“Austerity has created a fearful employment environment and is in danger of deforming a work ethic into a fear ethic. Too many employers are using their employees’ insecurity as a means of maximising profit.”—Jill Segger, Ekklesia. U.K.

Historic Billboard: Jobless Men Keep Going, Try Wall Street

Photo: Mike Licht / WPA Photo by John E Allen / Flickr

In a news article, the New York Times described a ‘work experience’ training program for preparing long-term unemployed persons for re-entry into the work force. The Comments section offered four hundred and fifty-five responses to the topic. Within that set a smaller group of comments (n=34) briefly described the personal stories of persons who have experienced long-term unemployment. Those personal stories are paraphrased here. These new voices add to those voices of the unemployed HERE.  I would like to thank the courageous souls who shared their stories and their grief in their Comments. It was a privilege to be able to read your thoughts in your comments.

J.: Someone very close to me committed suicide recently. He lost his IT job at age 56 in 2008. He had lost hope of ever finding a job again.

Anon: 49, freelance work, UI for 10 months. Finally moved to another state with a 10% reduction in salary. Paid all of the relocation costs myself. Looking for a new job so at 49 I am living like a student in my 20s. The advantage I have is that I am mobile. Most people have no idea about the realities of looking for a job today. “it is beyond their understanding. They are in for a real wake-up call if it happens to them.”

G.: Took early retirement after 28 years. They are in bankruptcy now. Took me 23 months to find a comparable position. Most of the eliminated jobs will not come back. We are in for 20 % unemployment for maybe the next decade.

T: Let go from HP and learned they had fired the two oldest people in my group. I was given a choice, sign the paperwork saying I would not sue or forfeit 3 months of severance pay.

crh: Unable to pay own way when goes out with friends. No car. Efficiency apartment. After 2 plus years without a job,  found a part-time job. No furniture. At 60, all I can do is hold on until my Social Security kicks in and hope that I don’t become ill.

DK: Went through a long bout of unemployment. Entry level jobs were scarce. Finally, the place I had looked for a job at before started hiring.

L: These people are all older people like me. Very little hope of ever working again.

A.M.G.: You are not a job. You are  the goodness you can do in the world.

Saj.: Family member who is highly capable unable to find a job. He has only been out of work a couple of months but already the depression and discouragement is showing up in him.

K.: 58, retrained only to confront age, gender, disability discrimination.

L.: in reply to K., I retrained too, then could not find a job.

S.: I am one of those people and I feel for all of those in the same boat I am in. And there is a very good chance that our days are going to grow even darker. Stopped buying anything but food. Feel lucky I have a long time spouse so I am not homeless. But for all of those who weren’t so lucky? Where is the outrage? Stigma too. “We all might as well be wearing a Scarlet Letter!”

KK: I have a degree plus 20 years of experience…been out of work for 1 year plus. One onsite interview, many resumes. On interviewer asked me, “Why are you looking for a job so late in your career?”

c: I was laid off at 49 from a well paid software job and was out for about 3 years.

daw: 2008 college grad at 45, 2009 the door slammed shut. Spent about 2 years trying to find a job,….gave up trying.  It feels permanent. 25+ years in music industry… huge debt from degree. I accept responsibility for my choices but I don’t see my society do so anymore. Let me work and have my dignity back.

HL: Retired at 55 and I see friends still out of work. I hope that Social Security is not far off for them.

RR: Ph.D. Tried to get a job for several years…in the end became disabled, then turned 65. Someone with all of my education and experience could not find employment even before the so-called recession and throughout it.

NO: After 3 years of unemployment I finally got a one year contract with a bank….(describes their hiring foreign workers at much lower pay) I am sick of the hypocrisy!

D.: Attorney. 2004 graduate. Laid off in 2008. 8 interviews. Recently accepted a position in a foreign country.

S.W.: Workers in America are being abused in an insidious way. Colleges hire adjuncts to avoid paying HC benefits. Adjuncts run between 2-3 colleges to earn 25K w/o HC. After divorce, forced to leave teaching because of no HC.  Jumped to Tech industry where salaried workers expected to push 60-80 hrs a week. Got carpal tunnel. No HC since melanoma. Thank God I remarried, my husband’s retirement covers my HC. HC is one of the biggest issues in this whole dilemma.

Jz: 57, out of work. Went back to school in 2007 to get a teacher’s license. No offers for teaching positions. Maybe too many veteran teachers? Age discrimination? Getting back into my pre-ed career. Basically, I live off my husband and our investment income. I am one of the lucky ones. I no longer define myself by what I do because that path led to depression and despair.

J.H.: 62, out of work more than a year. Exhausted all savings and living on credit cards, the last barrier between me and the street. This cannot continue much longer. The problem is……..globalization…..

K.: Anonymous online applications alienate job-seekers. Depersonalizing application process. No feedback/call backs. Concerned about isolation. Employment support groups should help. Pride about working, upward mobility and salary figure is not serving me now.

H.E.: Started a business in 2oo7. In 2008 lost access to credit and business failed. 2 years caring for ailing parent. 1 consulting gig and numerous job applications which fell through. Age 50 and husband is working at a job with a pay cut.Dropped health insurance. 200 people applied for last job I applied for.

P.G.:  It is now a problem to be over 4o, educated, professional w/a strong resume. Politicians chatter, cries for more education won’t solve our problems. We need decent paying jobs, not just ‘jobs’.

STP.: Too depressed to care! You have no idea till it happens to you. Blindsided. Whole dept. moved to low wages pt. of country, less than NYC. As manager, I was last to go.

S.: In 11th year at NASA got let go. Used to subsidize restaurants, beauty salon, dog groomer, hotels w/husband on weekends, airlines, home improvement outlets, lawn mowing guys. MS in English. Told did not meet min. requirements for secretarial job!! Experienced editor, writer.

Kk.: tons of sham ads calling for GE, Lead Technology Engineer; seems like they are placed there for h1b.

Kk.: Ads calling for 6 programming languages, SQL,++, minimum of 3 years of experience when you would have to have many more years of experience to have those skills.

Mb.: You become isolated.

J.: Being unemployed is 3rd hardest thing after losing a loved one and being in a war.

M.: Lost small business, marriage, nice house, vacations. “I can re-invent myself.”

RB: Face it the unemployed have been banished….exiled…They don’t care what happens to you.

De.: Out of work 4 years after a successful career in HT. A few interviews, then the economy dove, then none. Volunteering is good for morale, but does not pay the bills. Interviewed for a temp job at 20% of what I earned before. Encounters prejudice against unemployed people. Told unemployed are a ‘lazy slob, a leech on society.’

RT.: Looking for work for 2 plus years. Hundreds of applications. Recruiters reduce their workload. Unemployed, yr. application is rejected. Your age, your application is rejected. That gets rid of most of the applications.

What appear to be the core issues for these commenters?

Almost half of the commenters appeared to be over the age of 40 (16/34). Age discrimination was a major issue for this group. One commenter described being asked, “Why are you looking for a job this late in your career?” PG commented that it is now a problem to be over 40 and to have a strong resume. Another stated that their employer knew they were discriminating against older firees and demanded a legal waiver or threatened to withhold severance pay. Financial insecurity and fearing losing everything was a major issue. Retraining and going for further education was roundly criticized as a ‘dud’ and risking more debt. Those close to Social Security were hoping to arrive at early eligibility age in one piece. Overall, this group expressed little hope of employment which reflected their rejection experiences in the job market. One powerful statement was offered about the depersonalization of the online job application process. In an online application, there are no HR people and there is no interaction involved in submitting an application; it was like relating to a ‘black hole’ that ate job applications. Three commenters made a case for universal healthcare access. Their HC insurance had been lost when the jobs disappeared. One commenter openly expressed a fear of becoming ill now that he has no money and no insurance. An unemployed friend’s suicide is very notable in the first comment. This is a group of people who have been isolated, rejected by employers, and this  social exclusion has happened over a time span of years, not the old standard of 4 weeks. The social stigma of unemployment remains strong. This is a group of people for whom society has done nothing to improve their chances for decent jobs with benefits.

(Note: The middle levels of the economy appear to be hollowing-out. Declining middle level fields of work are getting ‘old’. Middle level job types are disappearing. One more reason for government to create programs to hire everyone like the WPA. Again, the lack of jobs will not be solved by waiting for an improved, for-profit only, economy. Capitalism has no social conscience.  Government must act. A society allowing for only an Elite section of society and a Service section that takes care of them,—- is not the future we want.)

N.B.–In this sort of qualitative analysis, it is hard to choose what parts of the whole to present; but those choices are subjective and represent aspects of the comments which spark the writer’s concern. Please do not regard this work as anything but exploratory, inconclusive, finding openings and issues, but not fact-finding. Thank you for your consideration and perspective taking.