any of them know before you did? Were people talking? Who were they? For how long? Will it matter tomorrow?

All at once you are on the outside looking in, looking in at all the offices and schools and hospitals and restaurants where The Employed get to go. But you are no longer one of them. You don't belong anywhere anymore. You have turned in the badge that used to let you into the building with people you called colleagues yesterday. You have been officially cut from the team. You go home and pray your spouse forgives you, and you probably cry very, very hard.

The first reaction to unemployment is usually shock, and maybe denial. Losing your job makes you rethink who you really are and what life and work and accomplishment are truly all about. In time, unemployment will become less personal. Shock will give way to other emotions. Although the path to recovery probably won't be smooth, know that you aren't alone, and that this is just one more piece of the puzzle that is your life. It doesn't make the whole picture.

Try to remember that no matter how much you have lost, no matter how much it hurts, the sun will come up tomorrow. The earth will keep on spinning. You are still breathing. Though you feel as if you just fell down the rabbit hole and are no longer so sure of who you are, other people have climbed out of this misery. And you will, too.

Monday, July 15, 2013

50 Was Supposed to Be a Milestone, Not a Giant Pothole

Age 50 was looming out there for years. It was supposed to be a milestone, a check-up on life's accomplishments. After living half a century, I thought I would have done most of what I had dreamed of doing. I should have gotten comfortably successful in a career. I should have a three-bedroom house nearly paid off and  been looking forward to the empty nest years. I should have learned what not to wear and how to make memorable hors d'oevres. I should have. But I didn't do any of those things.

Instead I have a kid in middle school and a hefty mortgage. I can barely make pigs in a blanket, and I'm praying sweatpants will become a fashion "do." Next week will mark my fourth anniversary (yes, with my one and only husband). And for the grand finale, two days after Mother's Day I lost my job.

It's not the first job loss for me. The first real job I had ended with a lay-off after my employers failed to get bids on some government contracts. As the last one hired in my department, I was the first one fired when they could no longer make payroll for everyone. At the time it felt devastating. I was living alone in my first apartment and had bought a car about six months earlier. It took me three months and more than 75 applications to find work again. It wasn't easy.

This time, though, job loss is not just scary; it's humiliating. After 19 years with a school district, I was let go because I worked part time. Apparently they pink-slip everyone who's part time, but they rehire most of them later because the need for part-time work doesn't disappear. No such offer was given to me, however, even though my job had to be filled as it is federally mandated. In March I asked the principal to put me in one of three open positions in regular education (as opposed to the "irregular" job I had held for 12 years teaching English as a second language). Passing the $200 certification test needed has gotten me absolutely nowhere. School starts back in two weeks, and for the first time in years, I won't be going.

What happened? What the heck got me to this point, kicked off the team, squeezed out of the system? I used to spend Christmas vacation making materials and writing lesson plans. I've spent plenty of my own money on classroom supplies and worked overtime reading research and  putting up bulletin boards. Things changed, of course, when we stopped pulling kids out of class and had to work inside the "real" classrooms. We are supposed to be doing inclusion. In other words, students with any sort of special needs no longer leave their classrooms, but remain in regular education settings as part of the whole group. Special teachers go to them, being as unobtrusive as possible.

Classroom teachers are as lost as the support teachers in how to make this work, and they are overwhelmed with responsibilities and appointments. They might stop talking long enough to say, "Go ahead, pull your group," and motion you to a table in the back of the room that is sized for eight-year-olds and covered in stacks of  textbooks and ungraded papers. No one has time to divide up labor or plan extensively together, administrative edicts aside. Besides, the big question to me was, if we are "including" everyone, why am I pulling my students out of the whole group?

Not only did I find this situation frustrating, but I never fully understood how to make it work. So much of the time there seemed to be nothing for me to do, so while I waited on the so-called mini-lesson to end, I wound up searching the internet for ideas that would never get used while everybody ignored me. Yes, my work habits changed then, but because I honestly had no idea how to reconcile "inclusion" with this idea of "pulling groups." My paperwork was excellent. I tried hard to teach when I could. But it wasn't enough.

So, over 100 applications and a few unemployment checks later, here I sit on a Monday morning, no job, no prospects, and an empty coffee cup. What's a woman of a certain age to do now?