Category Archives: Unemployment

Through the wringer

I guess I’ll start this off the Kurt Vonnegut Jr way and give you the ending first — I was offered a job this afternoon, a long-term temp job in medical editing, and I am very happy. I start on Tuesday (no more sleeping late!).

But I still wanted to write a bit about some of what led up to that, as yesterday was quite challenging emotionally and physically.

To start off, I wasn’t happy with my interview suit, and I’d picked shoes that went with the suit but were uncomfortable. I knew this, but I figured I could tolerate them for a short time, and I put them in my shoulder bag. I’d wear sandals and switch right before I got to the interview.

Oh — I also wasn’t having my best hair day. I managed to get it reasonably under control. I was wearing jewelry when I left the house but when I saw myself in the mirror later I didn’t like the look, so I took it all off. Basically, I was approaching the interview a little uncertain about my appearance even though I was wearing the “right” clothes and should have felt just fine.

I was meeting a friend later in the afternoon and would have a few hours to kill in between. So I brought the current manuscript I was proofreading plus my journals. I shouldn’t have brought them, I should have just grabbed a few sheets of scrap paper in case inspiration hit. Then there was the folder of materials to prep for the interview and a small makeup kit and hairbrush. The bottom line was that my bag was quite heavy.

The recruiter had called me on Wednesday and set up the interview for 10 a.m. Thursday. Unbelievably, I had gotten a second call on Wednesday from another agency, which wanted me to do a phone interview at 10 a.m. on Thursday. I haven’t gotten a bite in months and now two potential employers want to see me at the same time? I told the second agency I couldn’t do 10 a.m.–what about the afternoon? She said the company didn’t do interviews in the afternoon–what about 11 a.m.? I said that was cutting things rather close. She suggested 11:30 and I reluctantly agreed to that time, knowing I was still cutting things too close and there was a good chance I would not be done the first interview.

The second job, by the way, was a temporary fundraising/telemarketing gig. I wasn’t exactly jumping at the bit for that kind of position, but since I wanted to show the agency I was willing to work, I thought it best not to turn it down flat. I simply should have said, “No, I won’t be able to do the phone interview on Thursday morning.”

I got to my 10 a.m. interview a few minutes early, just as another person was arriving, and she was there to see the same recruiter I was seeing. Wasn’t sure if this was a bad sign or not. I tried not to think about it.

The receptionist then handed me the most massive application packet I’ve ever seen. Besides the application itself there were at least 20 other forms to read, fill out and sign. I even had to give them a voided check and routing numbers for direct deposit.

The paperwork took a long time, almost an hour and a half. I estimated I’d printed my name 19 times, signed it 16 times, given my date of birth 15 times, provided my Social Security number 10 times, and wrote my address and phone number 9 times.

Then they took me into a computer room where I had to fill out information and my job history again–electronically this time. Then I had to take a proofreading, MS Word and MS Excel tests. I finally met with the recruiter at around 12:45, and was finished at 1:05.

Jumping back, a few minutes before 11:30, I asked for a bathroom break. I had the second company’s name and number and needed to call to try to reschedule the interview. That was all I was calling about; I didn’t think I needed to have the agency’s name handy.

The lady on the other end of the line didn’t seem too happy about my requesting a new time. It turns out I’d written down the name of the interviewer wrong. I remember repeating the name to the agency representative, but either she had mispronounced it or I just hadn’t heard it correctly. I had written down a similar-sounding, but different, name.

As a result of this mix-up, I suppose I didn’t sound very bright on the phone (I didn’t know I had the wrong name until later–I was simply surprised when they told me there was no one there by that name). They told the agency rep that I was “unprofessional.” I guess if I were the person awaiting my call and didn’t know what had happened I would have called me “unprofessional” too, but there was a lot out of my hands. It was unprofessional of me to agree to the interview, that’s for sure.

I wasn’t sure about writing about that event in my blog, but I think I am going to leave it in because I want to show that not everything goes perfectly all the time. I’m sure others can identify with similar mix-ups. Even though we’re supposed to be competitive and knowledgeable and always well-prepared, sometimes things happen.

Anyway, the main interview went well, I thought, but you never can quite tell. Later that day the rep called back and said I had an interview set up with the actual company for 1 p.m. today.

It was business casual, she said. Business casual, huh? Is this going to be a trap? I decided to wear black slacks, a nice button-down shirt and a suit jacket. The shoes were comfortable. The bag wasn’t too heavy. I had all my information and gave myself plenty of time to get there. And I had researched the company as best I could with only one night to do so.

What a relief to see the interviewer come into the room wearing blue jeans. She was friendly, the second staff person I met was friendly, and I was ready with prepared questions (yes, I wanted to do everything right after the previous day).

I took a fact-checking and two proofreading tests, and that was it. Handshakes all around. The interviewer said I was the last of the interviews and they hoped to make a decision by that afternoon.

And less than two hours later I got the call–I’d made the cut.


“Are Jobs Obsolete?”

Fantastic article published today on CNN Opinion, by Douglas Rushkoff, special to CNN.

“New technologies are wreaking havoc on employment figures — from EZpasses ousting toll collectors to Google-controlled self-driving automobiles rendering taxicab drivers obsolete. Every new computer program is basically doing some task that a person used to do. But the computer usually does it faster, more accurately, for less money, and without any health insurance costs.

“We like to believe that the appropriate response is to train humans for higher level work. Instead of collecting tolls, the trained worker will fix and program toll-collecting robots. But it never really works out that way, since not as many people are needed to make the robots as the robots replace.

“And so the president goes on television telling us that the big issue of our time is jobs, jobs, jobs — as if the reason to build high-speed rails and fix bridges is to put people back to work. But it seems to me there’s something backwards in that logic. I find myself wondering if we may be accepting a premise that deserves to be questioned.

“I am afraid to even ask this, but since when is unemployment really a problem? I understand we all want paychecks — or at least money. We want food, shelter, clothing, and all the things that money buys us. But do we all really want jobs?”

Read the rest of the article here.

Goodnight, Irene

Not to make this weekend’s storm all about me or anything, but one good thing about being out of work is that I didn’t have to worry about this morning’s commute into the city. I offered to drive my husband into the city if it turned out to be an issue.

He usually takes the MTA Express Bus from our corner; in Manhattan he transfers to the 1 Train south to Houston Street. He had planned to walk south if the trains weren’t running; his office is about a half-hour walk from the bus stop. But he told me that the trains were back in service when he got into town.

The subways had been shut down at noon on Saturday in anticipation of the storm. Some anonymous MTA employees called it a massive overreaction, but considering how lack of preparation has led to horrible devastation during other storms and natural disasters, maybe it was the best thing they could do. The trains were running this morning, and a lot of people apparently chose not to go to work, so the commute was not the hellish scenario my husband had anticipated.

The ever-helpful MTA announced that riders who prepaid for unlimited Metro cards will not get refunds on the two days they lost. I hope they change their minds on that one. It really is nasty to stick it to people like that, especially those who may already have lost money by not being able to get to work this weekend.

The worst of my problems, as I finally emerged from the apartment after two days, was that I could not get to Michael’s Art & Crafts because roads were closed, either by downed trees or downed wires. Reports were that over 4 millions homes and businesses lost power, and I’m guessing that Michael’s and other stores along Northern Boulevard were affected, because employees were not answering the phone. I ended up at my local Staples instead, a veritable nightmare of parents and kids swarming the aisles, hunting and gathering school supplies. I escaped as soon as I could claw my way through to the door. The last weekend in August doesn’t mean that much to you when you don’t have kids–until you encounter a whole congress of them in one place.

A little excursion around my neighborhood found the downed tree pictured above, just a few blocks away. It was a pretty large tree and was completely across the street — but it appears it did not damage anything except the sidewalk. A good example of what could have happened, but didn’t, during Hurricane Irene.


I’ve personally felt discouraged from time to time as I’ve looked for work, but “discouraged worker” is, of course, an official category of people out of work, otherwise known as the “not-collecting-unemployment unemployed.”

From NPR’s Jobless Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story, by Sonari Glinton:

“The number of people who are long-term unemployed remains unchanged — more than 6 million people. The number of ‘discouraged workers’ also remains the same. Those are people who are not looking for work because they believe there are no jobs.

“(Linda) Barrington (a labor economist with the Institute for Compensation Studies at Cornell University) says the long-term unemployed have to be asking whether or not the search is hopeless.

“‘I think for some people, there is a ratcheting-down that’s going to have to take place. That may mean taking a pay cut; it may mean going back to school, and these are really difficult decisions,’ she says.”

That’s why it hurts when those in power talk about cutting unemployment, or other social programs, at a time when so many are suffering and struggling.

Paul Krugman of the NY Times: “Check out the opinion page of any major newspaper, or listen to any news-discussion program, and you’re likely to encounter some self-proclaimed centrist declaring that there are no short-run fixes for our economic difficulties, that the responsible thing is to focus on long-run solutions and, in particular, on “entitlement reform” — that is, cuts in Social Security and Medicare. And when you do encounter such a person, you should be aware that people like that are a major reason we’re in so much trouble.”

Apparently, that “entitlement reform” includes unemployment, which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is suggesting the government stop paying for and make workers pay for themselves. He said the government should “give” out-of-work Americans “responsibility for their own employment opportunities.”

Romney: “Unemployment benefits – I think they’ve gone on a long, long time. We have to find ways to reduce our spending on a lot of the anti-poverty programs and unemployment programs, but I would far rather see a reform of our unemployment system to allow people to have a personal account, which they’re able to draw from, as opposed to having endless unemployment benefits.”

The phrase “responsibility for their own employment opportunities” just sets my teeth on edge. You’re laid off suddenly, you can’t find a job in your field, you get rejected over and over (sometimes because of age discrimination), but you need to be more “responsible.”

Unemployment benefits aren’t endless, and they are little more than a cushion for survival between jobs. More importantly, they aren’t charity, and they are only available to people who have worked recently. No, it may not be “fair” to an employer whose employee quits or does a bad job — but it’s certainly fair to employees who have worked for years and are suddenly laid off due to no fault of their own. Beyond that, it is a benefit I get when I work. I produce something for a company, I work my butt off to help them earn profits, and when I’m let go, that safety net should be there.

Here’s the thing. I could probably find a job very quickly in retail or food service–that’s certainly not a given, since I haven’t worked in those fields in years–but those jobs pay a fraction of what I was earning at my last job. Unemployment is slightly more than minimum wage, and allows me the time to search in my field, and perhaps find a new line of work if nothing in my field comes through.

I know my unemployment will run out soon. That’s why I’m starting this freelance business and hoping to get editing work. I don’t know if I’ll be successful. I’ll probably have to take a lower-paying job while I get established, and that’s OK. I don’t mind working. I’ve always been a hard worker.

But let me make it clear: I’m not taking from a system that I’ve never paid into. I’ve worked and I’ve paid for many, many years. And I’m sure most of the more than six million people out of work could say exactly the same thing.

Taking the day off

Last week I was editing a book, but as I was done the first full read, I took a much-needed break and spent the day swimming and hiking at a state park with a friend. I live in Queens, he lives in upper Manhattan and the state park was in New Jersey. I picked him up in Midtown and we drove through the Lincoln Tunnel. out into the wilds of Jersey, to a park that he’d known as a child.

The park had a small man-made beach by a lake with a roped-off swimming area. Little schools of minnows swam by our feet as we entered the water. It was August and we’d had a number of hot summer days recently, so the water was just cool enough to refresh without being shocking.

Because it was Monday, a workday for most, the beach was not crowded. There were mostly moms and babies, plus a few well-behaved teens and some complete family units. If there were any other adults our age there–without kids–I didn’t see them.

My friend works in catering, so he works sporadic, odd hours. I’m still collecting unemployment, looking for work and trying to see if my freelance business takes off. We both agreed (who wouldn’t?) that working the weekend and taking Monday off was way better than working 9-5 in some crappy office dealing with petty politics and crazy bosses.

But I was tired. Being unemployed means I have been keeping weird hours. I’ve been staying up late, spending a lot of time on the computer–sometimes writing, sometimes doing legitimate research, but other times just chatting and checking FaceBook and LinkedIn and Twitter to see if anyone has said anything in response to something I said, or if there’s anything worth responding to myself. I know I need more sleep.

So after the first quick dip into the water, I lay on the beach, my body covered in sunscreen, and tried to sleep. My friend had mini-speakers for his iPod and he was playing a Rolling Stones’ album. The volume was set relatively low–but it reminded me of my childhood on the Jersey shore where someone blasting music on a boombox never seemed that big of deal. I guess hearing the Stones themselves created a nostalgic mood for me. It was “Tattoo You,” an album that came out the year I graduated high school. (Yes, holy crap…don’t tell anyone it was thirty years ago.)

I’d brought two notebooks with me, one a personal journal and the other a multi-purpose book for drafting blogs, drawing, and jotting down ideas, to-do lists and get-rich-quick schemes. I always have the notion in the back of my head that I “should” be writing. I let that go for the moment.

I dosed off and had a warm, pleasant catnap. last I’d looked my friend had been lying back in his beach chair with a hat over his face. Since he was being quiet I guess he was napping, too. No one had to be anywhere and we didn’t need to set any alarms.

Eventually we started to come back to life. My friend wandered off to inquire about boat rentals and I opened up one of the notebooks and did actually get a page or so of a potential blog written. But when he returned and proposed ice cream from the truck at the edge of the parking lot, I abandoned my notebook. We talked, ate chocolate popsicles, took another swim and later took a hike in the nearby woods.

I think having my friend there allowed me to let go and not worry about life, writing, or my job search for a while. He’s an actor when he’s not catering, and is an outgoing, very friendly type, the kind of person you’re happy to hang out with. It is hard to get upset about things around him.

I really needed the day and the company. It is hard to relax when you feel like you should be doing something every hour of every day toward getting a job. I did send some resumes out last week and I made inquiries about freelance and full-time work with a publishing house where another friend works. So far there have been no job offers, and I’m still waiting to hear about the freelance.

On the beach, I wasn’t beating myself up about not being where I was supposed to be or doing what I was supposed to be doing. I’m doing the best that I can to survive these economic times, and I will survive them. When I do start working again, I’ll be working hard, and who knows when I’ll be able to go to the beach again. I’m going to enjoy it while I can. And I did. A perfect day.