In June of last year, BigHugeCo and I parted ways. It was jarring, but they had paid for part of my schooling and sent me away funding a summer vacation. I spent two weeks lounging in the hammock out back, drinking beer, and biking the Little Miami Trail. Despite the severance pay, it was back to work after that. The contract firms came a-callin’ and I heeded the call.
The plan was to get on somewhere, look for permanent work, and use the severance pay to off load a bunch of debt. Except the first place I went to had absolutely no clue what it wanted to do from day to day. I was miserable. Now, I’ve heard many people say, “You should be happy you got a job.” I also had severance pay.
Of course, that messes up unemployment, so back to contract work I went, this time for a hospital, then a cable manufacturer, then a dying airline. My last contract ended one day after I qualified for unemployment again. In the interim…
You know how they tell you to keep a little bit of money in the bank in case something happens? I had severance pay. And bad things happened – Blown transmission, an ER visit for Nita, the roof finally demanding our attention. So come the week of New Year’s Day…
It’s amazing how many hoops the unemployment office will make you jump through before sending you a check.
At first, the time off was fun. I could get caught up on my homework (Ha!), take my time looking for work, and watch James Bond flicks all day. Then the money coming in dried up before unemployment kicked in. That’s when it got scary.
Finally, the unemployment kicked in. Then it got boring.
I’ve been looking. And I’ve had interviews, two of them quite promising. But there’s a difference between getting laid off with a few weeks pay to cushion the fall and getting laid off and landing on the state doll. January is the worst month for this sort of thing. Hiring managers are usually out between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, or the managers they work for are. Then it takes two weeks for human resource departments to get back into the swing of things, by which time, we here in the States have a federal holiday. The week of Martin Luther King Day sees very few jobs posted on the job boards.
Coming out of the worst recession in years hasn’t helped either. Employers are skittish.
During my contracting phase, however, I noticed some disturbing trends, some of which may be keeping the unemployment numbers higher than they should be.
- Quite a few people said they wouldn’t take contract work because it messes up their unemployment.
“So how long were you out of work?”
“Unemployment is for six months, and your claim lasts a year.”
“I know. But I didn’t want to mess up my unemployment.”
“You know unemployment pays less than $400 a week. This pays [considerably more].”
- Confession time. I was paid above average for my job at BigHugeCo, mainly for longevity. For some reason, a lot of people refuse to take work that pays less even when they know they were damn lucky to get what they made before. For some reason, it’s better to collect that paltry state check every week than, yanno, work your way back up for considerably more.
- On the flip side, there are a lot of unscrupulous contracting firms who, even hearing your previous salary, try to convince you what a good deal it is to do highly-skilled labor for bag boy wages. “Oh, but you’ll be working for FoodCo, the second largest employer in the city. You should feel privileged.” You should feel ashamed of yourself for asking. I make more on unemployment.
- One local computer company, the gold standard of local IT firms in the 1990′s, demonstrated just how far from grace it had fallen by offering me less money than a bag boy makes at Kroger, then asking me why it would be necessary for me to continue going to college when I would be working for them. The answer “Go f*** yourself” crossed my mind, not my lips. I just hung up the phone.
- A number of people are flocking to certain industry certifications hoping to get an instant raise walking in the door. The problem is now you get a market flooded with a lot of experts on paper with no real-world experience to back it up. Aren’t you sick of seeing “We need 3-5 years experience” in the CareerBuilder ads?
I am hoping my job hunt will end this week. I had a very promising call back last week, and another interview where I not only liked the company, but the location – They’re very near the Little Miami Trail, which means I’d probably be taking the Nitamobile to work once or twice a week.
But unemployment has been educational. We watch our money more closely. I impulse buy a lot less. (Last impulse buy: Neil Smith’s Choke on Your Lies on Kindle. BUY IT NOW!) We appreciate thrift shops more now. Christmas was big, but only partly financed. Almost two thirds of it was cash, and the rest on Bill Me Later. Even the unnecessary debt was managed well, speaking of which…
I have a new attitude toward debt. What I currently have is manageable in normal times. My goal now is to avoid using credit unless I know where the money will come from or its a big ticket item like replacing a washer or buying another car. And in times like this, if you have faith, use it. If you don’t, focus on the problem at hand. Or I should say solving the problem at hand.
Because the last thing anyone can afford when they’re out of work is self-pity. Self-pity is worse than bankruptcy.