The Life and Times of the Long-Term Unemployed


Someone, somewhere, is finding out today that they have lost their job by no fault of their own. They have not been laid-off, they have been terminated. A harsh word: terminated. A harsh notion that there is no job to go back to, that the job still exists, but has moved to a distant shore. Building closed, property up for sale, some lights are on but nobody’s home. Only memories remain of what once was. Thank you for your dedication, but your service is no longer required. You will be angry. You will be upset. You will believe that you will find another job tomorrow. And tomorrow never comes.

For this is not your Mother’s recession; this is the mother of all recessions. Reality begins to set in. You are now competing with millions of people for the slim number of new jobs that are being generated. Six people for every job on a good day. Hundreds of people for every job on a bad day. People with master’s degrees applying at McDonalds. You have fallen into a black hole from which you cannot escape: unemployment.

You wake up at 5:30 every morning to keep your work routine going, but your new job applying for work doesn’t pay very well. Your unemployment check gives you less than 50% of what you were earning in your old job. You can’t figure out how to meet your obligations to your creditors and feed your family. Depression creeps in as resumé after resumé that you have sent out is met with a rejection response or the dreaded no response at all. You realize that there is another black hole, the place where resumés go to die.

Time marches on but everything seems to remain the same. You repeat the same routine of reviewing job openings, crafting a cover letter, attaching a resumé, and answering questionnaire after questionnaire in a desperate effort to convince someone in cyberspace that you are the best candidate for the position. You now do this activity seven days a week. You struggle to keep the utilities on, to maintain your connection to the Internet and your phone on for that hopeful and welcome interview. All the while you are falling behind on your house and car payments. The phone is ringing, but it’s the bill collectors, not the job offers.

Now you have had your car repossessed and your home is in foreclosure. The good news is you don’t need the car or homeowners insurance anymore. You have officially joined millions of other American families — time to look for a place to rent while you still have some unemployment benefits left. You have sold most of your personal possessions just before the city shuts your yard sale down because they think you’re trying to run a retail business from your front lawn. You’ve got to laugh or you’ll cry. All the while you must keep sending out the resumés in quiet desperation. It can’t get worse and yet it does. The Senate filibusters a bill to extend unemployment just as your tier runs out and you now wait 7 weeks without an unemployment check. You borrow money from your children.

It’s been over 99 weeks now since you lost your job. Your government doesn’t care about you anymore. Without any source of income you apply for welfare. You get $87 a month in food stamps because they are under-funded. You move back in with your parents because you have no place else to go. They do not have an Internet connection so you have to go to the local library everyday now to research and apply for jobs. Every month approximately 200,000 people join your ranks of life without unemployment benefits. People call you useless, lazy and drug addicted. You are thankful that you are not like some others who are living on the streets.

You apply for SSI and you get enough money to eat and keep your phone number live. Can’t remember the last time you ate a meal out at a restaurant, and you’ve now eaten enough pasta to last you a lifetime. It seems that you’re too old to convince someone to hire you, and yet too young to collect Social Security. Pension and 401K money is long gone after trying to keep the house earlier in this journey. You are now virtually penniless. Haven’t had a haircut in months and you’ve used the same razor at least a hundred times. You tell yourself that worry is a misuse of the imagination. You’ve checked your pride at the door long ago. All you want anymore is a job, any job. No matter, the phone still doesn’t ring. And, someone, somewhere, is finding out today that they have lost their job by no fault of their own.

Scott Clark is a 57-year-old former director of operations for a Fortune 250 company, now living in Michigan. A version of this previously appeared at Email

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2010

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