The View From Your Recession

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

I lost my job in May. I finally got an interview with an out of state firm last week.  The thought of moving my family across the country was hard enough to consider. They made me an offer. It would be a cut over my last job but still it would provide health insurance – heck they even would chip in on living expenses.  Talked to my real estate agent today.  We are under water by about twelve thousand. My choices are stay unemployed or walk away from the house. I have till tomorrow to make this choice.

The View From Your Recession, Ctd

A reader writes:

I work for the Texas Workforce Commission and am familiar with a few other state's eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits. Based on what your reader said, she may be eligible for UI benefits. Just because her work was "project based" does not automatically render her ineligible. I don't know what state she lives in, but it wouldn't render her ineligible in Texas and many other states. In Texas, if someone is hired for a definite period, and the work ends as anticipated, they can receive benefits barring some other disqualifying factor. This upsets many employers who end up having to pay benefits, but the statutes and precedents are clear on this point. Under these circumstances the claimant (that's what we call people who apply for UI benefits) will get benefits.

I won't bore you with further details re UI benefit eligibility in Texas. But unless she was told by whichever agency administers her state's UI benefits that she is ineligible, she shouldn't assume that she is ineligible without applying.

The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

I worked hard to build a career that led to becoming a vice president of an international design firm.  And I worked hard to build a successful business for the seven years after I left them.  My industry, the architectural design industry, and especially large design firms, have seen cumulative layoffs from anywhere between 40 to 70% during the last three years. 

I'm a single parent with primary custody and I don't receive child support.  Also, I don't get unemployment because I've been self employed. One other also: I don't have a college degree.

I'd never had to apply for a job since I was in my late teens/early twenties.  I was lucky enough over the last twenty-five plus years that people recognized my hard work and skills and offered me jobs before I ever even looked at want ads.  In the last fourteen months, after I realized I could no longer make a living in my specialty, I haven't had so much luck. 

I've applied for hundreds of jobs.  During that time, I've worked in a warehouse, written copy for websites and hammered nails as a carpenter.

All of those jobs were project based meaning no long term prospects or benefits or unemployment eligibility.  To be clear, I have not been fired or quit any of those jobs. The healthcare insurance for me and my son has gone up 29% in the meantime.  I used to eke into a six figure income.  Now I'm happy to get a short term $15 an hour job because it means, with lots of Ramen noodles and little air conditioning/heat, I can keep a roof over my son's head.

Some politicians, and the number of them seems to grow daily, are claiming I'm lazy because I couldn't get a job.  I've found jobs!  None are of the type the politicians are alluding to apparently. McDonald's or entry/mid level employers won't hire me because I've had too much success in my past and others won't because, despite my proven accomplishments, I don't have a college degree. 

I'm not a special case.  There are hundreds of thousands of people like me.  We're not taking year-long vacations!  We're scared about not having the gas or a car to get our kids to school or to the extremely rare job interview (I've only had three in over a year).  We're spending sleepless nights worrying about nourishing our kids so they aren't distracted in school by hunger pangs, and how to buy new shoes as they grow out of the last pair, and how to not show them our deep anxiety about what next month brings.  We're frantically exploring whether we have enough money left to buy the time to sell our homes in a deeply depressed housing market and where we can find housing if we do…or don't. 

I do have good news though.  I recently accepted a job as senior account manager for a small firm.  It's a full time position with benefits and lots of incentives.  I'll even be managing the efforts of others.  Ten bucks an hour.

The View From Your Recession

by Chris Bodenner

A reader writes:

I've been relatively isolated from the recession.  I'm employed, my friends are employed, and my young adult children have found jobs.  But that isolation ended this month when the nonprofit I work at advertised for a 30 hr/week Administrative Assistant.  We received 180 applicants – easily three times what I would have expected.  Well over half were qualified.  The process of narrowing the list down to seven for interviews was close to arbitrary.   Four of the seven had been laid off over a year ago.  The other three had had their hours cut or expected to be laid off.  Most of those we interviewed had trouble disguising their desperation.  The person we hired had been laid off a year ago and was thrilled to take a job paying 40% less – barely enough to pay for a one-bedroom apartment.  The second-runner up had to get off the phone as she burst into tears.  Three others we interviewed wanted to know if there was anything they had done wrong.  They REALLY wanted to know.  In thirty years of hiring I have never experienced anything like this.

One way I coped was by being very kind.  I made sure to promptly acknowledge all applications and received repeated thank you emails for doing so.  I hear again and again that people have applied dozens of times without ever hearing anything.  I made sure to talk personally to all those we interviewed but didn't hire.  Their gratitude was palpable.

The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

I am a small business owner in New York City. At the beginning of the recession, I had a handful of part-time employees who got paid cash under the table, as they freelanced or worked other jobs. My best employee lost his main gig and asked me for help. I cut the rest of the employees and put him on payroll. I allotted more work-hours than I really needed, but he was in a jam and I believed that I would see a return on the investment.

A year and a half later, the investment has not born as much fruit as I had hoped. There's simply not enough work to support the position. Meanwhile hungry, overqualified people drop me resumes and beg for part time work. Our financial picture is still perilous and I have simply come to the conclusion that I can (and that I must) get the same work product for less money from people who will be happy to do it. The employment pool is so good that I'm going to kill a real job – full time, on the books – for under-the-table work from someone who will likely be far overqualified for it.

So I agree with Hale Stewart that it's a win-win for employers. But I don't think it's very good for the country overall.

The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

Once you quoted someone who referred to the self-employed as being "on their own" because they don't receive unemployment benefits. If memory serves, you have not yet run an email from one of those people, so I thought I might as well do it.

I am a self-employed commercial artist, who "went freelance" in 2002. For five or six years I was able to round up enough work from various magazine and ad agency clients (many of whom you would recognize) to earn a half-way decent living. I've never been anything more than solidly middle-class, but I was able to pay my bills, occasionally put some money away for a rainy day, and once in a while take my longtime girlfriend out to a nice dinner.

Starting in 2008, I noticed the budgets I was used to were getting reduced. Jobs that used to bring around 2K suddenly were being offered to me for $800.00. Not wanting to piss off regular clients or miss the chance to have my work out there, I took the work. Doing this of course meant I had to take in a lot more work just to stay afloat.

Since then, it has only gotten worse.

Budgets got slashed even more, and some clients have folded up shop entirely. I am now deeply in debt. While I am still able to pick up jobs here and there, there are weeks that go by where I have nothing to do. I keep busy by working a part-time retail job, but they only need me for a few hours a week so it barely makes a difference.

Being a freelance artist has been my life-long dream; it's the only thing I've ever wanted to do since I was a child. I stayed focused and graduated from art school, and stuck with it all through my 20s, even though I never could land any work. But I told myself that if I just kept at, eventually I'd "make it."

Well, it seemed like I did … for a while. But now I lay awake at night, wondering how I'm going to pay my bills and get out the massive debt I've accrued. I've been willing to chuck it all if I could find a full-time graphic designer job, but from the listings I've seen on various job sites, any place hiring also wants their graphic designers to have skill sets completely unrelated to being an artist (like being an IT guy) – presumably to save money by having two positions filled by one person.

There's no government unemployment benefits to help me through this; I am truly on my own.

The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

Today I receive my last unemployment check. I've used up all available extensions. My position was eliminated on Feb. 1, 2009. Since then I've diligently searched for work. I have a MA and 23 years experience. I've had three interviews and no offers. My savings, including retirement, is gone. I had to sell my house. I've moved from Michigan to Massachusetts into the home of my parents, who at 81 and 71 live on their investments (which have been dwindling in this economy.) At a time when I should be getting ready for my retirement and taking care of my parents, I'm back at square one.

This is certainly not where I had planned to be. This is certainly not the American dream I was raised to believe in, one whose premise is that if you work hard, get a good education, you will succeed.

I try to remain positive. It's difficult when I read articles about companies refusing to hire anyone who is unemployed or about how slow the recovery is or about how many young folks are graduating from college and are now competing for the same positions to which I'm applying. I am doing all I can, reaching out, networking, doing pro-bono work, and taking an internship at a non-profit I love commuting two and a half hours each day to get to the office. To keep myself in balance, I constantly read and think about those around the world whose struggles are greater than mine. Haitians, Afghans, Iraqis, and other Americans who struggle with lack of food, education and life's basic resources. There but for God, go you or I.

The Views From Their Recessions

Sam Biddle, an unemployed class of 2010 Philosophy major in NYC, is having a rough go of it:

At what point do I stop checking Craigslist? Why is there an ad for "MYSTERY SHOPPING" in the "writing/editing jobs" category? How much is their purported “nominal compensation”? A ten dollar per diem? A bag of buttons? A punch in the throat? “THIS IS NOT A FREE MEAL!," the ad warns. Well, then. Forget it! Why does this company leave the ‘i’ in ‘iNC’ uncapitalized? Perhaps this is some sort of test—for a prospective mystery shopper-slash-editor? What other horrors can I spot? I wonder if the person who wrote “boutique mystery shopping company seeks strong writers” felt as sad writing that as I do reading it.

Sounds like he should shop at Ross.

The View From Your Recession


A reader writes:

I work at a semi conductor company in the Dallas suburbs. We ate shit in 2008 after eating shit in painful restructuring of our own doing in 2007. We went from 21 people to 13, with the survivors taking a 50% pay cut for half of '08. The average age of our company has to be close to 60, so a lot of seniors looked at their 401(k)s wondering if there was another paycheck coming or how long they could hold their breath. As the controller I got a front row ticket in the raft going over the waterfall.

The last eight months, however, have been the best in the company's 30-year history. Sales are up 70%. Our pay is back to normal and we hired our fourth new employee on Monday.  I attribute our success to pent-up customer budgets and being one of the few surviving competitors in our market.

Another writes:

I dropped a suit off at the dry cleaners on Monday, and noticed this sign – a small but neat gesture from a dry cleaning outfit in Portland, OR

The View From Your Recession

A reader writes:

I’m a graphic designer living near a large city in the Pacific Northwest. I graduated from college a year ago with my BA and I’ve been looking for paid work ever since. I’m originally from Australia and came here to study, so I’m still on a student visa that dictates I find work in the field of my major (design and photography) while I wait for my permanent residency to come through.

Finding work has been an exercise in the impossible. In the last year, between applying for positions in person, online, by mail, cold calling, and in many cases simply going door to door at creative agencies and trying to seek work directly from business owners, I’ve applied for about 60 positions. I’ve gotten lucky enough to score a job interview twice (without luck), and I managed a 3 month unpaid internship late last year, but it led nowhere since – surprise! – they couldn’t afford to hire me at the end of it. Right now I help a friend run her fledgling photo business just for something to keep busy – but again, it’s unpaid.

I have a strong portfolio, a good work ethic, am personable – hell, I even have the Aussie accent going for me. Ultimately it leads nowhere. My experience thus far suggests that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve accomplished or what your skills are – if you were unfortunate enough to graduate or find yourself looking for work in the last two years then it sucks to be you.

The speed with which rejection comes is absolutely astonishing. Thinking along the same lines as the career counselor that was featured last week, I thought that applying in person, portfolio under arm and dressed to impress would be a good idea. Even if there weren’t any immediate openings, surely the act of being bold enough to walk in uninvited would count for something, and I could (hopefully) put a face to my name and be a first port call when something comes along. While I’m sure this works in normal circumstances, it assumes there will be job openings at some point. Thus far, that hasn’t been the case.

Most times I’ve tried this approach I’ve been rejected before I’ve even had a chance to offer a business card or show my portfolio, the reality being that most creative agencies have seen downturns of near 50% (since their health relies entirely on the health of other businesses to buy new ad campaigns and the like) and they can barely find enough work for the designers left standing. Even when I offer to work for free, on the assumption that it could lead to work later down the line, I’m still rejected on the basis that even if I was given an unpaid position, there’s not enough work for me to have anything to do!

I don’t begrudge any of these businesses their rejections of me, as most have been nice enough to review my portfolio and take a resume after explaining their hiring situation. Most of them like my work. I’m told frequently that if they were hiring, I’d be an ideal candidate.

I dropped in to see one of my professors two months back, curious to see how other graduates were doing. She’d always been particularly nice to her students, and took a keen interest in her students’ lives after graduation. My graduating class was somewhere between 30-35 students, and I was eager to find out if I was crazy, or if this was somehow normal. I found out that of my graduating class, only two of us had found work. The best part? One of those people was me – she was counting my unpaid internship. The other fellow who’d found “work” had also received an unpaid internship, but like myself, had been cut when it expired as his agency couldn’t afford to hire him either.

During my internship, I remember one of my co-workers telling me about their previous intern, an incredibly talented young woman who’d produced some of the best work they’d ever seen. My co-worker had just been to Starbucks, where said intern had served her and wished her a nice day. The sad part is after a year of looking for something, anything paid, I would relish that opportunity.

I’ve never been someone who believes that work is easy, that life will suddenly make sense after graduation or that a perfect career will drop into my lap. Getting your career in order should be a challenge. Climbing the ladder of life should take time. But you need a rung to start from, and right now there’s a lot of ladders out there without rungs.