Tales of the Unemployed – My Story

Age discrimination is not only alive and well in this country, but rampant. It’s much more prevalent that it appears at casual inspection. Not only that, but the age limit that is typically discriminated against has lowered significantly to include some in their mid to late 30s, many in their 40s, most in the 50s, and nearly all in their 60s. The sad thing is that all human resources screeners and hiring managers practice age discrimination in legal ways and it is nearly impossible to prove. (http://ow.ly/ufnzW, http://ow.ly/ufnKQ) Additionally, employers can legally discriminate against the unemployed as it is not a protected status. (http://ow.ly/ufnDc) Sadly, no one cares about the employment rights of people of higher age until it directly affects them, if ever. (http://ow.ly/ufnOp)

One of the things I’m most sick of hearing in this country is how the long-term unemployed are lazy and only want to live off the system. I’m one of the long-term unemployed. Yes, I’ve spent the last several years living on unemployment on and off and this last year I’ve had to be on food stamps. Yet, I’m far from lazy.

Believe it or not, most of the long-term unemployed are exactly like me.

We’d rather be working. We’d rather NOT have to so severely reduce our standard of living, pick and choose which bills will be paid and which will be ignored, turn into people who find themselves selling everything they own, feeling shamed every time someone asks what we do for a living and answering “I’m presently looking for work,” and watching the reaction on someone’s face when they hear that change from interested and engaged to condescension and disinterest.

Several years ago, roughly 2008 or 2009, I was talking with someone at the unemployment office in my area and I just so happened to mention that if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear I was a victim of age discrimination–and I was only 41 or 42 years old at the time. The woman I spoke with told me, quite unexpectedly, “Oh, I know! It’s definitely out there–we see it every day in here. The most people coming in needing employment benefits are in their 40s and up–it’s risen drastically. There’s very few in their 20s and if there is, they get off quickly. In their 30s, it seems normal as usual.” It shocked me. And gave me food for considerable thought.

I opened my eyes. I saw it for myself. Dozens and dozens of interviews that I KNOW went well, experience that not only matches, but exceeds the positions I was looking at, personality and customer service skills that many I’ve worked with would kill for, excellent motivational and supervisor/managerial skills. But guess what? In a recession, it’s a hiring market in which they have indulgent luxury to pick and choose and the bottom line? I’m too old and worth too much. They can hire someone much more inexperienced, underpay them, and therefore continue to keep department budgets in line.

I am good, as a worker. Better than many of my prior colleagues. But qualified or not, I can’t land a full-time, long-term job. I’ve had nothing but a string of temporary jobs. Desperation has driven me from $45,000 per year to hopeful longing for a $12/hr job. Although it would not cover all my living needs, (rent, food, car and car insurance-for commuting to work and interviews, and cell phone-recently downgraded to T-mobile to get out of a contract I could no longer afford) I would accept anything at minimum wage.

People say, “Go work at McDonald’s, or is that too good for you?”. No, no it’s not. But guess what? I can’t get that either. In my area, it seems that they only want one or two older employees to show they’re not discriminating, but hire all high school or recent high school graduates, as those are the ones in need of gaining job experience.

My family is a tough love family. The motto is FIGURE IT OUT FOR YOURSELF. My entire family…all of them…are the least supportive of me being unemployed for so long. My sister can’t help me because the hospitals insist that all resumes go through Human Resources, instead of the managers in different departments who need the help. I’ve had managers in need of employees flat-out tell me that, as much as they would love to have me on their team, they have no control over who gets sent to them for interview. The only thing they control is who they have to hire. And if I don’t get selected for interview, then I don’t have a snowball’s chance in h-e-double-toothpicks.

Many people cheer congress not approving the extension of unemployment benefits. Here’s how it has affected me directly: I had to beg online–on my Facebook, for chrissakes!–for money to help get me by for the month. I have many, many family members on my FB, and every friend is someone I actually know. Do you know how many people helped me? Two. And not one family member helped (although I did get a comment on Facebook, after specifically requesting no comment be made to save my dignity, from a cousin that I interpreted as being a bit snarky, as if they thought that what I had posted was a joke or something). The two who helped me were, one, an atheist friend (or agnostic, I’m not sure which he actually is). The second a Christian friend. It was she who shocked me with her generosity and gave me, yes gave without thought of payback or reciprocation, $500, which got me through February! I cried like a baby, it was so humbling, yet utterly humiliating. I cry again as I type this because her charity on my behalf makes me feel less than human simply because I am unable to do it (“it” meaning work) myself. For March, I used my state tax return to pay my rent–and that’s all it covered. I’ve been selling electronics–old phones, etc.–to pay bills and I’m not sure I’ll have enough to cover them all. I was unable to use anything from my federal tax return as it was ALL taken to cover the student loans that are now in default and the VA health bill I have because I can’t afford the prescription deductibles. I’m terrified of April because I don’t know how I’ll have rent on time and my roommate, as badly as he feels for me, tells me (rightly) that he cannot afford me.

I have been scrambling to try to get hired and have not had any luck. Not even so much as a “f–k you”. I’ve quite literally heard nothing, not one reply to any online application/resume I’ve sent. Why? Likely because I’ve flooded my market over and over again and the hiring managers recognize my name & delete my email. Another downside that no one talks about: flooding a hiring market with your resume due to long-term unemployment.

The last time I tried working for myself, I fell off a kitchen counter cleaning someone’s house onto the floor directly on my tailbone and could barely walk for two weeks, that was back in December before Christmas. It’s still not fully healed as of today (early March, 2014) and now I cannot sit or stand for long periods of time.

Additionally, the journey I’ve undergone as a result of being unemployed for so long is an exercise in self-will and an everyday battle against feelings of failure, insecurity, low self-esteem, and low self-worth. It doesn’t help hearing people, particularly family, tell me to get busy and get out there. Constantly asking me if I got a job yet. To “hit the streets”. And then making me feel worse for not having one yet and for “not trying hard enough”. My mother tells me to go apply for civil service. I try to explain to her that it doesn’t work like that anymore (putting in one resume for all local government jobs, county, state, or federal, depending on the level of civil service you wanted in the past). How it now works is that you have to individually apply for each job, including your specific skill sets of knowledge, skills, and abilities (known as KSAs), for each individual position. And now, even those must get past the human resource office. Even at the VA, my getting preference points for being a veteran of Desert Storm do not help me to get the interview I need so desperately. For those of you employed, do you know how utterly ineffective “hitting the streets” is? No one in my area, and I mean no one, will accept a walk-in resume. They all are refused and one is told to go apply online–safely faceless and anonymous to the human resources screener. My challenges being faceless and anonymous are as follows: my chronological (chronological: in order of last job held) resume is destroyed. I have not held a job for longer than three months since I walked out of my job in 2007, a job that I could no longer perform on personal, moral grounds. What that now means is that, if I strictly followed a chronological resume, it would show dozens of small jobs no longer than three months each and short to long periods of unemployment. All of my real job skills were learned over six years ago. Therefore, my resume is not chronological, and many human resources offices have gotten wise to this and require chronological resumes. It’s unsaid, but it’s to weed out people like me, people who have been unemployed for so long. Because somehow, we are no longer good, or useful, or employable.   In their world, we’re no better the lepers of the old world–people who were purposely segregated from the main population due to prejudice, misunderstanding, and personal abhorrence.

As a result of the long-term failure finding a permanent, full-time job, I was diagnosed with clinical depression two and a half years ago. I have very severe anger problems that are expressed verbally. I realized I needed to medicate myself to suppress my anger when I tore my 70-year-old mother “a new one” when I helped her relocate here to my area. I now see a psychiatrist, who has also diagnosed me with PTSD, a therapist, and attend a dialectical behavioral therapy, with the hopes of learning to better handle my anger, depression, and issues complicated by PTSD. Additionally, I have high blood pressure (two meds for this), diabetes, and high cholesterol that I take medication for. Due to all those medications, I also need potassium and vitamin D supplements. I am now committed to the therapy, which is every Wednesday morning, not including sessions with my therapist or psychiatrist, and this means I am now limited to a part-time job.

I can make ends meet on a part-time job. I was down to $198 per week on unemployment benefits–that is $792 per month–and was able to make that work, with the help of food stamps, which amounts to $189 per month. Rent is $420, car payment (paid off in 5 months, if I’m able to somehow make it that long), is $185.91, car insurance/renters insurance is $110 per month, and my cell bill is now $65 per month. That’s a total of $784. I have a big $8 left over for miscellaneous expenditures, including gas for my car. Thank God for that $189 in food stamps (that was lowered from $200–$11 makes a big difference when you’re me) or I’d likely starve.

So yes, all your hard-earned tax dollars are floating me at a standard of living so low it’s embarrassing. Never fear, if all goes well for you, I’ll soon no be longer a burden to you, but rather become just another nameless face living on the street, hoping for space in overcrowded, overburdened shelters, trying to stay out of the weather but needing to be in it in order to beg for change to feed myself daily.

I’m not asking for your empathy, nor your sympathy. I don’t want your money. All I want is a job that will help me pay my bills. Most preferably, a job that will allow me to pay off the creditors that I have been ignoring since 2007–collection agents from credit cards I no longer pay (nor do I use them, since 2007), defaulted school loans (yes, I am a college graduate), and a continuing balance to the VA medical center for the copays on my medicine. Therefore, all I ask are your good wishes for employment needs.

If you’ve read all of this, thank you for listening to me and allowing me to vent.

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