Monday, February 22

How to talk to (or about) an unemployed person.

I apologize for the relative dearth of new content on this blog over the past couple weeks. I blame it on a general malaise whose cause I'll get to in just a sec, though if you wanted to just translate that as "laziness" and leave it at that, I guess I couldn't argue with you. I would've liked to have had some news to offer on the ongoing job search, but there hasn't been much, certainly nothing meaningful.

In fact, I got kind of a nasty one-two punch in the last 24 hours: First, while I was filing my weekly unemployment claim with the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations on Sunday afternoon, a note popped up that this appeared to be my last week of eligibility for standard unemployment benefits and would I like to apply for the emergency extension that's been made available by the federal stimulus bill. I can't complain too much about that one, I guess -- after all, I'm lucky to have had that available to me at all, because it's certainly better to have it than not -- but still, that was a milestone I was really, really hoping I wouldn't have to cross. Then, this morning, I got the news that an opening I had applied for at Columbus Regional Healthcare -- and one that I was kind of excited about -- had been whittled down to two finalists, and I wasn't one of them. Ordinarily this wouldn't have been quite the punch to the gut that it was, since I've kind of gotten used to rejection over the very protracted course of this job search, but the thing is, my dad works for Columbus Regional, and if I can't even lean on nepotism as a way to land myself a job, then by that measure I'm actually less employable than Lane Kiffin.

Anyway. I've now been unemployed for more than seven months, during which time I've applied for probably around 100 jobs, some of them as close by as my hometown, others as far away as L.A. and Seattle. It has been an almost uniformly spirit-crushing journey, but one that has taught me a lot that I might never have learned otherwise. For one thing, I guess you could say that I've learned what it's like to technically be in a disadvantaged minority, and of all the things that suck about being in a disadvantaged minority, one of the worst is that people talk about you like you're not real.

The unemployment rate, the number of unemployed people, the number of jobs the American economy has added or lost in a given month -- these numbers get tossed around with a frequency that rivals football scores in the fall. And just like football scores, they are frequently used for the purpose of taunting and trash-talking. And until I'd entered the longest period of involuntary unemployment of my life, I had no idea just how demoralizing and infuriating that could be.

I've been rejected for around 100 jobs and on more than one occasion have barely scraped by in terms of paying my bills for a given month. So when I see a Republican Congressman or talking head crow on TV about how this Democratic bill or that Democratic bill have failed to make a dent in the unemployment rate, it really rankles me, as if they're actively rooting against my getting a job so that they'll have something to beat the Obama administration over the head with. It may be funny to you that the unemployment rate has stayed at such-and-such percentage in spite of everyone's best efforts, but as a member of that percentage, it's not much fun for me at all. And it's kind of shocking that these folks can't even take ten seconds to take a step back and observe just how joyous they look in proclaiming the news of my continued unemployment.

But the Republicans are hardly the only ones who don't get it. I get at least three e-mails a day from Media Matters or Democracy for America or some wing of the Democratic Party trying to pump me up and make me feel awesome that something the Democrats have done have created X number of jobs. That's great, and I certainly don't begrudge any of the people who've been able to snag one of those jobs, but obviously it hasn't trickled down to me yet. I don't know how to build fighter planes or bridges, and I haven't been to medical or nursing school, so I'm still out there looking. And looking. And looking. It's not like I expect someone to just drop a job into my lap -- though if any of y'all were thinking about doing that, you're welcome to do so -- but sometimes it seems a wee bit tone-deaf to get that excited about a supposed economic recovery when nearly 15 million people are still looking for jobs. Things might be getting better overall, but for me personally, I'm still in a deep recession, and the economy hasn't turned around for me until I'm pulling down a regular paycheck again. So it would be nice if fewer people in D.C. would act like all our problems are solved.

(The other thing I love is when one of those e-mails asks me for a donation because they just can't pass meaningful legislation without my support. You know, maybe I'm being cynical, but you've got control of the White House and majorities in both houses of Congress -- if you can't pass meaningful legislation with all that, then I doubt my five bucks is going to put you over the top.)

And believe me, I don't think for one hot minute that I'm stuck in the worst of it. I've got a roof over my head and two loving parents who have been generous enough to give me a soft place to land, and other than a mountain of credit-card debt that I freely admit I built all on my own, I don't have too many huge debts or obligations that are in danger of putting me under on a regular basis. But think about the people who have families, student loans to pay off, major medical bills for themselves or their loved ones, and who no longer have an income capable of keeping up with all this stuff. When you gloat over the success or the failure of an economic plan that's been passed by Washington, these are the people you're using to make your point. These are the people whose problems you're conveniently putting out of your mind so that you can score gotcha points against someone. And that is a shitty, shitty way for one American to be acting toward another.

We don't want to be your talking point. We don't want to be in your rah-rah press release. We don't want to be your billy club for you to bash the other side with. We don't even want you to turn around and offer us your pity, because that and two bucks will get us a tall coffee at Starbucks. All we want is the opportunity to go to an office or factory or store or whatever for eight hours a day and earn enough money to feed, clothe, and house ourselves. (Think about what little that is to ask: We're only asking for the ability to go do something most of us don't even like to do, and wouldn't do if we didn't have to.)

So keep that in mind the next time you're tempted to use me, or any of the 14,799,999 Americans as of last month, to score points against someone on the opposite side of the aisle from you politically. If you're going to crow about the failure of a given job-creation plan without offering any better ideas as an alternative, or crow about the success of a given plan without offering anything other than "Stay the course, our work here is done" as a follow-up, you may be helping yourselves but you're sure as hell not helping us. All you're doing is getting us really, really pissed off.

Rant over, because it's time to hit up the job sites again. And if any of them finally come up a winner, rest assured you'll hear about it here.


Zen Bubba said...

Keep your spirits up, things are bound to turn around for a bright talented guy like yourself.

Ally said...

You're the last person on earth that deserves this. Truly.

Praying & believing God has BIG plans for you Doug. I just wish He'd hurry the heck up already.

The Jobs Bill just passed as i'm typing this. Really hope something trickles down for you out of this.

Sue E. Pig said...

Thoughts and prayers are with you, Doug. Good things happen to good people. I can't wait to read your account of it.

Universal Remonster said...

I hear ya, man.

I've been there as well, back in 2007, so I know how shitty it is to be in that situation. It took me about three and a half months, but even I had the good fortune of a better job market then, so I certainly don't envy you.

My girlfriend, who just moved in with me, funny enough, was recently laid off and has been unemployed for going on two months now, and I've seen her frustration with her inability to even get a damned INTERVIEW, especially for someone who has extremely marketable computer skills. It's a rough market for sure.

I have no doubt whatsoever that you will land on your feet, and it will be sooenr rather than later. Talent is a very hard thing to judge as an employer, but someone who is as strong of a wordsmith as you are will eventually take their chance on you, and once they do they'll thank the stars that they did, because you will undoubtedly blow them out of the water once given your chances.

Universal Remonster said...

I miswrote above... I meant someone who is as strong as a wordsmith as you will eventually have a chance taken on them. I hate hurredly finishing comments because my boss has walked into my office.

Reed said...

I second Zen Bubba above, man. Keep your chin up. This too shall pass.

Ollllddude said...

I agree with all above who have offered encouragement. I will add that Columbus Regional may have done you a favor - it sucks to have people thinking you got a job because of your dad. But, I also want to make a suggestion while you pursue regular employment: send out some free lance work to publications. Okay, you probably already have - you are a a good writer with some knowledge of the industry - but if you haven't already done so, consider doing it. I'd like to read your byline in a magazine somewhere.

Farsider said...


Hang in there. I'm three months into unemployment myself. While it is not easy, I strongly believe better times are ahead. Sounds like you're networked into a great group of bloggers--which including your own excellent blog-- seems like a lot to build on.

Try not to put too much faith in politicians. One party says it does not believe in government, and the party that does believe in government has its heart in the right place, but unfortunately has neither the will or ability to actually govern.

Just keep believing in yourself. That's the important thing.

Brian said...

What kind of job sites are you looking at? Careerbuilder, Monster, etc? You have to make yourself standout on these online sites. Most of the people skimming the resumes don't even read past the 1st 1/4th of the resume, if you haven't sold yourself by then, they usually just toss you aside. Another hint: match keywords from the job description into your resume and explain how you have learned that knowledge, skill, or ability with a fairly short statement. If you already know stuff like this, just ignore me. But if you want more advice, I have a lot. I too am unemployed and have been networking and researching how to become a better job seeker through workforce commissions hear in Texas. I've had a couple more interviews since I've been going to these events, so I think it helps. I'll check your blog often, I love your rants.