Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Diary Of A Layoff: Long-Term Unemployed Coming Out Of Hiding

For whatever reason, it appears the long-term unemployed are coming out of hiding. I saw this piece from John Douglas Marshall in The Atlantic last week and now this wholly relatable story appeared on Salon.com, written by Amy Gutman. Following is an excerpt that rings all too true...

Of all my accomplishments, the most impressive is absent from my résumé: my more than two-year stint of job searching and unemployment. If you've been unemployed you already know this, but if you haven't, here's a news flash: Coping with prolonged joblessness is hugely demanding. It requires deep reservoirs of fortitude, faith, patience, courage and self-control.

There is a distinct Groundhog Day quality to days spent looking for work: Write letters. Prepare résumés. Search job boards. Make phone calls and brainstorm over coffee. Sleep. Get up. Repeat. After sending off my materials, I often hear nothing back. I've long since lost count of the number of jobs I've applied for.

As an "older worker"—When did that happen?—I try to ignore a drumbeat of statistics telling me I face an uphill battle. It's hard not to feel worn down, to succumb to "learned helplessness," our innate tendency to give up when efforts fail to yield results. Still, like millions, I keep going.

My exertions often seem strangely invisible, not only to family and friends but increasingly to me—an experience widely shared in job-loss land. Studies show "a growing isolation, a warping of family dynamics and slow separation from mainstream society" among long-term unemployed. No other circumstance triggers a larger decline in well-being and mental health than involuntary joblessness. Only the death of a spouse compares.

Such findings are all the more disturbing given that unemployment is a fact of life for a fast-growing segment of the American population, as reflected in last month's 0% net job growth. At the start of this year, the average unemployment duration of more than nine months was longer than it's been since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the figure in 1948.

You don't have to be a mathematical genius to see that when there are six job seekers for every job, it's simply not possible for everyone to find work. For one, they (we) are competing for positions not only with other unemployed workers but also with applicants already in the workforce looking to move on. They (we) are also contending with biases against the unemployed, including the proliferation of "unemployed need not apply" caveats on job ads.

So how is it that so many have come to disdain the unemployed? To equate unemployment with failure and shiftlessness? 

Contempt and shame are becoming inseparable from unemployment. Fueling such attitudes are the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps philosophy widespread among conservatives. Not everyone will agree that the nation's unemployed are entitled to be treated with respect. To skeptics: Consider your self-interest. Things are likely to get worse before they get better for the U.S. economy. More jobs will be lost; your turn may be next.

Hi, it's me again... Of course, what makes these articles even more difficult to stomach are the venomous comments that appear below them from readers... This story was no exception. "Whine fucking whine, oh poor me," wrote one, who suggested the author collect aluminum cans for recycling. Others insisted she "move to where the jobs are"—as if selling one's home in the midst of the Second Great Depression is a viable option. Another: "She's a lazy, whiny slob who needs to get off her fat ass and get a fucking job." Or "Shut the fuck up, you sad sacks bitching!" America the beautiful, indeed.