Friday is the hardest day of the week when you’re unemployed.
I would have thought that Monday would be the most difficult day, with everyone heading off for an exciting new week of work or school and you sitting at home. But that has not turned out to be the case. Everyone knows that Mondays are no damned good anyway, so there is a certain degree of Schadenfreude involved when you can turn over and go back to sleep, laughing at family and friends dragging their butts to work where what awaits them is generally more in the line of another week of stultifying boredom rather than anything that might remotely be considered excitement.
When Friday rolls around, however, one must face the inescapable fact that another week without gainful employment has passed you by, with the last few state unemployment benefit checks running out like the final grains of sand slipping stealthily through the hourglass. As one who grew up with a Protestant work ethic and a Jewish drive to improve your circumstances and support your family, Friday starts with a big capital F: Failure.
I am now deeply into my third spate of long-term unemployment/underemployment. The first time was entirely of my own doing; after many years of successful employment, I decided to pick up and move across the country from Connecticut to California. Never having been unemployed before, I had no concept of what awaited me. With my brothers-in-law both ensconced in Silicon Valley’s high tech industry, I was assured by family that their influence and direction would help me land a job in no time. That may have worked out had I been trained as an engineer. Since I’m not, however, I ended up sleeping on one sister’s couch for four months before being tossed out and ending up with my other sister for another five months. During those latter five months, I was employed on a half-time basis by a technology startup that paid me just over minimum wage, covering my food and gas and little else. The combination of the Bay Area’s prohibitive cost of living and my slim employment prospects caused me to give up and move back to Connecticut. There, I found that I was ineligible to receive unemployment benefits from Connecticut because I had been working in California and that I had not worked in California long enough to be entitled to unemployment checks from Sacramento. In Hartford, I did data entry for six weeks at minimum wage before being laid off. After eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and still not being hired anywhere, I moved back in with my sister, who by this time had relocated to Boston. I ended up doing data entry for minimum wage again until I could no longer stay with my sister, at which point I recrossed the country to very unhappily leech off my parents in central California. I began to appreciate the depths of my blunder in leaving my decent job in Connecticut more than a year earlier. Back in California, another 4½ months of joblessness ensued until I was finally hired into a stable position with the phone company.
My second bout with unemployment was eight months in duration after the tiny company that had employed me for four years decided that my position was no longer needed. I’ll just say that office politics may have been involved. All of which brings me to the present. I’ve now been out of work for five months following a layoff resulting from my employer running out of money. I guess I should have seen it coming; I had to endure the layoff of half the staff that I managed before it was my own turn.
I recently turned to my wife and asked: Is this how it’s always going to be? Unemployment every three or four years? I’m having a hard enough time getting employers to consider me at the age of 55. How is this supposed to improve when I’m 60 and 65 and 70? I could certainly follow in the footsteps of those who have just given up and retired. Although that prospect does make me somewhat uneasy, I could certainly consider embarking upon the next phase of life if not for the little matter of how we would pay for our food, clothing and shelter. Yesterday, we gave five dollars to a down and out guy holding a “homeless and hungry” sign, hunkered down with his dog at the exit from a fast food drive-through lane. Will this be me five years from now?
I think about the phrase “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” While I have always given this sentiment its due, it has heretofore taken on a decidedly theoretical cast. Now it’s getting personal.
Rather than throw myself a pity party, it is imperative that I take action to avoid ending up like the man hoping some kind soul will buy him a hamburger to share with his dog, or like our own homeless guy, who comes to the door of the parsonage begging to use the rest room so that he does not have to risk violating his probation by peeing in public.
In the current economy, middle managers are a dime a dozen. Should my wife and I pick up and move 500 or 1,000 or 2,000 miles away to another state, leaving our families behind so that I can take a job paying less than half of my previous earnings? I am inclined to answer in the negative. Then again, I may not see it that way six months from now. At some point, anything becomes better than nothing.
I am already starting to see a subtle change in “what I feel I can live with.” My wife and I had initially decided to do our best to stay in northern California to avoid placing long distances between us and family as we had to do previously. Last time I played the unemployment game, I applied for jobs in 27 states before being hired right here in California, albeit an 11 hour drive away. I’d been avoiding applying out of state this time around. Until recently, that is. I have now applied for positions in four other states and hope I can cap it at that. But I know it’s unlikely.
Late Wednesday afternoon, I was delighted to receive an email from an employer to whom I had applied just a few days before. The employer just wanted to say that my application had been received and that I would be notified if selected for an interview. This may seem like a whole lot of nothing. To me, however, it was wonderful! Most of my job applications are submitted either online or by mail, depending on the employer’s requirements. Upwards of 95% of the time, I hear not one word in reply. Ever. You have to wonder whether your application even arrived. So it brought a smile to my face that an employer bothered to take the time to let me know that my application is being considered. Perhaps my appreciation of this gesture indicates that I have lowered my standards. At some point, however, you start appreciating the crumbs.
Today I received another email from the same employer that had written on Wednesday, this time informing me that there is actually no supervisor opening at this time (a position that had been advertised and that I applied for even though it would have been a demotion and would have entailed moving nine hours away) and would I perhaps be interested in being considered for one of their clerk vacancies?
I’m telling you, Friday is the hardest day when you’re unemployed. Everyone else is excited about the upcoming weekend, paychecks in hand, ready to go enjoy the fruits of their labor. Ready to pay some bills and maybe go to the mall to buy a little something for themselves or their families. Ready to spend a little pocket money to go out to dinner, take the kids to a movie or maybe even take a little drive and stay overnight somewhere.
But not for you, mister. You’re not working so you’re not entitled to this stuff. You need to make those last few unemployment checks last as long as possible. You check your savings account balance and wonder how long it’ll last until you’re flat broke.
Everyone is going out for the evening, gleeful for their couple of days off. But for you, every day is a day off. And you know that every day that you’re unemployed makes it that much less likely that you’ll ever find work in your field again. And you wonder about what the future will look like for you. And you pray.
And you hope that the weekend will pass quickly so that when Monday morning arrives, you can once again feel good for two seconds when the poor schlubs drag themselves out of bed to jobs that they hate.
But for now, it’s Friday. You think about maybe pumping half a tank of gas and buying a large coffee for a dollar at McDonald’s. And when you drive pass the homeless guy with the dog and the sign, you try not to look him in the eye.