Lifestyles of the broke and unemployed…how to stay losing and lose it all

Every now and then either in my online or offline life, a topic comes up and it dawns on me just how few people are really versed in that topic. Most of the time, it matters not to me, I mean the reality is no one can know everything about a topic and there are plenty of topics I am clueless about.
Case in point as I was furiously trying to get caught up on work this afternoon, I was listening to NPR’s Marketplace Money with Tess Vigeland. I enjoy this show though sometimes the advice is a bit off the mark, today there was a discussion about finding a job in this economy. With only one job available for every four folks in need of a job, that means someone is going to be ass out! Well, the so-called professional that Tess was speaking with suggested that unemployed folks need to do more than just look for a job, that’s so 1900’s…I mean survive and looking for a job? Screw that shit! Nope, you need to be bettering yourself while you are unemployed, learn some new skills! OK, maybe you don’t need to learn some new skills, well you need to volunteer, show that you aren’t some parasite on the ass of us working stiffs
On the surface this sounds reasonable at least it did to many when I tweeted my irritation about this advice. Only one person said maybe that was a bit much to expect. I am sorry but having spent 18 months unemployed not that long ago, let me tell you being unemployed is no picnic in the park. Lately the rhetoric thrown around is that the extended unemployment benefits serve as a deterrent for many to seek gainful employment. Well let’s take a look at what an actual unemployment check looks like. Back when I was receiving unemployment benefits in 2007-08, for 26 week, I received a whopping $242 a week! Let me repeat that, I received $242 a week! That was way less than what I actually made when I was employed. If you think it’s gotten any better since my time on unemployment three years ago, let me share this fact with you; in the 3rd quarter of 2010 the average American who was receiving unemployment benefits received a whopping $295 a week! Even in expensive places like New York City, the maximum unemployment benefit is $405 a week with the average unemployed New Yorker receiving a sweet $330 a week!
Turns out that when one is receiving unemployment depending on their overall family income there are no other benefits they can receive because those unemployment checks are far more cash than a TANF check would get you. If you are fortunate maybe you can add a few SNAP benefits aka food stamps to the mix but by and large, when you lose your job, all you get is that unemployment check.
In my case, I had the lousy misfortune of losing my job which by the way I lost because the department I was teaching in at the career college I taught at was closed. Teaching business classes wasn’t profitable enough to the blood suckers so my ass was toasted for no reason. No cause, just sorry we closed the department and you are jobless.
The same year I lost my job was the same year that several of the Spousal Unit’s clients decided to reduce their expenses and longtime clients stopped outsourcing work to him. In a one year period our family income was reduced by over 60%! In 2008 our income was roughly $38,000 for a family 4. Yet according to the powers to be that determine who is poor, we weren’t poor, hell we weren’t technically even playing in the poverty playground. Yet we all know $38,000 is not enough for a family to live on. The reality is if it were not for my in-laws sporting our ass’s long term, I doubt we would have become homeless but pretty damn close.
Mind you I had graduated with my shiny new master’s degree in 2006! This was not supposed to happen to us but oh it did and it was bad. The 18 months I spent unemployed were more or less the beginning processional to our dance with bankruptcy. By the time I landed a job in late 2008, we were behind on all but the bare essentials. I tried for months to work with Visa, MasterCard and Discover but those bitches decided my meager $5-10 a month payments were not enough and sent their top bitches on my ass otherwise known as the bill collectors.
During the time I was at home sitting on my ass enjoying the hard work of others for my whopping $242 a week check, I watched my own kid as I could no longer afford childcare. I stopped using all but the basic paper goods; to this day we still use cloth napkins. I took up bread making, not because I aspired to be a bread maker but because it saved money. I clipped coupons, and basically figured out how to stretch what money we did have. All the while, squeezing the life out of my networks and spending hours a day submitting resumes. I offered up some volunteer consulting services, even ended up doing some freelance grant writing to supplement our income once the unemployment ran out.
The reality is though there was no way I could have managed a regular volunteer gig, as gas cost money and so did childcare. I suspect that is the reality for many of the millions who are unemployed, volunteering is luxury when you are living on Survival Street and for perspective employers to expect it is ludicrous.
In the ideal world people would have a nest egg for such occasions but that’s not realistic for many who are just getting by. Having had the kiddo in 2005 and graduated grad school in 2006, any nest egg we had was long gone, the reason I had gone back to work was to get the debt squared away and rebuild the nest egg but reality had different plans than we did. Life happens.
I fear as I hear more and more employed people refer to the unemployed as “them” and so called experts suggesting what for a number of unemployed people is simply not realistic advice that we are just all working towards creating a permanent underclass. The truth is being unemployed sucks, we should not have to prove ourselves while unemployed just because the hiring authorities are clueless. If a candidate has a work history, and other credentials stop creating added barriers!

8 thoughts on “Lifestyles of the broke and unemployed…how to stay losing and lose it all”

  1. You make your points reasonably and clearly, and I wish there was some clue that our pols everywhere had any clue of what it is like to live on real life income. You say “in 2008 our income was roughly $38,000 for a family 4.” By official poverty standards, even the most up to date census figures, you wouldn’t even show up as being SLIGHTLY needy. Congressmen and some of those (un-)presidential candidates have the nerve to claim that even the poor aren’t really hurting (no signs of famine yet?). I grew up in a paycheck to paycheck ( and milk check to milk check – a farm)home – we always had food to eat, but everything else was up for grabs. There are actually not a lot of young people, white or black – who have lived with uncertainty to this extent and grasp that joblessness is more of a structural problem and not a matter of how creative you make your job search.( Most wouldn’t even have heard of the concept).
    Volunteering is a good for many of us ( easy for me -I’m retired) BUT it requires not only time but enough of a cushion to afford the costs involved, which minimally means transportation.( Kind of like the idea that summer internships give college students a better chance at a career – but those who do not have financial resources can’t afford to take an unpaid internship, and lose this opportunity) Using volunteers can be an agency’s way of hiring fewer people (Generally, I’ve noticed that reducing pay of the highest administrators is not considered as a savings mechanism). Kind of like using unpaid prison labor. Some things can- have to work like this – but I am concerned when too many jobs are portrayed as not consequential enough to deserve pay…

    Anyway, nice post.

    • You are right, on paper that $38,000 did not put us in the needy category but the reality is that type of income on this day and age makes it very hard to get by. Believe me I learned that!

  2. I agree with your points but the reality remains that the unemployed might realty have to do something else. I do have a friend that I recommended to do volunteer work at her local high school. She did so well that she carved out a position for herself and they hired her full time after 9 months of volunteering. It is important that if you do volunteer that’s it’s somewhere with possible positions. I have also been unemployed for at least a year. Only Gid knows how I made it, being a single mom at the time.

  3. I think you hit on a key point that hasn’t been touched on by most media coverage of the recession: that your in-laws helped you out financially and kept you and your family afloat. It’s always been the case of rich/ upper-middle-class families supporting their adult children outright or loaning/giving them money for things like undergrad/grad school, down payments for homes and grandchildren’s tuition. But now, we’re seeing more MIDDLE-CLASS parents helping out their adult children who are unemployed/underemployed. THAT is becoming the new “normal,” but it’s on the DL. So what does that mean for folks who are both broke/unemployment and don’t have family to go to for help? And what about those parents who are cutting into their own savings/retirement funds to help out their adult children?

    • Faith, I think it’s something many don’t talk about. In my personal circle, several of us have had to lean on family pretty heavily to stay afloat. I do think it’s the new norm, initially my in-laws were not too happy until they saw the economy go south and realized they were not the only ones assisting grown children. I think they finally get that the standard of living they had is not the same for this generation.

      You mentioned those whose families can’t help, well that’s my family. My Dad has struggled since my Mom’s untimely passing 7 years ago and he was left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt. He hasn’t been able to assist us, it’s less an issue for me but I have a brother who after getting his masters spent some time unemployed. In our case the reality is as my Dad ages he may very well become a financial burden for my brother and I. If I weren’t married or didn’t have the in-laws I have it would be real bad.

  4. “If a candidate has a work history, and other credentials stop creating added barriers!”

    This right here sums it all up for me. I wish that these recruiters and “experts” would just be honest about everything. We are in a recession. There are not enough jobs to go around. Yes, some people can’t find a job and it’s their own fault. But a lot of folks can’t land a job because there simply aren’t enough. Point blank, period. Now my blood pressure done got high, lol. But seriously, I think people are taking advantage of the fact that they are able to find out what people do in their spare time – and it’s gotten to the point where not only do they think they are entitled to that information, but now they think they can judge your candidacy by it. It’s too much. I agree with what you said, it’s unnecessary barriers and if the person is qualified there is no excuse to judge them by what they “should” be doing in their free time.

  5. I’ve been reading but haven’t commented here lately, but this touched a nerve!

    I’m at home full time by choice and as a result am able to volunteer at the elementary school my children attend and at a couple of non profits.

    The traditional volunteer for these organizations has been “ladies who lunch” The recession has damaged that particular demographic and there is always talk about how to recruit new blood.

    I’m constantly pointing out the obvious, that people with time aren’t necessarily people with money. The unspoken expectations that volunteers will be able to contribute small amounts, by way of paying for postage etc or contribute large amounts by helping to sponsor large events is a major road block.

    It is beyond frustrating but I try to remember Rome wasn’t built in a day : )

    I’m happy your blog is active! We “know” each other from a parenting forum. I haven’t posted there in a long time (it might not even be active) but I did my undergrad in Maine so I found you here when I was googling info for a trip back.

    • Hey there!

      I think you are right on that there is a cost to volunteering that many fail to comprehend. I run a small non-profit and as the economy has worsened we have had a decline in volunteers. In fact my one reliable 2x a week volunteer we now compensate with a gas gift card once a month, it’s only for $50 but I figure he is worth it and spends valuable gas money it’s the least we can do.

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