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!

Get a job!

Being unemployed when you don’t wish to be unemployed is generally one of those things that ranks up there as being a life shattering event or at the very least pretty damn uncomfortable. I know because I speak from experience. It was on July 3, 2007 I was let go from my teaching gig and to say I didn’t see it coming was an understatement. I had been teaching business classes at a local for profit career school, the type that many non traditional students tend to go to when they are looking to change careers or upgrade their skills. The department that I was a part of,  was deemed to be unprofitable so the powers to be decided to kill it and well that left a sista without a job.

The timing could not have been worse because just a few months before I was let go, the Spousal Unit lost several of his freelance clients and my salary had been plugging in the cracks. Thankfully I was eligible for unemployment insurance benefits but they were roughly about $850 a month which was substantially less than I had earned as an adjunct teacher but hey I was thankful for what I got. That said, after taking a few weeks to be depressed and lick my wounds I got on the grind and it took damn near 17 months to land a new job as the director of a small non profit that paid less than my teaching gig. I went back to work a few days after the United States elected Barack Obama, as I joke there was a spirit of change in the air because my Black ass being hired to run an agency that deals with rural poor whites was definitely a conversation starter. I can’t even tell you the number of times I was introduced as the new director and there was an uncomfortable or curious pause. Thankfully everyone got over it and almost 2 years later I am still at this job.

Point that I am trying to make though is that I lost my job before the official start of the recession and it took over a year to find a job. I actually exhausted my unemployment benefits and started hustling, doing grant writing for small agencies and even doing workshops. I often greatly discounted my prices just so that I could earn some money. But the fact is during that period of time if it had not been for the assistance of my father in law, this blog would be called Black Girl in Arizona because almost certainly we would have lost our house and ended up living either with him or in one of his rental houses out in that way too hot, too sunny state.

If you lost your job though in the midst of the great recession though, chances are you are facing down some real hard times, hell you might even be one of the 99’ers like this woman. In case you don’t feel like clicking that would be folks who have received extended unemployment benefit’s for 99 weeks and for some of these folks the bennies are over but guess what? They still have no job. Not surprising when the fact is for every one job opening there are 5 applicants, mathematically that means there are not enough jobs for every person who wants or needs a job.

However it was after reading this article that I felt inspired to write, since based off the comments and I must say if you have some time please read not only the article but the comments. There are many who feel that any college educated American who is still jobless after 2 years must be a bum. Wow! I don’t know about you but I rarely even see signs at the local fast food joints stating that they are looking for help. The few times I hit up the job sites I see few openings that if I were looking for a job, which would even be suitable for me. Some think if you are jobless maybe you should offer to babysit, or do lawn work…anything to earn some cash. Great idea but generally one needs the aptitude and or tools to hang up their shingle besides in the new era of frugality that is taking over the nation many of us are doing are own shit. Normally at least once a year I hire someone to do the heavy yard work, not this year, the Spousal Unit is doing the bushes. Yep, they are crooked but guess what it saves a few cents.

The sad reality is while some of us are still living in a bubble where jobs and money are plentiful for some of us that is not reality. There are many more folks like this woman and my Dad out there who are literally a moment away from homelessness. Thankfully my Dad’s short term dilemma is solved though right now we are looking at the long term solutions.

What we need aside from the government to really address the real economic crisis on the ground is compassion and understanding that most of us are only a few checks or 6 months away from homelessness. While the hubby and I are doing ok at the moment, fact is our savings is insufficient and since the man is a contract worker at the moment should his major gig end he would not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits and we would be screwed.

To those who say unemployment benefits discourage people from taking jobs, I say really? I remember in late 2007 being newly unemployed, sending out a good 25 resumes a week, scouting the jobs sites, emailing and calling and just being frustrated and bored. So I decided maybe a holiday job at Macy’s would be nice. Well I went to the group interview and was offered a position that paid minimum wage, something like $7.25 an hour at that time, no set schedule (kidlet was about 2.5 at the time and with her in childcare I needed a schedule that worked around that) required I wear certain clothes and at the interview they were trying to convince me and the others that we should open a Macy’s account so that we could use the discount they gave employees. Um…this is a minimum wage paying job, why the hell do I need a credit card? Sadly the younger women in the group interview were eager to fill out the form so they could get a card and charge the clothes they would need to work there. Well I mulled it over but when training day came and after I realized the job would impact my unemployment benefits so I would either make less or exactly the same thing as I was getting on unemployment I said thanks but no thanks.

I imagine to some this admission makes me a slacker but at that point I still had benefits and taking a job that was nowhere near my career field and could put me in a worse financial place seemed like a bad idea. I wanted to work but let’s be real!  Besides what if I got calls for real jobs but was scheduled to work? In my mind I am sorry but it’s a no brainer.

Nope, what we need are some services and systems in place that help the long term unemployed just because a person loses their job does not mean they should lose their dignity. As a nation we have plenty o money to keep fighting wars, how about we bring those troops home and invest that money in the citizens in this country?