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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.

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 Salon.com 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 Salon.com 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?

Thank you all for your kind comments about my writing.  From a very young age I have always enjoyed writing and as an adult  have written technical papers and reports in my field and a novel (unpublished) but have never written a non-fiction, biographical book.  Nevertheless I am inspired to consider it, and yesterday (with your donations) picked up two books from Borders – one on writing a bullet-proof book proposal, and another on becoming a freelance writer.  Truthfully I’d be happier making a living (if one can) as a writer than in my profession where I’d risen to the place where long hours, travel and high stress were job requirements! 

But before I get to work on a book (or book proposal) I think I need to email Rep. Bunning about his blocking the extension of jobless benefits.  According to the New York Times, Mr. Bunning has single-handedly blocked consideration of a bill to extend expiring unemployment and related health benefits for 30 days, arguing that the Senate should first find a way to pay for the expense. 

“I don’t know how you negotiate with the irrational,” Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, told reporters at an informal morning briefing. “I don’t know how you prevent one person who decides they hold in the palm of their hand the livelihood of hundreds of thousands who have lost their jobs.”

Unless Mr. Bunning relents, it appears that the added unemployment pay will lapse for tens of thousands of people.

The Washington Post quoted Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) as saying “It’s going to create hardship across America.” He said Bunning’s action would result in 400,000 people nationwide going without an unemployment check, with that number rising each day.

“It’s hard to argue with a senator who wants to become fiscally responsible, and we should be paying for as much as possible,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) according to McClatchy. “I respect the right of each senator to hold up major legislation. However, when it comes to unemployment benefits, I don’t think it’s fair to punish people who’ve already lost their jobs.”

It is so disheartening that people in the most dire of straits have become pawns in this political game.  For many of us without jobs, our jobless benefits (which we paid into as workers, some (like me) for decades) are our only income.  Blocking benefits for 30 days might strike Mr. Bunning as a benign way to call attention to the Federal deficit but I can assure you that it will mean that many more people will slide that much closer to foreclosures, to homelessness, to going hungry and sleeping on the street.  Those who can will dip into their meager savings to pay the mortgage, rent, utilities and other bills, but those who live from benefit check to benefit check will forego paying bills, damaging their credit and falling further behind on their obligations.  It will mean more anxiety, sleepless nights, and tension in families. Another hit on our waning hope. We really don’t need this Mr. Bunning.

“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’.

We of the sinking middle class may sink without further struggles into the working class where we belong, and probably when we get there it will not be so dreadful as we feared, for, after all, we have nothing to lose.

George Orwell (1903-1950) British novelist, essayist, and critic.

Think about this.   There were foreclosure filings reported on 2.8 Million U.S. properties in 2009, a 21 percent increase in total properties from 2008 and a 120 percent increase in total properties from 2007.  The prediction for 2010 is more of the same.  And yet at the same time apartment vacancy rates are up nationwide – hitting a 30-year high of  -8 percent nationally in the fourth quarter of 2009,  even though in many areas rents have decreased.  Some vacancies are due to foreclosures of the rental properties themselves with renters being displaced during the process. But others are due to apartment dwellers who are favorably positioned to take advantage of the low home prices, moving out and purchasing a home of their own. 

The number of renters prepared to purchase (and able to get a loan) is far fewer than the number of people who are losing their homes so we aren’t exactly talking about a real-life episode of ‘Trading Spaces.’  And that disparity in numbers means there are houses that are uninhabited. Abandoned homes aren’t just eyesores or social art (see http://www.kevinbauman.com/100abandonedhouses/ and http://www.onlykent.com/20100203/home-encased-in-ice-by-two-artists-us-housing-crisis/), they are also becoming prime targets for thieves and havens for squatters- some involved in criminal activity, according to a report by the advocacy group ACORN. 

In an editorial in the NY Times titled “Slumurbia” the author describes the fate of a development built on the bulge of the real estate bubble:

“Dirty flags advertise rock-bottom discounts on empty starter mansions. On the ground, foreclosure signs are tagged with gang graffiti. Empty lots are untended, cratered with mud puddles from the winter storms that have hammered California’s San Joaquin Valley.

Nobody is home in the cities of the future.”

So there houses that are uninhabited, and apartments sitting vacant; where have all the people gone?  According to one recent study titled “Foreclosure to Homelessness 2009; the forgotten victims of the subprime crisis,” the majority are living with friends and family; staying in emergency shelters; in motels; in transitional housing; and on the street.  A minority are living in another house that they rent or own.

Why are so many people failing to find a stable place to live even though apartment vacancies are up and rents are down? The answer seems to be in part that at least some of the people who have lost their homes have also lost their jobs.  And in the process they’ve probably used up their liquid assets trying to keep their house, or had bills they couldn’t pay due to loss of income.  So they end up without a job, without a home, without assets and without good credit.  Try finding a landlord that will rent to you under those circumstances. 

People who only a short while ago were employed, housed, members of the middle class are now living on the streets!  As one respondent in the above mentioned study on foreclosure to homelessness remarked,

“This should not be happening. We were the middle class and now we are poverty stricken. We had two cars, money in the bank and a reasonable mortgage. My husband is an electrician and simply cannot find a job anywhere.  On September 12, 2008 my husband’s company sent everyone home. The company could no longer afford to pay their employees. We have had no money coming in since then and absolutely no prospects. Our savings is all gone… our home is being auctioned off. So much for the American Dream.”

Since it seems difficult to get people back into homes or apartments, some communities have begun to recognize the need to accommodate people who live in a vehicle of some sort. In Santa Barbara, California, a public sleeping-in-cars program has been in place for years.  Other communities, while railing at the growing number of homeless, continue to remain rigid in their views of appropriate housing.  Just south of Santa Barbara, officials from the city of Ventura, announced last year a pilot version of the same program, on a smaller scale on private lots, but ran into opposition from residents and business owners concerned over safety and sanitation. Citing similar concerns, the city of Camarillo banned the practice outright.  Sleeping in cars is better than being on the street.  But it’s no way to live.  It’s potentially dangerous, cramped, cold in the winter months, and lacks privacy or any sort of bathroom or kitchen facility. 

Lately I’ve come across, or have been sent, articles about other families who have lost their homes and who have, like us, resorted to living in RVs or travel trailers.  Like the Renaults who are one homeless family among more than 20 living in an RV park in Tennessee; or the Teels in Las Vegas who live in a 25-foot travel trailer with their teenaged daughter.

Following hurricane Katrina charities launched nation-wide drives asking for donations of RVs to provide housing for victims of the disaster.  Lately charitable organizations have done the same thing for the newly homeless, generally on an individual basis as with the small Ojai charity that donated a decades-old, but still working, recreational vehicle to a homeless healthcare-giver and single mother.  Great idea. But unless you have a place to park it, you have a house on wheels with no place to call home! Parking is just one aspect.  A lot of travel trailers, like ours, are not ‘self-contained’, that is we have no generator for electricity.  At the park we are hooked up to an electrical outlet and to water and sewer.  Even self-contained RVs need a dump station to periodically empty the grey and black water tanks when they are full. 

There are so many people who opt for trailers upon losing their homes that there’s a page at the Got Trouble website with ‘how to’ information for those choosing that option!  They don’t deal with the downside, however, such as the fact that many RV parks won’t let you in if your rig is old – and old is relative.  There’s one park near us that has a cut off of 3-years!  And anything older than 10-12 years isn’t allowed in any of the parks around here.  And in California you won’t find a campground that rents a space for the $10 a night mentioned in the article-try $35 to $50.  And while abandoned houses and vacant apartments abound there are relatively few RV Parks and those are diminishing in number – one near us has vacancies but can’t rent them because the park is slated to be demolished so that more houses can be built –  and fewer that allow long term parking.  RV parks, after all, are created to cater to a transient population – vacationers and retirees who are traveling around, seeing the country.  Most welcome pets but many are less than family friendly, lacking safe play areas for children.

I think RV living could be an excellent solution for many of those made newly homeless through foreclosure and job loss.  Particularly for families who have a vested interest in their community, want to maintain some semblance of continuity for their kids and don’t want to give up their pets.  Instead of trying to force these people into shelters or transitional housing with inflexible rules or impose public sleeping-in-cars programs on local residents, communities should look to developing or providing full-facility RV Parks.  Places with a reasonable rent, utility hook-ups, wireless internet and/or cable (gotta keep up those job searches after all), sanitation, laundry facilities and play areas for children.  They should relax the age restrictions on the rigs so people can park those ‘decades-old, but still working’ RVs in the park.  And they should hire some of those unemployed folks to manage the park, keep the grounds, and provide maintenance.  These parks could become stable and safe communities and for-profit business concerns- helping both the economy and the homeless.

I cruise the news online and listen to NPR during the day and my ears always perk up when there’s news about the economy. But boy, it’s hard to predict where the economy and job market are going to go – when the information changes so much from DAY to DAY!  For example on February 3rd (yesterday) Business Week had the following to say:

Companies in the U.S. cut an estimated 22,000 jobs in January, in line with forecasts, according to data from a private report based on payrolls.

The drop was the smallest in two years and followed a revised 61,000 decrease the prior month, data from ADP Employer Services showed today. ADP figures overstated the Labor Department’s estimate of private payroll losses by 500,000 in the six months to December.

“The trends are heading in a positive direction for the labor market,” said Russell Price, a senior economist at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Detroit who forecast ADP would show a decline of 30,000. “Businesses are becoming more confident that the economy does have legs.”

Woo-hoo!  The economy has legs!  I feel a glimmer of hope. Let’s get the economy running again!  And then today, February 4th,  CNN reports that according to the Labor Department weekly report there were 480,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week that ended Jan. 30. This is the highest level since Dec. 12 and up 8,000 from an upwardly revised 472,000 the previous week.  What happened to those legs?  How can we make sense of these reports when one day things are looking up and the next day the job news sends the Dow plunging?

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 retiredbrains.com 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). http://www.nationalhomeless.org/factsheets/families.html

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.

If I won’t relocate, and I’m reluctant to do so at this point since relocating is involved and expensive when you have a family, my job options locally are limited.  I have applications in to the two currently listed jobs in my field and have branched out to apply for a non-profit job that interested me.  Sadly I’ve already heard from the latter- they had 175 applicants, and although I made it to stage 2, someone else was offered the position. 

I comb the job listings daily, as well as having established job searches and searchable resumes on several sites like monster.com.  Surprisingly there are a lot of local listings.  Even after I filter out the jobs I have no qualifications for like product engineer, LVN, RN, Instructor in Radiological Technology, behavioral therapist, and barber there are still plenty of options.  So next I discard all the jobs that pay minimum wage since those jobs would not support a family of 5 and are actually a pay cut from unemployment!  Let’s see- that leaves… jobs with a bilingual requirement, jobs that pay better than minimum wage but require 3-5 years of experience in theparticular field (insurance, dental front office, bar back, tennis instructor, paralegal, etc.), the miscellaneous stuff like weight loss study seeks volunteers, personal assistant to do house cleaning and grocery shopping 5 hours a week, sales of all sorts- commission only, psychic, dog sitter and various work at home scams.  I feel so inadequate.  How can there be so many jobs that I just can’t apply for or have no hope of getting if I do apply?

I did send an email in response to an ad for a manager of a self storage facility because it came with free housing and a storage unit but of course my resume doesn’t put me at the front of the line. 

I wonder if it’s worth retraining for another career at my age?

After the New Year I plan to re-evaluate the idea of relocation.

Becoming unintentionally unemployed after working continually for the past 30+ years was a shock to my system.  Losing our home at the same time was a double whammy.  Oddly the second of those shocks seemed to cushion the first for me.  I might not have had an office to go into, or projects to run, and deadlines to meet, but I had problems that needed solving so I had work to do.  Belongings needed to be culled, organized and stored.  Camping equipment had to be acquired, reservations made at nearby campgrounds and the mini-van carefully loaded (we removed the middle row of seats to make this work) with tents, sleeping bags, coolers, and a camp stove while leaving room for four children and two dogs. And then we had to live in tents, moving periodically as one campsite or another filled up, packing and unpacking the van, setting up and taking down the campsite.  Just dealing with cooking and trying to keep clean and safe all summer was enough of a job.

I didn’t have time to miss work; the day-to-day activities and the anxieties about our safety, finances and future gave me plenty to think about.  After 2 months in tents, we managed to purchase our ‘boxcar,’ moved in on September 1st and things changed.  Life became much easier- we had a snug and secure base, cooking and bathroom facilities, even a radio and CD player.  We didn’t have to move every week or 10 days, and the kids went back to school and I had more time on my hands.  And I started to notice what I was missing.  Some small things, some not so small.

Starting with something minor – I really miss bubble baths!  Lengthy soaking in warm scented bubbles, unwinding and relaxing.  No more of that.  The kids and I bathe (shower) infrequently in the public showers here at the park or at the YMCA.  We do have a shower/small tub in the trailer but we also have a 6-gallon water heater and very pathetic water pressure.  And the tub acts as storage for laundry bags, and recycling so bathing there just isn’t practical.

Adult conversations would be right up there on my list.  With the exception of less than a handful of friends, my conversations with other adults have been severely reduced. I strike up conversations with people in line at the grocery store or changing in the YMCA locker room with great regularity now.  And I have to say those conversations are somewhat more superficial than those I used to have with co-workers.

Money.  Well that would be a big ‘duh!’ wouldn’t it?  Our income has diminished considerably to the point that our monthly expenses of rent, utilities, food, gas and storage fees pretty much equal or exceed it.  There’s nothing left over for the book order forms that come home from school, the ice cream truck that patrols the school boundaries, the birthday gifts required to accept the invitations that we receive. The kids begin to ask a question- can we buy something, go somewhere, do something…, and then answer it themselves with ‘no, we don’t have any money.’   I agree with sorrow, guilt and resentment.  ‘No, there’s no money for that.’ 

Insurance. I really miss insurance.  We have health needs that can’t be treated as there’s just no money for it- I need new glasses, my blood pressure was 167/96 last time I checked at the drugstore, my daughter has a cavity that needs filling, and two kids need vaccinations updated.  Just minor stuff that we can let slip for a bit, but the fear of anything more troublesome arising weighs on me.

A sense of purpose, of identity.  Funny how you become defined by what you do.  As a child you tend to be characterized by your aptitudes- you might be athletic, artistic, intellectual, or by your personality- funny, competitive, smart- but by the time you’ve been in the workforce for a couple decades you are just what you do.  When you no longer hold a job what are you?  Rewriting your resumé and trolling job sites for potential leads does not give you that sense of identity. 

OK- so this is the part of the post where I write about whatever silver lining I can squeeze out of the dark cloud.  That will have to follow in a future post.  Some days the dark closes out the light.

Box Car Kids

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