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Wow- a lot of new attention in the past few days!  Very exciting and I appreciate all the words of advice and support.  I’d like to ask that comments remain civil (this is a family blog) and constructive.  One of the questions Sierra asked me during the interview was why I blog.  The answer didn’t make it into the story.  I told her that I’m writing this blog for a couple of reasons.  I think the people get lost in the business news – all those numbers and statistics, foreclosures, jobs lost, consumer spending, etc., and I think in general folks have an outdated idea of who the homeless are.  I thought I would see if I could put a human face on some of those numbers and get people thinking a bit.  But I also blog for the intellectual exercise, to be heard, and to feel like I’m still connected
to the world I used to inhabit in some small way.   Oh, and BTW – despite the title of Sierra’s article, we have not applied for food stamps or other assistance, just the unemployment benefits that I’m entitled to after working consistently for the past 30+ years.

We have pulled out of the RV Park for our requisite 72 hr absence (required every 6 months) and are spending the weekend (with internet friends we met in person for the first time on Friday) in a HOUSE! I probably won’t post any updates until we are back at the park and settled in (maybe Tuesday).

A very heartfelt thank you to the many readers who have sent encouragement and support  So thank you very much!  Please know that I’ve read all the notes and am trying to make sure everyone gets a personal thank you (unless you asked to remain anonymous and in that case I hope you are reading this) note in return!

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Still searching for fortune!  Here is one writer’s reasonably sympathetic and mostly accurate take on our situation:  http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/.  A columnist who writes on frugal living, she ends the article with advice for her readers on how to avoid falling into similar circumstances.  Shades of that poster I highlighted a few weeks ago!  “ Mistakes.  It could be the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.”  LOL!

While I generally try to maintain a certain amount of privacy in my blog, for my children’s sake (hence the ‘not her real name’ in the article), I do think this might be the time to say something in response to the people who commented on the article, asking ‘where’s the father?’  I adopted my children as a single parent and that’s all I plan to say about it.  It was my own choice and at significant expense – one of the reasons why I didn’t have the recommended emergency fund of 6 months worth of living expenses.   

Yes, some of my own choices led to this situation – in hindsight moving to the mountain state to look for a better standard of living was a mistake.  If we had stayed in California after my son came home we would still be living in a 3-bedroom condo.  But then again it would have lost value after the housing bubble burst and I might still have lost my job since my field (environmental permitting) relies on developments and construction projects.  So, who knows?  So that’s the thing guys – while it’s comforting to think a person is somehow to blame for the bad situation they find themselves in – there are MILLIONS of Americans in similar situations now – and it’s hard to believe they were all stupid,  naïve, or bad in some way.  Sometimes bad things do happen to good people!  And then we just have to make the best of it and I welcome new readers who want to follow us as we attempt to do just that! 

We have never lived a life of luxury.We drive a 2003 mini-van with 141000 miles on it and did before we lost our house. We didn’t have fancy toys- we had second hand bikes, a cast off tv (not flat screen)- we didn’t take vacations or eat out much. The kids didn’t have a load of expensive lessons- they belonged to scouts and particpated in school and church events.   I had built up some debt due to my kids’ health (two were born with heart defects,and one had hearing loss that needed to be dealt with through surgeries and speech therapy)  and other issues.  But that was my choice and where I put my money. 

And now, since we have to pull the trailer out of the RV Park for the next 72 hours (and my heartfelt thanks to some internet friends who are helping us to do that), it’s time to start tidying up and strapping things down!

BTW- Thank you all who have kindly made a donation!  That is really nice of you and we appreciate it. Donations are going in my account for a new larger trailer to allow us some additional space, get my son off the floor where he sleeps and provide a little privacy- all necessary for our mental health and well being!

Or the jobless, for that matter?  I think the most emotionally debilitating part of this situation has been the isolation it has created.  My interactions with other adult humans are pretty much limited to brief chit chat with the checkout clerk at the grocery store, a comment exchanged with another parent while we await the dismissal bell, and two minutes of conversation with my daughter’s basketball coach at the end of practice.

The kids are less affected as they continue to attend school, have play dates and are involved in activities like basketball, choir and the school play.   But my social circle, small to begin with due to our moving around and unconventional lifestyle (being a single mom to four by choice, a rare thing, even rarer in professional circles), has essentially disappeared. You don’t realized just how important work is for social interactions until you no longer have a job.  As blogger Joe Malik, in “Unemployed in Tacoma” remarks with a measure of humor:

“Until I was summarily booted out of the place, I didn’t realize how much I had come to depend on my workplace for social connections. And that’s the really pathetic part, because most of the people I worked with were generally annoying, or downright despicable human beings.

So why do I miss some of them so much?

Well, the people you work with – whether you like it or not – are kind of like your surrogate family. You see them every day. You know about what goes on in their personal lives… most of all, the workplace seems to be one of the few places that many of us have a chance to make any sort of deep, personal connection with people.”

It is sad how that ‘deep, personal connection’ turns out to be the most superficial of connections once it’s severed. Former colleagues (one of whom recently characterized my blog as a “depressing website” in an email to another former colleague) are the first to disappear off your social landscape. Another place for making those connections is church, but since we left our church (in response to what I considered an unfortunate change in leadership) shortly before becoming unemployed and homeless we discovered those ‘friendships’ to be similarly superficial.  As I’ve remarked before group membership (even unofficial) is what counts.  When you are out, you are really out!

What about friends and family, you ask?  Friends, and family, while initially concerned, seem to grow increasingly uncomfortable with and tired of your unemployed/homeless status the longer it lingers on.  Compassion fatigue settles in. Your status overshadows everything, and while you are both bored with the subject, like an elephant in the room, it cannot be avoided.  So instead they avoid you.  New acquaintances are both curious and repelled by your situation – offering generic words of comfort while withdrawing from interactions with you the way one might do with someone infected with a peculiarly grotesque and contagious disease.  They marvel, “How do you manage?” while backing away. Who invites a leper out for drinks?

Even social networking falls by the wayside as your experience begins to vary substantially from your connections on LinkedIn, your ‘friends’ on Facebook, and the members of all those yahoo groups to which you belong.  It becomes harder for you to relate to their lives and events which begin to seem increasingly complacent and superficial to you, while your struggle with very essential, bottom-line issues is foreign and discomfiting to them. BTW- along this line I plan to start a 2nd blog for single parents in this situation in which there can be multiple authors and points of view, support and resource exchange.  I guess if you lose your group memberships you need to find, or start, new groups!

It’s odd the way this isolation makes itself felt at times.  For instance, most recently, the kids’ school was having one of those jog-a-thon fundraisers to fund future fieldtrips and each family was supposed to find sufficient sponsors to raise $150 per child.  Where do you turn, school fundraiser, or Scout cookie or nut sales, in hand?  To your colleagues, friends, members of your church and the other organizations to which you belong.  And although so starved for conversation that I’ve frequently engaged the checkout clerk in lengthy exchanges to the despair of the people in line behind me, I haven’t been able to bring myself to solicit jog-a-thon sponsorships from complete strangers! 

I’m not the only unemployed person to feel this sense of isolation.  In “The Lonesome City Blues,” Pulitzer Prize winner and former LA Times columnist, Al Martinez, blogs about the loneliness of being unemployed; saying of the jobless, “We occupy a landscape of spiritual desolation.”

Among the unemployed, blog after blog is filled with tales of isolation and loneliness, with the feeling of being cut off from the world around us.  Some people struggle with depression, others tell of the loss of hope, and anxiety about the future.

And a column in USA Today, titled, How Joblessness Hurts Us All, states the following:

“Recent studies confirm the results of research during the Great Depression — unemployment badly frays a person’s ties with his community, sometimes permanently. After careful analysis of 20 years of monthly surveys tracking Americans’ social and political habits, our colleague Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin has found that unemployed Americans are significantly less involved in their communities than their employed demographic twins. The jobless are less likely to vote, petition, march, write letters to editors, or even volunteer. They attend fewer meetings and serve less frequently as leaders in local organizations. Moreover, sociologist Cristobal Young’s research finds that the unemployed spend most of their increased free time alone.  

Moreover, beyond civic disengagement, places with higher joblessness have more pervasive violence and crimes against property. They have more fragile families with harsher parenting, and higher rates of mental disorder and psychological distress among both the unemployed and the employed. These social consequences are a powerful aftershock to communities already reeling economically.”

Our social landscape is changing, shifting and cracking, in ways the still gainfully employed and big financial institutions may not initially notice but will surely feel in the future.

I’m not sure how anyone who needs help gets it!  I spent a couple hours calling around today, trying to find a place for Tricia and Ben – I’m picking them up tomorrow at their old campsite at 9 AM and need somewhere to take them. The woman at Catholic Charities who answered the phone and listened to my sad story gave me the names and numbers of a couple shelters and then started in on campgrounds and motels.  That’s when I realized she was just reading from the phone book.  I asked what sort of services they offered in their charity work – apparently just  food and clothes.  So I called one of the organizations she had listed-  Project Understanding – here’s their mission statement: “Project Understanding is a faith-based agency founded and established on the principles and ideals of Judaism and Christianity whose mission is two-fold: To do justice by serving the poor, hungry and oppressed with compassion and mercy, and to provide avenues for those who wish to serve others.”  The person who answered their phone said the best he could do was to give me the names and numbers of  several other agencies.  I guess they serve the poor, hungry and oppressed by passing them along to someone else!   Then I called Salvation Army- they supposedly have a transition living facility.  The man who answered the phone said, yes, they do but not for couples, just for single men.   The rescue mission is for single men only. Freedom House Sober Living is for men only and probably wouldn’t suit someone accustomed to having beer with breakfast.  The Lighthouse Project is for women with children.  The only place I could find that takes couples only takes couples with children and no one allows pets. There is a winter warming shelter at the armory, doors open at 6 pm for dinner and a bed for the night.  Back on the streets in the morning. A possible short term (hah- there’s that idea again) solution but requires a cleared TB test no older than September 2009 and giving up Goldie. I even tried calling 211 – supposedly a resource hotline.  The line rang and a recording said “the code you have entered is invalid,” repeated the message in Spanish and hung up on me.  Deja vu- that took me back to my interactions with the unemployment office!  And this is why I’ve found it to be much more effective to rely on myself rather than seek help from agencies!  I am beginning to understand why the homeless are still sleeping in parks and abandoned buildings.

“Flapjack I’m sorry but we’re running low on food, water, and overall enthusiasm.”
Bubbie, in “The marvelous misadventures of Flapjack”

So, when I was laid off at the end of July I focused on what needed to be done then and there, assuming it was an interim situation and we would manage to survive it.  No matter what, we could deal with it together in the short-term.  When we pulled out of the driveway of our rented house (leaving the keys in the mailbox) with the car stuffed to the brim with camping equipment, cooler, dog crate and 4 kids, I spun it as a great adventure.  It didn’t hurt that I started us out with a week at a campground with a water park.  We were camping!  Lanterns and campfires and marshmallows.  What fun!  It was a fantasy that didn’t last long – and by the end of 2 months of moving in and out of a more barebones campground it had become real drudgery.  Oh we moved with a practiced efficiency, setting up and tearing down camp, and packing the van by rote.  My pre-teen became quite the chef on the Coleman camp stove and we no longer flinched at the specks of dirt or insects that ended up in the meal (I took heart in recalling  my grad school buddy who lived for months with the pygmies in Africa and on her return thrilled and disgusted us with her culinary tales- if she could do that, we ought to be able to deal with ‘civilized camping’).  But we were sunburned, bug- bitten, dirty, and tired and dispirited.  The longer the situation wore on, the more it took from us.

Purchasing and moving into the trailer gave us such uplift.  Yes, we could tell from the beginning that it was a small space – perhaps not much larger than our two tents put together, but the security (a door that locked after being in a tent that wouldn’t zip up), and the amenities – real beds, our own bathroom – no trekking together across the campground to a shared public toilet, the air conditioning, the refrigerator (!!) – Oh it seemed like heaven.  Our own little cozy cabin.  But again, in my mind it was a short-term solution; a better, safer, more comfortable and efficient (wireless internet) place from which to find the next job.  I never doubted (then) that I would find another job – I’ve worked all my life since I landed my first job at the age of 14 and when I wanted to leave a job, I’ve always easily lined up another.  I don’t suppose I’m the only unemployed person to discover that the economy trumps my personal experience and skills.  But it’s been a blow, nevertheless!  Like other job seekers I watch the news, looking for signs that we have entered into a ‘recovery’; but like a cloudy crystal ball, the signs are nebulous and indecipherable.  The economic indicators shift like a flag on a windy day, pointing first one way then another.  The pundits, like the competing groundhogs Punxsutawney Phil and Wiarton Willie, disagree on whether a recovery is on the horizon or whether we’ll endure another year of economic winter.  And then there are the particularly scary predictions for a ‘jobless recovery.’  I think that’s where the banks make money but the rest of us stay on the bread lines.

I won’t lie and say I’ve been a Pollyanna filled with hope and sunshine for the past few months.  My job search has become like setting up and tearing down the campsite was by the end of the summer.  I do it by rote.  I’m no longer excited when I find a job opening and I don’t linger by the phone or check my email several times an hour after sending in an application.  I send it in and forget about it and get on with life.  For the past few months I’ve been trying to ignore a nagging fear that a job might not appear in the short term.  And yesterday, an in-depth article published in the New York Times, titled “The New Poor: Millions of Unemployed Face Years Without Jobs” tolled the death knoll for any Pollyanna tendencies I still harbored, it blew out my candle of hope when I read it.    

Economists fear that the nascent recovery will leave more people behind than in past recessions, failing to create jobs in sufficient numbers to absorb the record-setting ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Call them the new poor: people long accustomed to the comforts of middle-class life who are now relying on public assistance for the first time in their lives — potentially for years to come.

The place we are in, the solution that we could put up with short-term, may be the place we are in for, well, for much longer.  And like Bubbie says in the quote at the beginning of this post – we are running low on overall enthusiasm.  This was meant to be a stop-gap measure and I am absolutely sure that it is NOT a healthy situation beyond that.  At the very least we need more space and privacy to avoid the cracks in our family becoming fissures we are unable to traverse, much less repair. As much as I have felt unable to make long-term plans, it appears that I may be naïve if I don’t try.

Yesterday my (truly) homeless friend, Tricia, called me to say that the police had come by their campsite and informed them that the landowner ‘wanted them off his land.’  They’ve been living there for over 5 years with the landowner’s permission so I asked what had happened to make him change his mind.  Apparently more homeless have moved in and a few have had brushes with the law and what was a quiet campsite for a couple and their dog, was becoming a rowdy group campground.  The police told them if they were still there on Wednesday they would get a ticket, on Thursday, they would be taken to jail. 

As an aside I wish the sheriff in Colorado could have acted with such alacrity when I called and asked if he could remove the squatter from our house.  Instead I had to go through 2 court hearings – one to evict him and one to decide if he owed me money (yep, like 1ok) and the sheriff wouldn’t act until both hearings (months apart) were completed.  But back to the current story…

Tricia asked could I help them move- they weren’t certain where they could go.  I said yes, of course, and got to work trying to locate a shelter for  them.  This is what I learned about the local shelters.  There is one for men and one for women and children.  This is a problem for Ben and Tricia who have been together for over 20 years.  She is disabled and relies on him.  They don’t allow animals.  This is another problem as Ben and Tricia have their ‘baby’ Goldie (a golden retriever) who is an older dog and suspicious of strangers – not exactly a candidate for shelter adoption even if Ben and Tricia wanted to give her up.  And the shelters are filled to overflowing already- especially during times of rain, such as now.  And they don’t answer the phone on Sundays. 

There is just no way I can invite Ben, Tricia and Goldie to stay with us.  I can’t see how it could be done.  I could help them move their tent to the state park where we lived this summer.  It’s only $10 a night if you bike or hike in with a tent (as opposed $35 per night if you drive in).  But when I checked campground availability I discovered they are fully booked until April.  Back to the drawing board.

“Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the last 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages” – Dave Barry

As the job search lingers on without success and the trailer walls seem to close in on us, a la Edgar Allen Poe’s story The Pit and the Pendulum, I cast my thoughts outside of my job search box.  If I can’t find something locally we will have to move.  If we are going to move, why limit ourselves?  Why not do what some other unemployed Americans are doing?  Look abroad!  After all, story after story on outsourcing tells us that is where the jobs are going and some studies indicate that the chances of landing a job are far better overseas.

A recent Employment Outlook Survey by Manpower Inc. shows employers in 25 of 35 countries and territories surveyed expect some positive hiring activity in the first quarter, and that employment prospects are most favorable in India, Brazil, Singapore, Taiwan, Costa Rica, Australia, Peru and Hong Kong.  In the US employers are more optimistic than three months ago, but are still forecasting the weakest first-quarter hiring pace since 1982.

In another survey, of the nearly 30,000 people Manpower contacted, 79% of candidates were willing to relocate for work, and nearly one third were willing to move anywhere in the world. Forty percent were willing to make that move permanently.

Wow.  That’s a lot of people willing to leave the country for a job, isn’t it?  I couldn’t find out whether that Manpower survey was of people currently employed or folks who are out of work and I wondered are people really leaving the U.S. to work abroad, and if so who are they and what sort of jobs are available?

Some appear to be recent college graduates.  According to an article in Newsweek, “many of the nation’s top business schools report an increase in the number of students who are interested in working overseas in emerging markets such as India, China, Russia, and Brazil.”  In addition to working in finance and consulting, these M.B.A. students are moving overseas to work in real estate, investing, energy, and infrastructure.

There are similar trends in the UK which is also dealing with high unemployment, especially among the younger wage earners.  In an article titled “A Career Overseas for UK’s Talented Unemployed Graduates” the author points out the potential benefits of looking abroad for work- employment being the most obvious one, but additionally the acquisition of skills and experience that will help them find employment on their return to their home country.  In recruitment and employment surveys employers regularly cite the fact that they find those who have experience of working in other countries bring more to their company and to a given role.

The Huffington Post reports that young foreigners are going to China to look for work, driven by the worst job markets in decades in the United States, Europe and some Asian countries.

Many do basic work such as teaching English, a service in demand from Chinese businesspeople and students. But a growing number are arriving with skills and experience in computers, finance and other fields.

“China is really the land of opportunity now, compared to their home countries,” said Chris Watkins, manager for China and Hong Kong of MRI China Group, a headhunting firm. “This includes college graduates as well as maybe more established businesspeople, entrepreneurs and executives from companies around the world.”

In an article titled, “Should Unemployed Americans look for Jobs Abroad,” Fastcompany.com profiles some of the countries that are hiring, India prominently among them. 

Dr. Kailash Khandke, professor of Economics at Furman University and assistant Dean for Study Away and International Education says he’s found that Americans are moving to India since the economy soured. “Americans are embracing the notion of a globally interdependent world in the service industries, computers, information services, and hotel industry.”

Dr. Khandke cites several reasons for this including the fact that English is spoken in all the urban centers in India and the general hospitality of the population. He does note that the standard of living in the cities is no longer inexpensive, however, “It is quite manageable and it is even possible to get some domestic help. I think American find this a welcome change,” he adds.

From what I could discover most of the Americans moving abroad to work are new college graduates or the younger working set unable to find the job they want here, and middle/upper management professionals relocating at the behest of their companies or for better opportunities.  It does not appear to be a solution for the majority of unemployed Americans- especially those with families, homes they can’t sell or job skills that aren’t in demand abroad.

Has my out of the box thinking about my job search made me want to renew passports and board a plane?  Yes and no.  Yes, because I think it sounds like a wonderful adventure!  I’m adventurous and have done some foreign travel (Europe, Peru, China) in my life and think I could adapt to living in another country.  It wouldn’t be hard for us to pack and we don’t have much that we’d have to give up.  My kids are resilient (although I’d be lying if I said they are as enthusiastic about the idea as I am) and good travelers.  So I’d head to Vietnam or China or India to work and live without reservation – if I could afford to. 

And there’s the rub.  Almost all of the opportunities I unearthed are suited for a single person or a childless couple.  Since most foreign jobs require that you pay your own way, the cost of relocating a family of 5 overseas puts those jobs beyond me in our current situation.  In addition in some countries it is very difficult to support a large family on say, a teacher’s salary, to find affordable accommodations, or acceptable schools for your children.   Most of the stories I found of families moving abroad for work were of men, generally in relatively high management positions, who were relocated by their companies and brought their wives and kids along.  

In addition to the expense of moving, I found it hard to locate any overseas jobs in my field.  Many of the jobs available are middle or upper management positions requiring a fair amount of experience or specialized knowledge and tend to be grouped in industries in which I have no experience- manufacturing, IT, teaching, and hospitality-  making my own prospects less than encouraging.

While I have considered obtaining my Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate one website on teaching overseas offers this discouraging assessment:

There are many more applicants than jobs available and it is not uncommon for a school to have twenty to one hundred applications for each vacancy. A single parent with dependents does not stand much of a chance, nor does a retired teacher looking for an overseas experience. Schools prefer to hire teaching couples with no dependents, though most schools will hire couples with children and a few will hire singles with dependents. Almost all will hire single teachers if they cannot find couples.

However, I do think opportunities vary from country to country and I plan to continue to explore the possibilities.

And if this sounds like an exciting and doable possibility to you, the internet is awash with information about how to find a job overseas.  Here are some resources to get you started.

Job Hunt:

http://www.jobsabroad.com/search.cfm (International Job Opportunities).  Searchable list of job opportunities – although a search for Environmental Management jobs in India only turned up one ‘job’ and it turned out to be a link to 3-6 month long internship, volunteer study abroad and relocation programs.  There were more openings in education and sales.

http://www.rileyguide.com/internat.html  (The Riley Guide to International Job Opportunities).  Links to sites with job listings.

Monster.com has a listing of international jobs.

 TweetMYJobs, a Twitter job search service, has a database of international opportunities. The Twitter offerings are in some of the same fields as those posted by traditional recruiters.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certificate Courses

http://www.teflonline.net/ (online and campus courses)

http://www.tefl.com/  (includes job listings)

Moving and Living Abroad: For Serious Job Seekers

http://www.transitionsabroad.com/listings/work/careers/index.shtml  (International Careers – The Guide to Long-Term Jobs Abroad).  This website has links to a wealth of resources for people considering committing to serious careers abroad.

http://www.expatexchange.com/ (Expat Exchange).  FREE reports from expats living abroad, country-specific expat forums, expatriate resource guide, international jobs, hundreds of articles, social networking tools, international real estate, travel warnings and several newsletters to keep you in the loop.

Moving and Living Abroad: For People Who Have Money and Time:

http://www.transitionsabroad.com/  (no-nonsense free portal—for meaningful experiential Work Abroad, Study Abroad, Cultural Travel Overseas, and International Living).  This site focuses on meaningful experiential work- not ‘make a living’ work.  Fun if you are a retired couple who have always wanted to volunteer at a wildlife reserve in Africa or a teenager who wants to travel to Europe as an au pair.  I’d love to sign up for the summer volunteer program in China – if I didn’t have to pay nearly $3,000 (plus travel expenses) to work for 2 weeks!

http://www.shelteroffshore.com/ (“Wealthier Living Abroad”).  This site is really aimed at people who already have money and want to live and work abroad.

Information from the Government

http://www.state.gov/travel/ (U.S. Department of State Travel Website). Information on visas, passports, travel warnings, and tips.

Best of luck to you – write if you find work!

“Employment is so much more than a paycheck. It is structure to the day. It is sense of self-worth, value.” Brenda Weitzberg, founder of Aspiritech.

No, no one has actually asked me that question but I’m sure some people have wondered. How do you fill your days if you are unemployed? Well, I don’t sit around watching TV and eating Bonbons all day. We don’t have TV and I can’t afford Bonbons – buying them would eat into my already bare bones wine budget :-)!

Obviously I look for a job, but with the internet it’s not like the days of old when you pounded the pavement, going door to door hat in hand or laboriously copied your resume using carbon paper on a typewriter. My resume is posted on numerous job sites and I have job searches set up with Monster.com and others whereby they send me new job postings that fit what I’m looking for. It generally takes only minutes to read their periodic emails, check out the recommended jobs and browse through craigslist and the local paper online. If there’s a job I can apply for it’s a quick process to send the cover letter and resume through cyberspace (where it usually disappears without further acknowledgement). I do a little networking, although after 6 months of this there’s only so many times you can call up your connections and ask, ‘so, heard of any good possible jobs?” without finding your calls going straight to voicemail.

I’m a mom so it goes without saying that a fair amount of my time, as before when I was employed, goes to taking care of the family. Feeding, shopping, cleaning, doing laundry, helping with homework, and chauffeuring kids to and from school and a variety of activities, all take time. For logistical reasons they all take more time now than when I had a job. I drive a lot more now. For instance because our food storage space is so much smaller I make more trips to the store. Getting the mail means driving to the UPS store where we have a box, instead of walking to the end of the driveway. The trailer park is farther from the kids’ school and if we need to take things to or get things out of our storage unit there’s another extra trip involved.

I attend estate sales and cruise yard sales, looking for things I can pick up for cheap and hopefully sell for more on eBay or via other ways (I’m looking into alternatives to eBay due to their high fees and heavy restrictions on sellers). I have to say that from a financial point of view this has not really been very successful. It requires money to invest and the amount I have limits the quality or quantity of the things I can buy. Sometimes I pick up things that no one is interested in buying from me, sometimes the amount I make after fees and shipping is so small that it’s like working for pennies. But it does provide me with something to do, and a reason to get out of the trailer, so there’s a non-financial benefit of sorts.

I look at ads on Craigslist for larger trailers. Not that we have any money for a larger trailer but this fantasy search has replaced the window shopping that I used to do when employed! I used to love to shop, to just browse through stores, sometimes buying, sometimes not. These days I try to stay clear of stores, aside from buying groceries or making a trip to the .99-cent store to reward the kids.

I listen to NPR. I surf the web. I read a lot; both looking for articles and posts that might help me in my situation and those that might tie into future blog themes. I write. I generally have 2 or 3 posts in draft form that I’m working on – researching and writing.  I consider this work, even though it isn’t a ‘real job.’ It provides intellectual stimulation and makes me feel somewhat connected to other people.  Lately I’ve been working on developing an archaeology workshop which I will present next month at the local children’s museum – another somewhat intellectual endeavor.

And I worry and wonder about our future.

That’s what I do now that I don’t ‘work.’

 BTW – a Google search on the topic of “what do the unemployed do all day” turned up 13.5 million results. After perusing about half of them (yep, that’s what I did today :-)) I’m reminded again of the quote at the beginning of this post – ‘employment is structure to the day’.

By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.
Robert Frost

“You lost your job?  You should start your own business!  Be your own boss!”

OK – my response to this suggestion has been one of incredulity.  But that’s because I can’t imagine trying to start a business with no capital, credit or workspace.  Not to mention I don’t know what sort of business I’d start if I had all those things.  But I can see the draw of working for oneself and apparently other out of work people can too, because stories abound about recently unemployed people doing just that.  For some the loss of a job means the freedom and incentive to transform a beloved hobby into a business or pursue the dream of working for themselves. 

Some entrepreneurs have essentially just transferred their old jobs to their own company, like the laid off auto worker who bought machinery from his closing plant and started his own machining company.  Or the chemist who started his own lab when the Pfizer the plant he had worked in closed.   These folks had the skills, clearly had startup capital, and had the business connections they needed to make their own small business successful. 

Other unemployed people have taken even more of a leap – and are doing something completely different from their old jobs; like the executive who had made hand painted t-shirts for fun and after losing her high paid job turned her craft into a business.

For those of you who have the desire and wherewithal to start your own business, here are some online resources –

Not many people who find themselves unemployed can, or even want to take the leap into owning their own business.  Some don’t have the capital, can’t get a loan or there’s not a demand for their services. But that doesn’t mean that the entrepreneurial spirit isn’t alive and well among unemployed Americans.  After all the unemployment check doesn’t quite meet the bills – even the extremely pared down bills we face.  So we search for jobs but also look for ways to make some extra money.  We barter our services – a massage for a haircut – or pick up things for cheap and resell them.  We keep chickens in the backyard and sell the eggs.  We walk dogs or mow yards or lend some muscle when someone’s moving.  We don’t have a business plan and we won’t show up at the next Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting; you might call us casual entrepreneurs. 

There are internet resources for the casual entrepreneur as well.  Craigslist lists all sorts of temporary and part-time jobs and ‘gigs’ – not all of which are scams.  But don’t bother responding to the weight loss study that claims to pay $1500 for your participation – that one is a scam!  If you have a band or can clean houses, fix a crack in a windshield or reupholster a chair I can link you up with someone willing to pay!  And if you get desperate – well, there’s always www.desperatedollars.com – the website that advertises a wide range of possible jobs – from doing voiceovers to working on a cruise ship, to selling your blood, sperm, eggs or hair!  Or perhaps you’d consider tattoo advertising?  I wonder if they guarantee tattoo removal if the product you are advertising goes out of business? 

If you lose your job and have or are in danger of losing your home as well, you may have decided it’s a good time to sort through things and shed some clutter while making some cash.  Perhaps you’ve had a yard sale or two, listed things on Craigslist or eBay, or gathered together any gold jewelry you have and were willing to part with and taken it to the shops that buy gold.  I did that.  I had some gold chains and charms I purchased when I was in college and it wasn’t too painful to part with them even knowing they were destined to be melted down – not when it meant food for the family for a week.  But the few family heirlooms – the grandparents’ wedding rings – those I couldn’t part with.

The trouble with selling things for cash is that eventually you run out of things to sell.  And the cash has gone to pay bills or buy food and gas.  Before moving out of our rented house I sold or gave away all our furniture, plus hundreds of books, the Christmas ornaments, tree and décor, pottery and Asian antiques I had collected, wine glasses, toys, bikes, clothing, bedding, household tools and appliances. What was left was either things we needed – camping gear – or held dear or were worth nothing to anyone else.  Those things went into a storage unit.

I was at that storage unit earlier this week and found myself in the midst of an auction.  People who hadn’t kept up with their rent were now losing their possessions.  It was with a macabre curiosity that I trailed along behind the group of about 25 men (yes, I was the only woman present) who were there to bid on the units. Of the six units up for auction, 2 were redeemed at the last minute, leaving 4 on offer.  I hung around the periphery of the crowd as they waited for the auctioneer, listening to them shoot the breeze.  Most seemed to know each other, clearly they regularly made the circuit of storage unit auctions.  They chatted about their triumphs and failures at previous auctions.  One man laughed about the storage unit full of designer shoe boxes that he’d bid up to over $1,000, only to find out after he won that each and every box held one boot- the left foot boot.  He sent them all to a landfill.  Another told of finding a discarded handgun which when turned over to the police, turned out to be a murder weapon.  But the auction at our storage center was more mundane.  One was full of miscellaneous unmarked boxes and a scattering of tools and car parts and strangely several old pots full of dirt; another one held cheap furniture, a stained mattress, a dirt bike and a full-sized older almond colored refrigerator which smelled as if it still held food.  The units, each around 10×5 feet, mostly went for a couple hundred dollars. The only one that garnered more bids, going for over $700, was stacked floor to ceiling, crammed full of boxes and boxes and boxes.  The boxes were neatly labeled toys,children’s clothing, movies, kitchen, bedding, books, photos… They were someone’s life.  They could have been our boxes in our storage unit and I hearkened to the warning – keep current on the rent!

As much as I felt sickened by knowing that someone had lost possessions they valued, I benefit, to some small degree, from such losses.  Having sold all that we had to sell, I’ve had to look around for additional merchandise for my eBay listings.  I attend estate sales, check thrift shops, cruise yard sales on the weekend and am a regular at our warehouse sale (and they buy up storage units, PODS, estates, etc.).  I’ve had mixed success with my attempts to be an entrepreneur. Rarely I stumble on a hidden gem – a first edition autographed book picked up for $1 and sold for $40, for instance. I sometimes invest in things that no one wants, or under estimate the cost of shipping and eBay fees and lose what small profit I might have made.  As a business it’s not much of a success, although some months I bring in an extra $100 or so and that makes all the difference in being able to buy groceries, or pay bills.  But beyond the money it makes, or doesn’t make, my entrepreneurship gives me something to do – a focus, and a feeling that I’m still contributing bread to my family’s table.

A caveat – this is an entirely personal POV post.  I’ve never been a particularly vain person, never had reason to be.  And no one who knows me would consider me ‘high maintenance.’  I have short wash and wear hair, nails that haven’t seen a manicure since grade school, and a ‘beauty’ routine that uses less than a handful of products. Regardless, like any American woman influenced by the media and my own desire to look attractive, I exfoliated, plucked, and moisturized, dabbed on a bit of scent, and slicked on some lipstick on a daily basis.

But when we had to pack up our belongings and move to tents this summer I wasn’t thinking about looks. It was like an extended camping trip, right?  Who packs make-up to go camping? My primary concern was that the family was fed and safe.  Well, clean, and clothed were secondary.  That’s how basic it got.  I packed soap, shampoo, toothpaste and brushes and a first aid kit, not lipstick, moisturizer and Crest Whitestrips!

The two months we spent in the tents camping out in the parks were tough. Mid-summer in California is dry and the campsites had seen constant use since the beginning of the season. It was impossible to get and keep clean – walking back to the tents from the public showers (where a quarter bought you 3 minutes of hot water) we would begin to acquire a fine coat of grime, the first of many layers before our next shower.  We spent hours in the sun and even liberal doses of sunscreen couldn’t keep us from developing deep freckled tans.  Fingernails broke in the setting up and taking down of tents, bug bites accumulated and festered.  Whether it was due to squinting in the sun or fretting over our future, new lines were etched onto my face, leaving me with the appearance of a perpetual frown. My “beauty routine” consisted of putting on deodorant.  I ignored the damage – there wasn’t much I could do about it anyway. 

Since moving into the trailer some things have improved.  It’s perfectly easy to brush our teeth after meals for instance and we shower much more frequently.  We can keep clothes clean after laundering them – something that was hard to do in the tents.  I can even, though not easily, color my hair again.  I retrieved my moisturizer from our storage unit but am uninspired to mess with makeup.  When you aren’t going to work every day, the need to look professional fades. Depression, poor diet and lack of activity have layered on the pounds, and with the sun damaged skin and lined face; I look five years older than I did this time last year.  Just one more toll this journey has taken.

Box Car Kids

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