The Laid-Off Life: Year One

Nancy Anderson
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”Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end.”Seneca the Younger, Roman philosopher (co-opted by Semisonic)
It’s July Fourth Weekend. Around the country, people are enjoying the extra day off, a Monday that’s not a 'Monday', hitting the shore to walk the boards, setting up the backyard barbecues, and celebrating the independence of our nation by blowing up a small part of it. For me, it’s just another day off in a long line of days off. July 4th, September 22nd, February 18th. They’re all 'days off'.

But there is one holiday I am "celebrating". Recently, I surpassed my anniversary of one year since my layoff. No party, no fireworks, but plenty of self-reflection and introspection. But I did mark the date by watching the movie "Up in the Air". There’s a film that will make your unemployment depression take a whole new spiral. One line in the movie, about being fired and how people react to it among many other themes, hit me. It says,

"Commonly, it takes one month of searching for every$10,000 you expect to earn in salary."

So, if I’ve been looking for a year, I should be making $120,000 when I get a job? That reflexivity is certainly suspect, but I sure hope that the original statement is just as dubious. I did some research to verify this, and found nothing but articles stating it as a myth. Ted and Nicholas Griffin wrote that script in 2003, so even were it true, that statistic is from a different economic time. Today, maybe now it’s for every two months? Three?

Richard Bolles
, the author of "What Color is Your Parachute?" (the clear homage by George Clooney’s character’s "What’s In Your Backpack" speech), says:

"People adopt unrealistic guesstimates about how long their job hunt is going to take. We should expect that our job-hunt may take months, but if we persevere, we will find a job."

Easy to say, hard to accept. So many times it seems fruitless, so many days it seems futile, so often it seems pointless. A poll from January of 2008, during the beginning of the unemployment boom, stated that nearly a quarter of the newly-unemployed thought their job search would take over a year. I wonder now how accurate these people’s predictions came to be. A quick Internet search reveals thousands of stories of people laid-off and unemployed for a year or longer. If you are like me, if you are like these people, try not to get discouraged. Lack of success in your search can take a toll as your time looking extends much longer than you originally thought. You may start to question your skills and abilities, and whether you will ever again find a job in your field. Try to stay positive. Resist the urge to give up. As the Ryan Bingham character said: "Anyone who ever built an empire or changed the world sat where you're sitting right now, and it's because they sat there that they were able to do it". As with any emotional condition from alcoholism to depression to anorexia, remember one important thing:

You are not alone.

The unemployment rate rose for 19 months after the 9/11 downturn, and for 15 months after the 1990 recession, and this go-round is no better. As of May 2010, 15 million Americans were unemployed. Another 9 million more are employed part-time, looking for full-time work. That’s 24 million of your fellow citizens that are not employed full-time and wish to be. On top of that, about 30 million Americans are considered underemployed ("workers with high skill levels in low-wage jobs that do not require such abilities, 'involuntary part-time' workers who would like to be working for a full work-week, or 'overstaffed' workers who are not fully occupied"). That doesn’t even include the million that are 'marginally attached' to work, meaning they are not currently looking for work because they believe no jobs are available for them.

Do the math: The American workforce counts almost 156 million people, 51 percent of its citizens, that are currently actively working (after filtering out students, the retired, homemakers, infants, etc., and the unemployed). And by the figures above, nearly 55 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed, or working part-time wanting to be full-time (not even counting those so disillusioned they're not even looking). That’s less than a 3:1 ratio of the voluntarily gainfully employed to those competing with you on CareerBuilder (not even including those with good jobs that are looking for a better one). That’s a lot.

You are not alone.

There are now over 6 million Americans whom have been searching for a new job for over six months. That’s 40% of all job seekers actively looking for over half a year, double that of the recession in the early '80s and the largest number of 'long-term unemployed' since World War II. On average, it now takes 20½ weeks to find a new job – that’s over five months on average. By definition, half will take longer. It’s brutal out there. "It’s a real risk to the workplace," says John Challenger of Challenger, Gray, & Christmas, an outplacement firm in Chicago. "We may be creating a permanent group of people who think there are no jobs out there, who feel they are shut out of the system."

Permanently unemployed. Not unemployable – you know you’d rock a job if you had the chance – but a sense that the jobs just aren’t out there. Have you felt like that? I sure as hell have. But just like when an alcoholic first steps in to an AA meeting, it really does help to realize you are not alone. There are others just like me. My advice is not any different than that you would give someone with an addiction: talk. Talk to people in the same boat as you. Find a support group, online or in reality. Talk to a professional, whether it be a mental health counselor or a career counselor. Talk to your family and friends who, if you haven’t noticed, are going through this with you. People can offer support, reduce the stress, tell you that everything is going to be all right. As Tom Landry (boo Cowboys) said, "Today, you have 100% of your life left."

I leave you with this: My name is Michael. (Hello Michael). I am unemployed. I have been laid off for over 12 months. Sorry, I mean over a year. Saying ‘months’ minimizes the impact of 'year'. I have been laid off for over a year. Millions of other Americans, some more qualified than I, some less, are in the same position I am. But one thing I am not is alone. And neither are you. And together, we’ll make it through. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

And when you get a job, even if I have not yet, I’ll be there to celebrate with you. We’ll have a party. Maybe down the shore. On a holiday weekend. Even if it’s winter.

Michael Hochman
? Laid-Off Life on Twitter ? Laid-Off Life on Facebook

Michael is a Copywriter, Creative Marketer, and Broadcasting Professional still in search of full-time employment after 12 months of full-time job hunting, thanks to an “involuntary career sabbatical”. A Philly native and Syracuse graduate, Michael will gladly accept any job offer you may have for him. Any. Really. Please give me a job??

"Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called everybody, and they meet at the bar." - Drew Carey

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