What Becomes of the Unemploy-ed?: From Movin' On Up to Scratchin' and Survivin'

posted Mar 14, 2013, 2:09 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Mar 28, 2013, 3:41 PM ]

This is essentially another “lost” piece. It was originally submitted to a digital magazine a couple months ago but they had more content than space for that particular issue and couldn’t run it. But this is why I have my own website.

I intend for this to be my last piece about unemployment as I’ve said about all I can say about how impossible the job search has become when you have education and experience but no real reputation, no solid contacts (as opposed to just people you know) and a work history that reeks of instability. We get it, I'm frustrated. I'm moving on. 

That said, keep in mind that no matter what numbers the National Labor Statistics Board reports about how reduced jobless claims signal a recovering economy or that all these new jobs have been created, a walk down any major street of any major U.S. city will show you evidence to contrary. Talk to ten of your friends and I would stake my life that at least two of them are unemployed or underemployed. Extrapolate that over adult U.S. population and those are your real statistics.

A lot of people have given up looking for jobs, which is understandable after the 18-month mark when the calls stop coming in (if they ever did at all). It’s quite amazing how every job board lists hundreds of jobs that never seem to get filled for any number of reasons or, more likely, were all but filled before the listing when up in the first place. 

A lot of jobs have simply been reclassified so as to count as a new job while other new jobs are mostly being filled by people coming in from other jobs. After all, even in these tenuous times with a job market everyone knows is in the shitter, there is still a stigma to employment gaps. Even if you fill it with some sort of experience, it won’t be seen as having value because it may not have been paid or you set out to gain in on your own. So the long-unemployed are still being considered undesirable because a lot of the prevailing mindsets don’t evolve with the times:

Case in point #1 – the concept of being “overqualified”. It’s idiotic. At the sixth and ninth month of unemployment,                                  maybe. But after a year, not so much. People need a job. It’s simple as that. Just because they’ve been a paper-pusher for ten years doesn’t mean they’re too good to make a goddamn latte.

Case in point #2 – the fear that people coming from a certain background taking on shit survival work will leave as soon as something better comes along. It’s also idiotic – for two reasons: once again, after six or nine months of unemployment, maybe. But after a year, people just want to work and it doesn’t matter what they do as long as they can eat, pay rent and keep up with bills. It’s simple as that. Besides, someone of less experience and accomplishments can just as easily come in, stay two months and then leave because they either want to do something else or they just don’t care. So playing the odds in their favor is once again a flawed and outdated mindset.

For those who have not been unemployed for long stretches of time within in the last ten years or even the last five years, this is probably quite incomprehensible. After all, there are always temp agencies, grocery stores, coffee shops, restaurants, etc. Maybe so, but when THEY become competitive and become selective about who they hire, there’s a problem.

So most of the still-unemployed have reached Plan Z without no other options and no idea what else to do. Where are the answers then? There are none. There are just perfectly qualified people falling through the cracks. They worked hard but hit a series of devastating bumps in the road – in many cases, through no fault of their own. Sometimes things just happen and shit just sucks. They’re not lazy. They’re not too good. They’re just having a hard time and trying to figure out what to do with few resources, if any at all, to fall back on.

So in the absence of actually being able to help, just be understanding. In the absence of understanding, have some compassion. In the absence of either, keep it to yourself.

All this being said, the below piece is about a nameless, faceless young man who finds himself in a situation where he has to make a radical decision to avoid the streets or moving in with his parents:

A college-educated early thirtysomething gets laid off from a job and essentially his nearly decade-long career in a shrinking, struggling-to-evolve industry he has labored in since graduating college. The job wasn’t the best paying, but it afforded the young man a nice one-bedroom apartment and an active social life.

The young man takes this new opportunity to pursue a longstanding passion, which ultimately does not prove as financially sustaining as he had hoped.

Rather than attempt to launch some sort of career comeback, the young man opts instead to secure some shit survival work until he can figure out what to do next. You know the type of work – hourly, temporary and most likely to be in some customer service capacity. He sets his mind on a local, neighborhoody coffee shop or café.

To cover his bases, the young man utilizes the typical job search conventions of the day. He posts a resume on Career Builder and Monster just in case a not-so-shitty salaried job should happen to fall into his lap. He checks their job listings every couple of days, but offerings aren’t as great as their Super Bowl commercials would portend. If the young man were interested in and skilled in business-to-business sales or insurance sales, he’d be set. Still, he does his due diligence by submitting himself for the occasional job for which he believes he is perfectly qualified but must not be qualified enough. 

Several friends suggested the young man also sign up with a few temp agencies. While they may have had success with them, the young man has not. Ever. But he signs up with a few anyway if for no other reason than to prove himself correct about their utter uselessness to him.

Sometimes the young man hates being right. One temp agency told him they couldn’t place him for lack of specific administrative experience (because eight years in an office setting renders one unable to make copies, send faxes, set up meetings and file shit). Another was completely unresponsive. A third contacted him but ultimately had nothing for him. And a fourth was just as useless as the previous three.

Then there was Craig’s List. The young man had his doubts about the caliber of jobs being listed on there, but he’d previously found some decent apartments on the site so thought that perhaps he would find something tolerable by way of a job.

But perhaps not, as the rate of response was just low as that on Career Builder and Monster. The young man began to notice something about the job listings: employers were looking for specific types of experience (such as making killer lattes) while the young man had general experience in several different areas (such as customer service, advertising and administrative). Though the necessary skills (works well with others, professionalism and able to establish relationships) were transferrable and easy to build upon or customize for each specific type of work, employers didn’t seem to see it the same way.

This put the young man in an interesting vortex of job searching hell – too qualified for the coffee shop/café work he was actively going for, too inexperienced in making lattes, too long out of his previous career to go back, but lacking the basic knowledge to enter into a new career such as technology or online marketing.

The resourceful young man decides to alter his approach and expand the scope of his search beyond a specific area. He’d always heard of pounding the pavement as being something people did many moons ago when, as he had been told, you could just walk into an office unannounced or without an appointment, drop off a resume and actually be seriously considered for any current or future openings. You might even get an interview. Hell, you might actually get a job.

He’d also heard of this thing called a “Help Wanted” sign that stores and restaurants would post in their windows. In those days, you walked in and asked to fill out an application. Perhaps you got the job on the spot, or maybe you had to come back and meet with someone. Then a decision would be made.

But what the young man found in his pavement pounding were instructions to fill out an application online, submit a resume online, leave a resume (yes, even for café jobs) or come in during certain hours to drop off a resume. The first time the young man did the latter, he was rejected on the spot -- for a runner/busser position.

As was the case with Career Builder, Monster and Craig’s List, the rate of response was frustratingly low.

Then the young man got to thinking that some places just don’t put out “Help Wanted” but may be hiring. So in his explorations, the young man made notes of places he’d like to work at, checked out their website for job openings and applied. In the absence of such he’d send a resume with a note asking about their formal application process.

Strangely, he found a modicum of success, at least in terms of a response, with this approach – but still no job. Some places were staffed up, others weren’t hiring and one scheduled an interview with him only to cancel it half an hour later because they had just hired a couple of people.

Now out of ideas, with no leads and no better for wear, the young man must simply continue to spin his wheels just in case a job somehow manifests even though he fears that is not going to happen. Because there are two truths working against him: it is indeed easier to find a job when you have one…

Sidebar: this never made any sense to anyone with any in the first place. Why wouldn’t you hire someone who’s been out of work for some time? They’re clearly going to be more enthusiastic about working and ready to hit the ground running. Someone coming off another job is just going to be worn out from that previous job. Why else would they be leaving it? And who is going to be in need of a vacation first? The person coming off an extended one or the person who hasn’t had one in two years?

…and you really have to know someone to get in anywhere – even a local coffee shop or café. The young man knows a lot of people, but a lot of those people are in his same boat as he.

Where does this leave the young man?

It leaves him with a college degree, a decade of professional work experience, strong interpersonal skills, a great personality, innate capabilities to learn quickly, versatility to work within a team, ability to work on his own and a track record of making the most of any position he holds.

But still unable to find any work – which meant the young man had to move out of the one-bedroom apartment he really liked. And because he steadfastly refuses to move back home, the young man now sleeps on a really good friend’s couch (and is eternally grateful to this friend), eats very cheaply (and rather sporadically), and wonders how the next several weeks will play out.

There is a third truth, though. The young man has only found one job by actually looking – and that was eighteen years ago. While this doesn’t mean he will stop looking, this realization constitutes the lone, miniscule glimpse of hope for those next several weeks. Like the last job he had, which fell into his lap out of nowhere through a headhunter who happened upon his resume online, lightning could strike thrice.

This, or finding a job is just a LOT different than it was eighteen years ago and the young man just needs to continue to adapt. Or he could just abandon the job search altogether because either way, he loses out.

Occasionally, the young man wonders where he went wrong. At which point in his life did things take this ever-deteriorating turn? Maybe he shouldn’t have taken that one job. Or that other job. Or moved to that place. Or moved to that other place. Or moved back to that first place only to leave again and then return.

Perhaps the young man’s biggest problem has nothing to do with him. Perhaps the young man would have fared better as a cute young blond chippie with a narrow waist, flat stomach, skinny legs and big tits without the good sense God gave a goose.

Maybe he shouldn’t have tried to put down roots anywhere and just lived everywhere until he landed somewhere because he clearly doesn't belong anywhere. But either way, something’s wrong. Or nothing’s wrong and he’s just waiting his turn for things to right themselves (0ne never truly understands what’s really going on until looking back on it from the other side.)

So the young man has decided to just live everywhere until he lands somewhere. He certainly knows enough people in enough places to temporarily call their home his. And who knows? Maybe this is exactly what he needs to scratch his way back on up. Anything is possible and good, bad or indifferent -- anything can happen.