broadsideblog

Posts Tagged ‘out of work’

Failure is not an option

In aging, behavior, business, domestic life, Health, life, women, work on April 11, 2013 at 12:29 am

We shall go on to the end

We will fight with growing confidence

We shall never surrender

— Winston Churchill

Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives the &qu...

Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives the “Victory” sign to crowds in London on Victory in Europe Day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been asked many times why, when faced with challenge, I don’t just give up.

Fortunately, I’ve never faced sexual assault, chronic or terminal illness, war, famine or poverty. Some of the people who read Broadside have faced these very real traumas, so I don’t begin to suggest my First World problems are terribly compelling, but resilience and tenacity do interest me.

Who cracks and crumples, hysterical, and who soldiers on?

While at university studying Spanish and starting my journalism career, I volunteered as an interpreter for Chileans who had suffered, and/or witnessed, the rape, torture or death of their loved ones, neighbors and fellow citizens, who had fled to Canada and who were claiming refugee status. In that role, I listened carefully to stories so soul-searing I’ve never forgotten them, even when I wanted to. I went to the dentist with one man to see if the X-rays could prove, (which they did not) that his jaw had, in fact, been smashed by a rifle butt. Another told me, in the detail he had to to prove his claim, about watching his wife and daughters raped in front of him.

My personal challenges have included:

– being the only child of a divorced bi-polar alcoholic mother who suffered multiple breakdowns and hospitalizations, some overseas

– her multiple cancer surgeries

– the loss of both grandmothers when I was 18

– putting myself through college, living alone for three years of it

– being attacked by an intruder in my apartment, at 19

– selling my work to national publications, starting at 19

– three recessions since moving to New York in 1989

– moving to, and adapting to, life in Mexico, France and the U.S.

– getting divorced

– becoming the victim of a con artist

– four orthopedic surgeries since 2000, including full left hip replacement in 2012; 18 months’ of pain and exhaustion before the operation

When single, I didn’t give up for practical reasons —  who would have bought the groceries or made the meals? The laundry and dog-walking? Turning to my family for help was rarely an option, for a variety of reasons.

If you fall to bits, who pays the bills?

I’ve always had health insurance — even paying $500/month for it when I lived alone for six years — and with it, access to medical and mental health help when necessary. I know that’s been a huge advantage for me, as has the freedom from the pressing financial and emotional responsibilities of children or grandkids.

Sent to boarding school and summer camp from the age of eight, I learned young to take care of myself, not to ask for help, not to rely on others for aid or comfort. The hardest part has been learning to ask others for help — and being pleasantly surprised and grateful at how willingly some offer it.

At my absolutely lowest points, I still had my health, some savings, a safe, clean home I could  afford. Maybe having lived in Mexico at 14, or having traveled to a number of developing countries, helped me keep a sense of perspective — I was still deeply blessed with what I had, no matter how tough things looked at the time.

And some people still dearly loved me; their faith in me, and their generosity and kindness, helped me keep it together. One woman, after the con man scared the shit out of me and I seriously considered moving back to Toronto, gave me refuge in her home for three weeks there.

The only time I really gave up, and my body made clear I had no choice in the matter, was three days on an IV in March 2007 , hospitalized with pneumonia. I had never just collapsed, (even when I really wanted to), and allowed others to take very good care of me while I rested and recovered.

Here’s a powerful post by tech entrepreneur Brad Feld about his own physical burn-out:

Finally, I do have a full time job and spent the bulk of my time working on that, so all of this other stuff was the extracurricular activity that filled in the cracks around the 60+ hours a week of VC work I was doing during this time.

I had a lot of time to reflect on this last week after I came out of my Vicodin-induced haze. At 47, I realize, more than ever, my mortality. I believe my kidney stone and depression were linked to the way I treated myself physically over the 90 days after my bike accident. While the kidney stone might not have been directly linked to the accident, the culmination of it, the surgery, and my depression was a clear signal to me that I overdid it this time around.

Do you ever just want to give up?

Have you?

What keeps you going?

Here is Winston Churchill, in his own words.

The C-Word We Avoid — Class

In behavior, business, culture, entertainment, Money, movies on December 29, 2010 at 2:14 pm
Working Class Hero

Image by christian.greller via Flickr

Finally!

Even if it’s only in the entertainment pages, we’re talking out loud in the U.S. — land of the mythical meritocracy — about social class and who’s rising, who’s (much more likely now) falling, and who’s most terrified of sliding from “middle” (defined as…?) to lower or working class, words used more easily in nations whose central identity doesn’t rely as heavily on the idea of equality and assured social mobility.

In a recent New York Times piece by film critic A.O. Scott:

The idea of the universal middle class is a pervasive expression of American egalitarianism — and perhaps the only one left. In politics the middle has all but swallowed up the ends. Tax cuts aimed at the wealthy and social programs that largely benefit the poor must always be presented as, above all, good for the middle class, a group that thus seems to include nearly everyone. It is also a group that is, at least judging from the political rhetoric of the last 20 years, perennially in trouble: shrinking, forgotten, frustrated, afraid of falling down and scrambling to keep up.

In the movies, which exist partly to smooth over the rough patches in our collective life, the same basic picture takes on a more benign coloration. Middle-classness is a norm, an ideal and a default setting. For a long time most commercial entertainments not set in the distant past or in some science-fiction superhero fantasyland have taken place in a realm of generic ease and relative affluence. Everyone seems to have a cool job, a fabulous kitchen, great clothes and a nice car. Nothing too fancy or showy, of course, and also nothing too clearly marked with real-world signs of status or its absence.

Last year I viciously mocked “It’s Complicated” in this blog for the absurd affluence of a divorced woman character, played by Meryl Streep, who lives in a $5 m home, runs her own bakery business and wears impossibly lush clothing and jewelry. Most women divorcees fall far and fast from their married affluence, if they had any, drained from the start by legal fees.

It’s a mug’s game to try and pinpoint “middle class” in New York, where I live in a a suburban town, when a 1,000 square foot shoebox of a 60-year-old house on a postage stamp lot runs $400,000 with $12,000 a year in taxes — barely affordable on an income of $100,000 to 150,000 a year.

In New York, you can make six figures and not have someone snort in derision for calling yourself “middle class.”

Fact is, anyone paying $30-50 per trip by (subsidized) commuter train into the city to work or look for a job, struggles hard here on an income of less than $50,000 for one, let alone $40,000 or less trying to raise a family.

Only now are we seeing films address how we really feel about money and what we really feel about who has it, who doesn’t and what we’re willing to do to get and keep some.

In the New York Post, critic Kyle Smith writes:

Without ever saying so, “Blue Valentine” is centrally about class, and class, in America, anyway, is centrally about much more than income — it’s about tastes and values, as we see when Dean’s idea of a healing getaway means a cheesy lovers’ motel. It seems obvious that if Dean had arranged such a trip with cool irony instead of urgent eagerness, Cindy would have accepted it in a larky spirit. And if Dean painted canvases instead of houses, his lack of accomplishment wouldn’t be an issue.

American filmmakers largely avoid class, which is fine because virtually all of them were well-born and tend to portray their inferiors as piteous, comical or (especially when they’re minorities) as sprites whose magical simplicity can be used to cure the angst of therapy-needing professionals.

As someone whose own income plummeted by 75 percent after losing my last full-time job in 2006, this is no idle fantasy. When I went to work as a sales associate for $11 an hour, no commission, at a mall, I began to understand the extraordinary income inequality that is increasingly defining life in the United States.
Our mall attracted the hedge fund guys and their size 0 wives tending their 10,000 square foot Greenwich mansions.
Such attitude! Such entitlement! People who think nothing of snapping their fingers in the faces of the growing servant class.
You and me, babe!
From the Huffington Post:

Income inequality in the United States is at an all-time high, surpassing even levels seen during the Great Depression, according to a recently updated paper by University of California, Berkeley Professor Emmanuel Saez. The paper, which covers data through 2007, points to a staggering, unprecedented disparity in American incomes. On his blog, Nobel prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called the numbers “truly amazing.”

Though income inequality has been growing for some time, the paper paints a stark, disturbing portrait of wealth distribution in America. Saez calculates that in 2007 the top .01 percent of American earners took home 6 percent of total U.S. wages, a figure that has nearly doubled since 2000.

As of 2007, the top decile of American earners, Saez writes, pulled in 49.7 percent of total wages, a level that’s “higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of stock market bubble in the ‘roaring” 1920s.'”

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You Want A Job?

In behavior, business, Money, news, US, women, work on December 4, 2010 at 4:05 pm
Unemployed match-seller's sign: Please help me...

Image by State Library of New South Wales collection via Flickr

Dream on!

The latest unemployment figures are as dismal as ever, at more than 9 percent.

The New York Times, in a depressingly accurate occasional series called “The New Poor”, discussed the long-term wear and tear of prolonged unemployment this week:

It does not help when job seekers are repeatedly rejected — or worse, ignored. Constant rejection not only discourages workers from job-hunting as intensively, but also makes people less confident when they do land interviews. A Pew Social Trends report found that the long-term unemployed were significantly more likely to say they had lost some of their self-respect than their counterparts with shorter spells of joblessness.

“People don’t have money to keep up appearances important for job hunting,” said Katherine S. Newman, a sociology professor at Princeton. “They can’t go to the dentist. They can’t get new clothes. They gain weight and look out of shape, since unemployment is such a stressful experience. All that is held against them when there is such an enormous range of workers to choose from.”

Though economists generally agree that getting the long-term unemployed back to work quickly is necessary to keep people from becoming unemployable, the mechanism to do so is unclear.

I arrived in New York in June 1989, the first recession (of three since then) and one that hit my industry, journalism, very hard. I had had a rollickingly great career in my native Canada and expected my trajectory to continue. Hah!

It took me six months — which is mighty quick these days — to find a job in my field, advertised in the Times. In between, I watched my ex-husband, a doctor in training, head off to work every day, feeling like a total loser. I had no income, no friends, no support network.

I cold-called 150 people. By the end, one of them warned me: “You have to alter your tone of voice! You just can’t sound so depressed.” I used to cry for hours every day, terrified I would never regain my momentum, energy, identity.

People who have not yet lost a job — such a euphemism, like you misplaced it! — have no idea the toll that job loss takes on your head and heart, let alone wallet.

I watched a new friend take this tumble about four months ago, spinning crazily and miserably from a high-profile, well-paid job to…sitting at home in the suburbs. She was a wreck.

Her hairstylist of many years, in a gesture of astonishing compassion and generosity, kept coloring and cutting her hair free as she went out onto job interviews for great jobs where, they both knew, she was competing against people 20 years her junior, possibly people who still had jobs and incomes and could afford to stay looking sharp.

It costs money to look like you’re worth something.

She has just been hired back into her field, into a terrific job she is really excited about. She is over 50.

Huge sigh of relief.

How are you or your friends or neighbors or relatives coping with prolonged job searches?

The New Middle Class: Drowning, Not Waving

In behavior, business, education, Money, news, work on November 15, 2010 at 1:35 pm
Ten-dollar bill obverse/reverse

Image by LividFiction via Flickr

Here’s another grim report on what’s happening to the middle class in the U.S. — sliding beneath the waves.

From the New York Post:

She’s $16,000 in debt to credit card companies. One of her local grocers, who once let her buy food on a running tab, now has a bill collector after her. She has her résumé up online, but when headhunters call and ask her age, “suddenly they never call me back,” she says. “I’m depressed. None of my friends are able to find jobs. I am living day-to-day.”

Anne’s biggest fear is that her daughter finds out how dire the situation is.

“She’ll say to me, ‘Are we poor?’ And I keep lying,” Anne says. “I think it’s a very traumatic thing for a child. I don’t want her to feel like she’s the only one, or a victim.”

When the recession does ease up, Anne fears that she will emerge as a permanent member of the lower class.

“The world kind of betrayed us,” she says. “The salary I was making — I don’t think I’ll ever make it again.”

There are several women like Anne in my book,”Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio/Penguin), now gone to press, which looks at the single largest source of new jobs in the United States — retail. Most of those jobs pay $7-12 an hour, poverty level wages. No commission, no bonuses, no raises. A dead-end job for a whole new set of workers, people who once believed they had vocational choices.
The American Dream of upward mobility is dead, if not dying, for millions of educated, hard-working people, many of them workers over the age of 40, most certainly those over 50. People who have kids or grandkids who need their financial help to complete their college educations.
Who’s got an extra$20,000 to $30,000+ to head back to school full-time to get a shiny new career and start all over again at…55? 60? 47?
That’s not how it’s supposed to work. By your 40s or 50s, life, as it once was for many of us, was supposed to be a little calmer — your home bought and maybe paid off; your kids launched into financial independence, retirement a mere decade or so away.
No longer. Millions of us have lost good jobs,  can’t even get an interview for the next one, can no longer imagine when or how things might ever get better, when we might feel safe or calm or happy about our economic situation.
Are you feeling financially secure these days?
If not, what would it take to get you there?

A Handgun Or A Doughnut?

In behavior, business, Crime, Money, news on August 5, 2010 at 4:09 pm
Doughnut covered with coconut flakes
Image via Wikipedia

The other night Omar Thornton led the national news, shooting eight co-workers and then himself at a Connecticut beer distributorship. He was about to be fired. I blogged about it here at theopencase.com, but think there is more to it than that.

The second big news item, pun intended, was how rates of obesity are rising. Still.

Yes, Thornton was being fired for cause, stealing beer. But his feelings of rage, despair and desperation are in no way unique to the man who shoots and kills in a murderous rampage. Millions of us feel them, over work, family, illness, grief, job loss, unemployment. A new sub-category of misery are the “99ers”, people who have used up every bit of their 99 weeks of unemployment benefits and have not yet found a job.

From The New York Times:

In June, with long-term unemployment at record levels, about 1.4 million people were out of work for 99 weeks or more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not all of them received unemployment benefits, but for many of those who did, the modest payments were a lifeline that enabled them to maintain at least a veneer of normalcy, keeping a roof over their heads, putting gas in their cars, paying electric and phone bills.

Without the checks, many like Ms. Jarrin, who lost her job as director of client services at a small technology company in March 2008, are beginning to tumble over the economic cliff. The last vestiges of their former working-class or middle-class lives are gone; it is inescapable now that they are indigent.

Ms. Jarrin said she wept as she drove away from her old life last month, wondering if she would ever be able to reclaim it.

“At one point, I thought, you know, what if I turned the wheel in my car and wrecked my car?” she said.

Nevertheless, the political appetite to help people like Ms. Jarrin appears limited.

That piece elicited 697 comments and no more are being accepted.

We are dying by inches — adding them to our bellies and asses and thighs by consuming the wrong food and drink in enormous quantities. Every time we stuff too much of something greasy, fatty, sugary and/or salty into our mouths, we are often really desperately reaching for comfort, for ease, for a quick, cheap way to feel better. If we were truly joyful and at ease in our lives, would we behave thus? I think not.

We are dying by inches — of homes and dreams and degrees and graduate degrees and years of experience, training and skill worth nothing to an indifferent job market. I see a very clear correlation between these two forms of despair.

Every time someone goes on a rampage in their workplace and kills co-workers, there is such surprise, such shock. What exactly, people demand, pushed him over the edge? As if you can parse lethality so tidily. You can’t. The sub-text? If it was X, then we’ll make sure X isn’t part our our lives or workplace. It is never that simple.

We forget how many people, millions of us now, already live on the edge. We are terrified of losing our partners, kids, homes, jobs, status, cars, bank accounts, retirement savings, our physical and mental health.

It can take a mere zephyr of a breeze to send someone hurtling over the edge if that has been their neighborhood for weeks, months or years.

Whether you reach for a handgun or a doughnut, the choices are ultimately self-destructive, devastating, lethal. One is faster, bloodier, criminal and public.

But surprised?

No, we should not be at all surprised.

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33,000 Lost Their Jobs Last Month — Read This Book If You're One (Or Have Already Been Canned)

In behavior, business on March 5, 2010 at 10:12 am
Circuit City

Image by Ed Yourdon via Flickr

I finished this book, The Disposable American, by Louis Uchitelle, a former, long-time New York Times economics reporter, yesterday and did something I’ve never done before — called the writer to ask him to meet me. While writing my own book on work, I’m finding very few writers who truly dig beneath the surface of our “business as usual” perspectives.

If you’re unemployed, today or for the past few years, get it from the library and read it.

It’s not a new book, published in 2006, therefore likely researched in 2004 and 2005. It pre-dates this terrible moment of 10 percent+ unemployment.

Reading it won’t get you an interview, a sexy resume, a part-time or temp job. It will, smartly, compassionately and compellingly, speak to the toxic mix of emotion, greed, commerce, lax regulation, union weakness and profit-making pressure that have separated you — and millions of us — from jobs we loved, needed, relied on, may have held for decades — or a few months.

From Bookslut:

Louis Uchitelle’s book, The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences, is another one of those great books that none of the right people will read.

It will of course be read; it’s published by Knopf and Uchitelle is an award-winning journalist with the New York Times. He’s been writing business and economics news for more than three decades, and he clearly knows his stuff. But a book in which the author demands that both the easy “myths” of layoffs and the true achievability of the American dream be carefully considered may not be particularly appealing to your typical “buy low, sell high” business readers.

Uchitelle wastes no time enumerating what he feels are the three primary myths that have lead to layoffs becoming accepted as a normal consequence of doing business: that they offer a payoff in the form of a “revitalized corporate America;” that those employees in danger of being laid off can and should save themselves through education and training; and that layoffs are a purely financial proposition, rather than personally traumatic experiences that damage both employees and companies by “undermining the productivity of those who survive but feel vulnerable, as well as the productivity of those who are laid off and get jobs again.”

For every bouncy best-selling business book filled with peppy little bromides — Uchitelle singles out “Who Moved My Cheese” as one egregious blame-the-victim example — there are precious few that honestly and compassionately recognize the trauma, short and long-term, that job loss inflicts and is currently inflicting. When he went looking for those who study this, and are willing to talk about it on the record, this persistent, talented veteran found almost no one.

Dr. Alexandra K. Rolde, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Boston and  clinical instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School told him:

“It is a trauma to the entire family. You have a parent working at a prestigious full-time job. All of a sudden, the parent sits at home and can’t find a job and is depressed. And suddenly the child’s role model sort of crumbles. Instead of feeling admiration for the parent, the child eventually begins to feel disrespect. Because the children identify with the parents, they begin to doubt that they can accomplish anything. They feel they won’t be successful in life and their self-esteem plummets. This of course is a long-term thing. We call it transgenerational trauma; it is similar to what we used to see with Holocaust survivors and their children. The children feel as damaged as their parents, even though they did not experience the trauma directly themselves.”

But, in this recession, there is a trans-generational piece we’re not talking about. I know many younger people, in their 20s and 30s, who have already lost several good jobs, been unemployed for many long months, have, perhaps found a new job. At a time in their lives once filled with excitement, hope and anticipation — pay off those student loans! get a car! get married! buy a home! — they face anxiety.

I’ve recently been advising a  new young friend, a woman of 23 about to graduate journalism school. I wish I had truly helpful, practical things to tell her about what will be her wisest career choices right now. She is not someone who wants to slack off or hang out, whose family is willing or able to pay her bills for years. I lost my own staff newspaper job in June 2006. I was well-paid and enjoyed the work tremendously.

Like millions of others, certainly those considered (illegally) too old and expensive, I eventually gave up looking for another one. Will I look again? I’m not sure.

Am I someone she can trust? I don’t want my pessimism to infect or burden her, but neither no do I wish to blow smoke and lies at someone who’s entering the world of work.

Get a job, cool. How long will it last? How about the next one?

The damage has been done.

It is a deeply held American myth that we are solely and individually responsible for our successes and failures, that when you’re canned/axed/terminated/off-shored/out-sourced, it’s your fault. You, loser, screwed up. Not your handsomely compensated CEOs or the multiple layers of management they have chosen to hire and keep.

The language of job loss, used unthinkingly and carelessly, remains insultingly infantile and euphemistic.

Every day, in many news reports, we’re blandly informed: “XY,000 jobs were shed.”

Shed? Like a snake’s skin? Like a bird’s feathers?

More like a vicious virus, deeply, persistently painful.

Read Uchitelle. His passion and intellience won’t help you in any practical way. But he  — luckily, safely retired — gets it.

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