Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Post unemployment

Eight months is a long time to go without a job. It is two months longer than unemployment insurance. It is almost long enough to have a baby. And it is long enough to cause many nights filled with self-doubt, stress and visions of financial ruin.

I have not been without a job in over 20 years. I have been the Executive Director of non-profit organizations for the past 13 years. I have served on boards, been heavily involved in politics for the past 15 years and have a national network of friends. In short, I was a professional with a load of professional skills.

The nights and days of self–doubt and the accompanying self-loathing were spawned through unreturned phone calls, horrible interviews, really bad communications from hiring panels and a total lack of response from boatloads of resume submissions.

Let me give a few details:

∑ I probably submitted my resume to about 120 jobs that I saw online through a variety of web pages. Of those I had about 25 interviews. The rest, for the most part, never even bothered to acknowledge they received my resume. Now having hired a few people in my time, I know this may become difficult for smaller organizations. But larger places like Google could at least say, hey we got your resume. But did I hear back???? Nooooo.
∑ Once I had what I thought was a good conversation with someone. She said I would hear back in a week. Well I heard back by seeing the job advertised on Craigslist again.
∑ At one interview the panel decided that they talked too much during interviews so they didn’t ask me any questions or talk to me during most of the interview. No conversation, no dialogue, just a load of people yawning at me when the room became too stuffy. Oh and there I sat with my feet not reaching floor during the whole interview because I was too short for the table and chair. Why yes, I feel really comfortable answering these quiz questions.
∑ How many times did I call to follow up on interviews only to be told the person I needed to talk to wasn’t available and probably would never be available? All right I’m exaggerating, they just weren’t available at the time.

Then there was the problem with COBRA insurance. Cobra is supposed to be available for 18 months to someone leaving a job as long as they pay for it. It took me two and half months to get COBRA. Then I had to pay for all the back months they hadn’t given me insurance in order to have insurance.

Getting unemployment insurance was a nightmare, too. California has changed its process since I was last collecting checks. Obviously 20 years later there are now computers being used. But in my case in order to get unemployment, I had to call in to a number and talk to someone to get my claim started. So no problem right? Noooo, again!

I would call all day, go through all the prompts and then be told to call back again when someone could answer the phone. Apparently there are not enough phone lines to answer all the calls! So the computerized phone would just hang up on me.

Fed up after three days and getting panicky, I called my friend who works in a state Assembly office. She got someone in her office to call a super secret number and then get that person to call me to start my claim. But not without strings attached.

I got to go to the EDD office to meet a caseworker. This fountain of knowledge was going to talk to me like I was stupid, question how much money could really make and then tell me her whole success story about getting a job at unemployment. This was another degrading moment in the life of an unemployed person.

Losing a job can be terribly traumatic or a relief. In my case it was both. I cried every morning as I drove in to work. That is not a good job.

But the humiliation I suffered in this system of safety nets makes me even more of a proponent of a minimum wage.

I was a professional getting professional wages. I can’t imagine what it is like for someone to go store to store asking for applications to wash dishes with no benefits and none of the professional perks of paid vacations and sick days for $5.15 an hour. They are much braver people than I am.

To go through the torment of interviews with someone you have never met and to have them judge you is a long lasting pain, especially when one doesn’t get picked. Again, for $5.15 an hour this is criminal. A livable wage makes the process a lot easier to bear. A bigger paycheck makes the degradation a distant memory a lot quicker.

Unemployment insurance after losing a minimum wage job would pay around $150 every week. I am sure people can either pay their rent of eat but certainly not both with that kind of income. Unemployment would pay considerably higher if the people were paying in to their insurance at a higher rate from higher wages.

Under this administration working men and women have suffered greatly. With anti-government types running the government we have seen Americans, particularly lower income people suffer from ineptitude in disaster relief in New Orleans, an economy which offers loads of minimum wage jobs with no hope of mobility and the richest one percent get a big boost in their incomes.

The rich have gotten richer and the poor poorer by the design of the people at the top of the federal governmental food chain. While the legislation to increase minimum wage will sail through a Democratic Congress, Bush’s acolytes will be weeping and willing a the thought of paying more of a livable wage and increasing a rate that hasn’t been increased in years. Too bad.

Pain, humiliation and financial stress should end when a person gets a job. That’s the American way. We just haven’t seen the American way in such a long time most of us have forgotten what it looks like.

But not me, I have a job now. And I won’t forget these last eight months, ever.

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