By: Noelle Miller
The United States of America is known for the so-called American Dream, where you can achieve anything as long as you work hard. But what happens when you lose your job and join the 6 million unemployed Americans? If you qualify, you can collect unemployment benefits until you find a job – or as happens in most cases, you can reap the benefits until these benefits run out.
A stigma surrounds unemployed people. Many employed Americans think these people are lazy, or incapable of holding a job. You may have heard how reportedly 351,000 new jobs were recently created, and places are now hiring, so it’s not a struggle to find work. The truth is that a strong labor market isn’t as helpful to the unemployed as it may seem.
My recently unemployed father is the perfect example.
In 1996, my father earned a bachelor’s degree from Villanova University and gained 26 years of experience in the Information Technology (IT) industry. For more than three years, my father was a well-respected service desk manager for a collections company. Then his company was bought out and, and the new company already had his position filled, so he was laid off.
His only job was to find a new one. He was given three weeks of severance pay before he started receiving unemployment checks.
The morning after he was let go, his alarm clock, set to wake him for work, went off. For the first time in years, instead of wishing away the work waiting for him, he stared at the ceiling and wished for another day at his 9 to 5. He started his job search. Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor – name any job searching website, he was on it. It was just as Canadian-American economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “Unemployment is rarely desirable except by those who have not experienced it.”
After three weeks of endless searching, my father’s first unemployment check was deposited into his account, and it was only a third of what he had been earning for years. He started searching for work only on weekdays but, when no employers showed interest, he began searching on weekends, as well. My father eventually hit a wall after he applied for every position that fit the description and salary range of his former job, yet all he got were rejections.
Panic and confusion started to set in as he faced the reality of unemployment. He said he couldn’t believe how difficult it was to obtain a job in IT. He thought, of all jobs, those would be the easiest to get, especially with his experience. He started tweaking his resume and spent hundreds of dollars on exams for certifications that might catch the attention of a hiring manager, but nothing helped.
My father started to look for jobs that offered lower salaries, thinking he was looking for too much and needed to take a pay cut. To his surprise, he received fewer responses to his applications for jobs with lower salaries. He thought he might look overqualified on his resume, so he tweaked it again, and again, and again.
He continues to wake up and apply for jobs posted overnight, and before bed, he applied to jobs posted throughout the day. He now has more than 120 job applications out there. He has received 45 rejections and is still waiting to hear back from the rest. He has had five interviews, but those usually end with “Thanks, but no thanks.”
The rejections and ignored applications are taking a toll on my father’s mental health. He keeps blaming himself and wondering what is wrong with him. To me, it’s a miracle he still has the motivation, despite all the stress that has come with it. The cycle is draining and having nothing to do but fill out job applications is a constant reminder that he has been unemployed for 10 weeks.
Unemployment benefits will eventually run out, so my father is running out of time.
From the outside looking in, I get why it seems nice to be unemployed and financially supported by the government. From reading articles that boast about a strong labor market to seeing politicians celebrate new jobs, I understand why people assume unemployment is an easy situation to escape. The reality is it’s not nearly as easy as it looks. It’s slashing through vines, jumping over rocks, and reaching dead ends until you find what you’re looking for. If you can find what you’re looking for.