You Want A Job?

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?

9 thoughts on “You Want A Job?

  1. I live on the West Coast in an area where the cost of living is ridiculous. I’m over fifty and single with no children. I work hard (more to the point, I work my butt off) but am holding my own. I’m self-employed (yoga/massage) and am grateful that somehow my clients see my work as a necessity in their lives and not a luxury. It’s not easy. I could move to an area with a lower cost of living, but I wouldn’t be able to find employment. I feel blessed that I can cover living expenses and my heart breaks for the families who can’t.

  2. Mimm, it’s crazy for those of us who are self-employed. I have to keep re-inventing myself and was very fortunate, in 2009, to get a paid blogging gig has led to one which will pay five times that much. But it’s leaping from lily pad to lily pad.

    I have a great massage therapist who flagged an undiagnosed and serious physical issue for me last year. I know how essential massage is.

    In my toughest times, I thought of moving somewhere rural and much cheaper but I thrive on city fun and diversity. My one stretch of rural/small town life was achingly lonely and boring. And had no jobs!

  3. missdisplaced

    It is crazy. I’ve been unemployed now for two years. I think if you are over 40, you have a better chance of getting hit by a bus than you do getting hired again. I do freelance, but in that whole time the only job I’ve been able to get is 10 hours per week at my college making about $75 a week (I went back to grad school). I mostly took this job simply to get out and put something on my resume.

    I have recently been offered a contract position part-time for 3 months. So now I will be working 3 part time jobs! Even with all that, my monthly income is LESS than unemployment was. This is just a nasty, viscous time and employers and many other people are treating the long-term unemployed like crap.

    1. Sorry to hear this, but not at all surprised. I am amazed that the millions of displaced/laid off/struggling American workers aren’t rioting in the streets. I wonder when or how that will erupt into increased crime and violence.

      I talk about all this in my forthcoming book “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, April 2011) in which I describe what it was like to work for $11/hr in a boring, dead-end job after losing my last well=paid staff journalism job. I interviewed a few women over 50 who now feel stuck in such jobs and they are scared and bitter and angry. Which they should be.

      But now what?

  4. Pingback: Cover me! I am going in! « Ramblings and other savageries

  5. Hey, this post totally touches a nerve for me. If you read some of my older posts, you will see that job-hunting has become part of my life, since we’ve moved to London. The constant rejection and strew of reasons why I’ve been unsuccessful sure take their toll … I work so hard to keep my spirits up and not to lose my innate optimism and positive nature, but it wears me down! If I could blog for a living, I’d be soooo happy! Thanks for this wonderful post.

  6. It’s really really hard to start over in a new country! I moved to the US, to NY, in 1988 after a kick-ass career in Canada, so certain I’d get going again quickly at that level. Hah! I had to start all over again in many ways….which is the dirty secret, I bet, of many ex-pats, certainly women mid-career. If you didn’t go to school/uni/grad school/summer/winter/ski/holiday with the right people — and London is as clique-y as NY, I’m sure — it’s much tougher to recreate all the social capital you may have taken for granted at home.

    My “success” here is much smaller than I had hoped and imagined. But I also had to realize what obstacles, by not having built up these tightly-bound little networks (here, if you are not an Ivy League graduate, forget it), I would encounter as well.

    Best of luck!

  7. Thanks for the article! I live in Canada and was working for an American firm,close to ten years and found myself out of a job.

    Dang it is hard when you are past 40 to get things going, whether you are a man or a woman, despair is despair. Unemployment doesn’t care what sex you are or where you live, it sucks.

    My wife has been great, kicking me when I need to be kicked. I started calling cold calls and was sweating bullets. Can’t sound desperate! But at the same time, I am having fun with the challenge, sort of a Gordian knot kind of thing. (Almost 6 months into no work). I cannot let it get the better of me, and neither should your readers.

    Stay positive! Stay positive. Recessions have come and gone and it might be pat, but I know I could be in a worse situation.

    Call everyone you know and call them again.

    1. Ouch! Sorry to hear this.

      This is my third recession in NY in 20 years — getting sick of them! Not only is it demoralizing, it really takes a hit on your savings and income and that’s hard to make up the older you get when you have increasingly less time to do so.

      Good luck with your search.

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