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.