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 The April unemployment numbers came out not too long ago and provided another economic head scratching moment for those of us following the statistics. Head scratching because in April the economy added a record 290,000 jobs (yeah) and at the same time national unemployment claims rose from 9.7 to 9.9%.   Hmm, more jobs, more unemployed people?  Turns out the increase in jobs brought out people who had given up looking (and therefore were no longer counted among the unemployed despite the fact that they had no job). 

President Obama’s take – “[April’s] job numbers come as a relief to Americans who’ve found a job, but it offers, obviously, little comfort to those who are still out of work.”  The number of people unemployed in the nation stood at 15.3 million in April this year.   Counting those who have given up looking for work and part timers who would prefer to be working full time, the so-called underemployment rate rose to 17.1 % in April.

“When you look at the employment report from 20,000 feet, it’s all good numbers,” said Brian Wesbury, chief economist at First Trust in Chicago. “What happened [with the higher unemployment rate] is that people rushed back into the labor force.”

“That will slow down and we will see the unemployment rate come down. But in order for that to happen, we need job gains and we are getting that now.”

Indeed the jobless rate declined in 34 states in April. So things would seem to be looking up, right? Briefly. Then on May 20th NPR reported that number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week by the largest amount in three months, saying that the surge is evidence of how volatile the job market remains, even as the economy grows.  Applications for unemployment benefits rose to 471,000 last week, up by 25,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.

 So for us job seekers it’s a bit of a roller coaster – hopes up, hopes down.  And depending on your demographics your outlook might be colored by other factors.  For instance if you were a secretary or travel agent the opinion recently voiced by a number of economists – that some lost jobs will never come back and some out of work people may never regain their economic place in society – might send your outlook right off the cliff.  In the past few months this idea has been the subject of articles with headlines like “Lost jobs are likely not coming back;” “Jobs That Aren’t Coming Back; “ and “Even in a Recovery, Some Jobs Won’t Return;“  All of which essentially say the same thing – many of the jobs lost in the recession – in industries as varied as construction, interior design and auto manufacturing are no longer deemed necessary.  During the past few years of belt tightening companies have automated processes, out-sourced work, shifted duties and learned work arounds for laid off employees (such as having managers file their own papers, make their own coffee and book their own travel – administrative staff took a big hit, 1.7 million jobs lost).  Sorry folks, the recovery has begun and employers are thinking they’ll just keep some of those cost-savings after 2 years of penny pinching!

 Other demographics come into play for the job seeker as well.  Geographic demographics for one.  While the job market may be getting better in some parts of the country, several states – Michigan, Nevada, and California topping the list – are not seeing any significant improvement. In April California’s unemployment rate was at 12.6 percent, nearly 3 points above the national average.  The good news was that it ‘held steady’ – unchanged from March.  2.3 million Californians remain unemployed while non-farm payroll jobs increased by 14,200 in April. At that rate…well, you do the math.

Then there’s age.  Oh to be 30 again!  Although nationally the youngest workers were hardest hit by the recession, older unemployed workers are finding it harder to land a new job and are remaining unemployed longer. 

 “Things have been very tough for older jobseekers. Duration of unemployment for persons aged 55 and older has soared since the start of the recession and remains higher than for younger workers,” according to an analysis by Sara Rix of the AARP Public Policy Institute. “Those numbers do not paint a rosy picture for millions of older Americans, many of whom may never find jobs comparable to the ones they have lost since December of 2007.”

 I understand the AARP is holding job workshops to help older workers find “meaningful” employment.

Add in being a single parent with a damaged credit rating and you’ll begin to see why I’m not celebrating the economic recovery just yet.  I admit to owning a bleak outlook but not, I’m sorry to say, one I believe is unrealistic. I’ve been out of work for 10 months now- about 9 months longer than I ever expected I’d go without a job!  I apply for jobs and even interview from time to time, without landing one.  I am discouraged. I see the recovery as hope that my children may yet have opportunities but I am no longer confident about remaking my life from the ground up.

For a sobering take on the jobless recovery and what it will mean for America check out this article: “How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America” in the Atlantic.


Things have been tough for a long time now, longer for some folks than others, and even with the glimmer of an economic recovery on the horizon, in a grim article titled “ Millions of unemployed may never recover”, the Seattle Times reports that the effects will be long-lingering for a great number of people.  Likely to be especially hard hit will be those who have been out of work for the longest period, and older out-of-workers.  I guess that will be a double whammy for me.  It is thought by some economists that long stints of unemployment erode a worker’s skills and lessen their ability to maintain networking contacts.  Even those economists who doubt that workers in general would lose skills after only six months or even a year or two out of work, agree that long periods of unemployment tend to make it tougher to get re-employed. And, as the article says, “even after getting hired, such workers are likely to experience a sharp and lasting hit to their incomes.”  And many older out of work folk will choose to retire early which means more people drawing Social Security and Medicare, and fewer contributing to the programs through payroll taxes.

I hate to be a gloomy Gus, but I very much agree with a recent article in the Atlantic Monthly, and have said in earlier posts, that this recession  is bound to create fundamental changes in our society that will continue even into whatever level of recovery with which we are blessed. I don’t just fear my own future but the future of the generation that is in or just graduating from college, a group that globally has suffered job loss disproportionately during the recession. 

If you have children in this age group, read the Atlantic Monthly article. It’s a wake-up call.  And if, like me, your children are younger, consider what you can do to raise independent thinking, hard-working, entrepreneurial-leaning adults.  According to one study reported in the Atlantic Monthly article, teens and college graduates who have a hard time finding a job and suffer a lengthy stint of unemployment are more likely to develop drinking problems and symptoms of depression in middle age.  And that’s regardless of whether they eventually do find work.  There is something about not working that takes its toll on one.

A large and long-standing body of research shows that physical health tends to deteriorate during unemployment, most likely through a combination of fewer financial resources and a higher stress level. The most-recent research suggests that poor health is prevalent among the young, and endures for a lifetime.

Consider that the youth of today has been raised with high expectations – they’ve been told they can do and be anything and what’s more that they can have anything (a very materialistic generation) – but since they have also been “trained throughout childhood to disconnect performance from reward,… many are quick to place blame elsewhere when something goes wrong, and inclined to believe that bad situations will sort themselves out—or will be sorted out by parents or other helpers.”

Ron Alsop, a former reporter for The Wall Street Journal and the author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the Millennial Generation Is Shaking Up the Workplace, says a combination of entitlement and highly structured childhood has resulted in a lack of independence and entrepreneurialism in many 20-somethings. They’re used to checklists, he says, and “don’t excel at leadership or independent problem solving.”

Not a good starting point for kids trying to enter the job force during a recession – or in the lingering aftermath of one.  Contrary to the song, parents, perhaps you should let your babies grow up to be cowboys.  If ever there was a profession designed to inculcate the ethos of hard work and independence that would be it!  Our youth will need our help to recover fully and we need them to be productively employed, paying into social programs and replenishing the federal coffers.  

Will there be any possible benefit to our children, having experienced the hardships of the recession?  Perhaps.

A recent paper by the economists Paola Giuliano and Antonio Spilimbergo shows that generations that endured a recession in early adulthood became more concerned about inequality and more cognizant of the role luck plays in life. And in his book, Children of the Great Depression, Glen Elder wrote that adolescents who experienced hardship in the 1930s became especially adaptable, family-oriented adults; perhaps, as a result of this recession, today’s adolescents will be pampered less and counted on for more, and will grow into adults who feel less entitled than recent generations.

If so, I hope to count my children among them.  Interestingly enough my mother, born in 1928, was very adaptable and family-oriented, and ruggedly independent (a label a friend recently tagged me with) as well.  I think the lessons she learned during the hard times in her life, both as a youngster at the tail end of the depression and later as a divorced mother of four school-aged children, and which she imparted to me, go a long way to explaining why I’m able to roll with the punches the last few years have dealt me.  My children were all in orphanages when I adopted them.  I had intended to try my best to make up for that – to give them everything they might have been denied, to raise them full of American self-esteem and the belief that they could do and be anything they could want to be.  I still intend to do that, but just as I did, working my way through both undergraduate and graduate school, they will learn the benefits of earning their self-esteem and rewards through hard-work and perseverance rather than having them handed to them.  They might not be able to have anything they want but I hope they will still believe, and develop the skills to be what they want.

Jobs, jobs, jobs.  With over 8 million jobs lost in the last couple of years, jobs are a big topic in the news, in bars, at the playground, on the senate floor, and at campaign podiums.  Job seekers, job training, creating jobs and WTF to do about all the people who have lost jobs.  In the latter category comes the sometimes heated discussion about unemployment benefits.  As an article in the Christian Science Monitor, entitled  Senate jobs bill: the perils of extended unemployment benefits, says:

The Depression-era program was originally intended as a temporary bridge to help the jobless until a recovery put them back to work – though nearly two-thirds of unemployed workers do not qualify. During a more normal downturn in the economy, states help people who have been laid off with jobless benefits lasting 26 weeks. But now, in some of the hardest-hit states, the long-term unemployed have been able to collect benefits for as long as 99 weeks – almost two years.

Some would argue that the long-term availability of unemployment insurance has turned it into something like welfare in the days before reform: open to abuse and not helpful in encouraging people to actually look for work. “Continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work,” said Republican Sen. John Kyl, of Arizona.

As someone collecting unemployment benefits I’d like to address some of the real disincentives to look for work or rather disincentives to take work, any work, or to enroll in courses to retool for a new career!

As another news article recounts, taking a part-time or temporary job while searching for a new full-time job can be deadly.  Deadly, that is, to your unemployment benefits. Some job seekers have been taking on jobs they wouldn’t have contemplated a few years ago, just to make a little money, to put food on the table, or stay in their home, only to discover later that by doing so they have re-set the calculation of their unemployment benefits so that they are no longer eligible for any benefits at all once that job ends and they are unable to land another. 

 “What is going on for these workers is that because their most recent wages are much lower than the wages they earned in their prior fulltime job, they are facing substantial cuts in their weekly unemployment benefits,” says George Wentworth, a consultant at the National Employment Law Project (NELP) in New York.

In fact, so substantial that in one case the woman’s unemployment benefits went from $483 a week to nothing after she took a brief part-time job. 

I’ve been counseled to take a job, any job, just to, well, to look good to employers.  But will taking a job as someone who hands out samples at Cost-co really make me look good to employers in my field (environmental permitting)?  Would I even put it on my resume?  Umm, no, I wouldn’t.  Would it help me to support my family?  Not really.  The pay would be minimal and after various taxes would probably be less than my unemployment benefit (which, based on my last quarter’s earnings is at the top of the scale – which is still paltry when you are supporting a family of 5).  Plus I’d be paying for after school care or babysitting on top of that. 

And if I take a job handing out samples at Cost-co, or accept the small amount that has offered to pay me for article I wrote, I could be up the creek without a paddle if I haven’t landed that full-time job in my field within a year of being laid off.  Because if I don’t have a new, good, job within that time, my unemployment benefits will be recalculated, based on my earnings in the last quarter and if that’s the payment my benefits will zip, zero, nada.  And I won’t be able to support my family on that!  So while I was thrilled to secure my first ever paid writing job I won’t be invoicing Salon or filling in the w-9 to report the meager income to the IRS and the unemployment people.  Salon can donate the money to a charity.

Another hindrance built into the system is the fact that you lose your unemployment benefits if you opt to take classes or retrain for a new career. The reasoning is – if you are in school you aren’t available to work and you have to be available to work to collect benefits.  But without the unemployment check how are you going to pay tuition (and rent and food and gas…)?  If they want you to get back in the workforce why don’t they pay you to take classes?  Or let you take part-time jobs without penalizing you when those jobs end and you are once again unemployed? 

Maybe the recession is over, maybe the recovery has started.  But locally unemployment is still over 11% and there are 5 times as many job seekers as jobs.  Obviously in order to get people off the unemployed rolls and back to work, you need JOBS, a lot more jobs, but in the meantime instead of stalling on approving unemployment benefit extensions and griping about how the unemployed are viewing those benefits as entitlements, why not remove the real disincentives to go back to work?

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.

“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.

“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,” 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: (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.  (The Riley Guide to International Job Opportunities).  Links to sites with job listings. 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 (online and campus courses)  (includes job listings)

Moving and Living Abroad: For Serious Job Seekers  (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. (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:  (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! (“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 (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 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’.

Have I been looking for a job?  Yes!  And I’ve applied for several jobs in my field (environmental permitting) locally.  As well as several jobs in my field that aren’t local (Hawaii), and several jobs that aren’t even in my field but that are local.  I’ve had two interviews.  One job (in my field) went to an entry level person at an extremely low salary and the other job (out of my field) went to someone with more experience.  Most of the resumes and applications I send out disappear into the Ethernet without any response.

 I get a lot of comments suggesting that I really need to just take any old job that I can, so I wanted to address the financial realities of that.  A low paying job, after taxes and deductions are taken out, will not meet even our lowered barebones expenses.  A job paying $15 an hour – which is actually a higher wage than a lot of the ‘any old jobs’ listed these days (most pay around $10-11 an hour) after taxes and deductions (I’m estimating those combined at around 25%) would net around $1800 a month.  That’s what unemployment pays now.  But since I would have to put all 4 children in an afterschool program (and camps during breaks), that expense would increase by $924 a month over the $308 I pay now (and camps would be much more – summer camp for 4 kids runs around $540 a week/$2160 a month).  So I’d have the same income but almost a thousand dollars more in expense just in childcare during the school year. 

Plus if I took a temporary job paying $15 an hour I would reset the amount of unemployment for which I am eligible (currently I’m eligible for the maximum amount) and if I had to file again would not in any way be able to support my family. 

So why not retool for a new career?  Aside from the fact that the idea of starting over again at my age is daunting, if I want to train for another career I would have to give up our only income (unemployment) while training, which combined with the fees for attending classes and the possible additional childcare expenses, makes it impossible.  Despite all the ads from trade schools proclaiming a plethora of jobs in their fields it’s entirely possible that I could retrain and not find a job as other factors come into play when looking for employment.  As I’ve mentioned before (and as is documented in this economy across the country) things like age and credit score are considered by employers. 

An article about middle-aged job seekers competing with teenagers, interviewed a 57-year old job seeking ex-freighter captain at a job fair in Irvine, reporting that:

Seasoned workers have been especially hard-hit as the economy sheds job because with their experience comes a bigger salary.
“What’s happening is companies have laid off massive numbers of workers; typically what happens is they lay off the most expensive workers first,” said Esmael Adibi, an economist at Chapman University in Orange.
That ends affecting youths as well, because the newly jobless “try to find jobs in other sectors for much less pay,” Adibi said.
That was clear Saturday as Yang waited for an interview as a retail store greeter, a relatively lucrative job fair opening, thanks to its $13-an-hour wage.

The article went on to say, that unlike his youthful competitors Yang at least had savings to fall back on.

Another article sent a dire warning to job seekers- “sweat the small stuff because hiring managers are knocking candidates out of the running for the smallest mistake.”

The irony is that there are so many middle-aged, middle class professionals out of work that they’ve created a little niche market for entrepreneurs.  For instance there are websites that cater to the middle-aged  job seeker – some of which, judging from comments (e.g., “I’ve signed up at and all I get are email postings for casinos or the Army”)  appear to be more of a benefit to their creators than to the job seeker who visits them.  And there’s a new movie that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival – “Company Men” directed by John Wells that deals with this subject. 

In the case of “Company Men,” the three main characters played by Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper are laid off from a conglomerate and lose their comfortable boardrooms-and-golf existence.

Opening with a scene of Affleck’s character smugly enjoying a pre-work golf game at the country club just before he finds out he’s fired, the film follows all three as they are forced to re-evaluate their careers and lives, stripped of jobs that provided not only a paycheck but confidence and self worth. 

Add another factor- poor credit score- which affects job seekers who have had to deal with foreclosure into the competitive market and you begin to understand why your applications disappear into the Ethernet without response.

“In today’s job market, the expectation is that employers can afford to be extremely selective about candidates,” says Bob Schoenbaum, principal of KeyStone Search, an executive recruiting firm in Minneapolis. “While credit might not be the most important factor in a hiring decision, bad credit can be a tipping point between one candidate and others competing for the job.”

Obviously remaining on unemployment indefinitely is not an option – it runs out eventually – and it’s clearly not a healthy situation.  It’s hell on one’s self-esteem.  Towards the end of the school year I intend to start searching farther afield for a job – but will try and stay in the warmer climes as we will probably have to maintain our trailer home for some time and frankly because I hate the cold!  But that won’t change my age or credit score.  Over the next few months I’ll continue to explore the idea of moving to China to teach English. Perhaps after a year of that the economy will be better here and there would be more development, and thus more jobs in my field. I do think that would have its own stresses (not the least of which is that the kids are not enthusiastic about it).  And I’ll continue to write.  And in the dark predawn hours I’ll reflect on the truth of Anonymous’ comment that social security survivor benefits are more than unemployment and wonder if the kids would be better off without me. But I won’t be applying for retail or other low paying jobs.

If, as George Bernard Shaw was purported to have said, “A happy family is but an earlier heaven” what is an unhappy family?

It’s been said before but it’s worth repeating.  Becoming homeless has a severe negative effect on families. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless:  “It disrupts virtually every aspect of family life, damaging the physical and emotional health of family members, interfering with children’s education and development, and frequently resulting in the separation of family members.”  Lest you think this sort of strong language only applies to impoverished, uneducated, substance abusing families headed by young single moms who were victims of domestic abuse (in other words the stereotypical homeless families), let me assure you it does not.  While being educated, mature and relatively healthy, undoubtedly helps a parent deal with the difficulties of becoming homeless, those characteristics alone are not enough to counteract the stress and strain on the family. 

Homelessness frequently breaks up families. Families may be separated as a result of shelter policies which deny access to older boys or fathers. Separations may also be caused by placement of children into foster care when their parents become homeless. In addition, parents may leave their children with relatives and friends in order to save them from the ordeal of homelessness or to permit them to continue attending their regular school. The break-up of families is a well-documented phenomenon: in 56% of the 27 cities surveyed in 2004, homeless families had to break up in order to enter emergency shelters (U.S. Conference of Mayors, 2004).

I have been proud to have managed to keep my family together during these past 6 months, but with increasing frequency I wonder if it’s really something of which to be proud?  Granted these thoughts occur most often during my 3 AM insomnia period when all seems gloomiest and most hopeless, but they come to me in the daylight as well.  Are the children being irreparably harmed by our situation?  Would they benefit from living with another family or families in a more stable situation? What am I really providing for them and does it make up in any way for all that is denied them now?

Initially I was certain that I would quickly find a new job and things would return to normal.  But as the months of fruitlessly submitting job applications pass by my hopes dim. I cannot believe my lack of progress and suspect my applications are being screened out in the early phase.  I begin to wonder if my age or credit score are playing into employers’ decisions not to even interview me.  It is extremely frustrating as prior to this I have never had a problem securing a new position.  It is also very depressing.

Inasmuch as I try to put on my Pollyanna face in this blog, proclaiming our tiny trailer to be sufficient, I am sure no one really believes that I think it can meet the needs of a family of 5 indefinitely. Living in this small space on a paltry, inadequate income (unemployment) is unbelievably difficult and has affected our health and outlook on life.  We are irritable, and pessimistic.  I don’t know how much longer I can continue in this situation and I feel certain it would be better for the children if we didn’t.  Too bad the options are so limited.

It’s that time of year (and decade) again.  Time to look ahead, consider options, make plans!  I was never a big resolution maker and the ones I made tended to be fairly pedestrian and generally remained unrealized.  But I‘ve always been a big planner and dreamer.  I loved looking ahead, imagining what the year would bring.  Naturally all the changes I imagined were positive ones!  Maybe a promotion, fun vacations, new friends, satisfying home projects, another kid 🙂 …  All my dreams were however rooted in the reality of my life- they weren’t ‘what if I won the lottery?’ style fantasies, they were positive plans for reasonable and achievable goals.

This is one of those many aspects of life currently lost to me.  As much as the key to happiness is supposedly living in the moment (anyone remember the est training and ‘be here now’?) it’s an attitude I’ve adopted not to be happy, but because it’s the only way I can live these days.  One day at a time.  I focus on the basics- food, laundry, job search, getting the kids to and from school.  My planning consists of figuring out whether we have food and money for gas and if I can squeeze a little extra money out of the unemployment check for one of the collection agencies that hound us.  While other people are making plans for summer vacation I can’t even schedule a haircut or dental appointment.  I don’t know if I’ll have the money to pay for it when the appointment comes around.

My ability to plan for the future is stymied by forces outside my control and frankly I find trying to plan depressing.  The downward spiral we are in has dug us into a hole that looks harder and harder to get out of.  If I got a job tomorrow, oh it would be a wonderful blessing and relief, but it’s going to be an uphill climb to recover financially and re-establish ourselves as an average American family (to the extent that we ever were).  The kids talk about getting a house again but I wonder if that will ever be possible for us.  I suspect this recession is going to create long-lasting, perhaps permanent scars on many thousands of Americans- life savings wiped out, credit ruined, health impaired by medical issues gone uncared for, children marked by the stigma of free lunches and food stamps and affected by the constant parental mantra of “there’s no money for that.”

So I won’t be making New Year’s Resolutions.  I just don’t know what to plan for.

Box Car Kids

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