Congress will be voting on legislation that would extend unemployment benefits for out of work Americans who have been unemployed for over six months. Senators are currently discussing the issue on the floor, and voting is scheduled to take place at 2:30 PM today.
There's an estimated 2 million jobless Americans out there, who have been subsisting on those benefits while struggling to find a job. It's a dire situation for many, as eviction and homelessness loom large. These are some of their stories; what's yours?
Depending on my man
My name is Allison Mitchell. I am married with a 6-year-old son and a 10-year-old step-daughter.
I have been employed for as long as I can remember. I believe it was the summer of my 16th birthday when I was able to officially work and I realized that I could earn an income. I was Santa's helper one winter during high school, and a gift wrapper at Macy's the next; my employment escalated to holding down two jobs at one point, while also in college. I have always excelled at what I do and oftentimes have been recognized and promoted for my efforts. If I didn't like a situation and found no way of changing it, I found a new job -- it was that simple!
Now, I find myself unemployed one year after my position was eliminated. I lost the job I had worked at for eight years, in an industry I've been in for 18 years.
Since I have been unemployed, I have found that the simple task of finding a job is no longer simple. I have been on countless interviews (up against over 200 applicants for most); I've done odd jobs that I've gotten paid for; I've done volunteer work to keep myself busy and to be ready and open for any opportunities; I'm taking online courses to keep my mind sharp; and I've done lots of praying.
Recently, I've requested a modification on my mortgage and have advised my creditors that I am unemployed with no current income, since my unemployment benefits have officially come to an end. Although I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel, I know it's there -- it has to be there.
My husband is the eternal optimist -- and although he is gainfully employed and so we do have some money coming in, in New York, where we live, more than one income is required to run a household. Panic knocks on my door every so often, but I refuse to let it in, for sleepless nights or hysteria will not help in finding a job, nor will worrying about the "what ifs" (what if I don't find a new job, what if we lose our home, what if, what if?).
So, on those sleepless nights, I job hunt on the Internet, applying now to companies that I've always admired, including Fortune 100 companies, instead of simply applying to companies in the industry I've always known. On those sleepless nights, I write about my passion, about the future, and about how I'll make a difference in life. I know the light is there!
-- Allison Mitchell
At the end of my unemployment rope
I have been unemployed for 19 months, and my benefits have run out.
I am Emmaleigh R. Hall, and until December,2008, I was employed. I had known that the end was near, simply because management at my company was insisting that they were avoiding layoffs just a little too much; it was obvious we were not going to keep our jobs for long. Of course, they laid me off. I have been unemployed since, and not for a lack of looking. Unfortunately, my unemployment benefits ran out just one week after Congress let them lapse.
As of yet, I have not found a way to stay afloat. I constantly look for work, even odd jobs to tide me over. I have started writing freelance, but I don't get paid enough for anything, except maybe I can get a meal here or there, and I can keep gas in my car to keep the search going. My phone has been turned off, but I've found ways around that little detail. I have not been able to find employment. I did have two interviews recently after my benefits ran out -- the most I'd had in over a year! -- but to no avail. A month later, as of now, all of my money has run out and my rent is past due.
I'm hopeful that I will find a job, and soon. I mostly feel frustrated, however. There are so many people out there who say the unemployed are lazy and just want to collect benefits and not get a real job, even one that pays less. The total of my benefits was less than working at minimum wage, so I'm pretty sure being paid less was not a concern of mine. In fact, I've never had a job that paid less than what my benefits were in my life.
I looked for opportunities in the retail arena and in fast-food restaurants, right along with the office jobs. I'd apply to deliver pizzas if I weren't afraid of my insurance lapsing -- plus, I know how dangerous it can be delivering pizzas. Not having unemployment is, oddly, making it harder for me to try, because I can't afford to keep the phone, the car insurance, or even go to the laundromat. I have a lot of panic and anxiety. I wonder what I'm going to do once I get evicted for not paying rent. I don't want to go on welfare if I can avoid it, but I definitely don't want to have to stand outside begging for change. I just do my best to stay optimistic. I know there is a job for me out there. I just haven't found it yet.
-- Emmaleigh R. Hall
Out of options
In the last 12 months, I have lost my job, lost my health insurance and lost my home. Last week I received my last unemployment check -- that is, if Congress doesn't pass the unemployment benefits extension bill when they return from their July 4th vacation.
As a 54-year-old female professional, I don't see many prospects for gainful employment in the near future. What in the world am I going to do?
Fortunately, I have wonderful friends and family that are willing to help sustain me until I get back on my feet, but many of them are in similar situations. We are pooling resources just to get by, but we are all very concerned about the future.
The most disheartening thing I have encountered is the total lack of response to the hundreds of resumes and job applications I have submitted. I am smart, not unattractive, I have many years experience in management and a great track record in sales. If I had received a resume from someone with my qualifications when I was a manager, I would certainly have scheduled an interview.
I wish I knew what is the problem? Is it because I'm 54 years old? Is it because I am a woman? Even worse, is it because I am unemployed? Could potential employers really be discriminating against the unemployed? It certainly appears that is the case.
For now, I have moved in with a friend and I am beating the pavement with my resume in hand. Heck, sometimes I don't even take my resume along, because I am so overqualified for the jobs I am applying for. I have started selling my valuables on eBay, and I am sitting with the elderly and disabled when I can just to earn a few bucks.
The struggle to keep a positive outlook is getting harder and harder. In my heart, I believe that things will get better eventually, but sometimes my head is not convinced.
The best thing to come out of this situation is the attitude of gratitude I have developed for the kindnesses I have been shown by those who have offered me whatever help they can give. It has renewed my faith in the generosity of ordinary Americans. At least the ones I know personally. That's what keeps me going and gives me hope. I'm a little old to be starting over, but that's just what I'm going to do. Just as soon as I find a job.
-- Ruth E. Bryant
Living in fear for my children
This week, like many Americans, I received my last unemployment check. The anxiety has been growing the last month, knowing this day would eventually be here. The savings has slowly melted away, and I am getting creative with the food left in my cabinets, to avoid an unaffordable trip to the grocery store. The phone is not ringing with application callbacks, and I am taking mental notes of the items in my home I could possibly sell to pay next month's bills.
My brain is overloaded with total amounts due, due dates and cutting an already cut budget. Over a million Americans are facing, or will be facing, the same dilemma.
I, unlike many Americans out there, was given an option. I could keep my $17-an-hour pay, but I would be put on third shift. If I could not take that position, I would have to take the layoff. And since my only babysitting option for my children would have been out of the home, my divorce lawyers advised this would almost guarantee my ex-husband getting custody of our two children. So I made the very scary decision to take the layoff. For the first time in the 10 years I have been in the work force, I did not have an income, and was relying on savings, unemployment benefits and my fiance's small income to support myself and my children.
I took advantage of being laid off. I enrolled in school to further my education and for the possibility of a brighter future. The month before I was laid off my son was diagnosed with high-functioning autism, and this was an opportunity to focus on his needs and to develop a plan to help him.
I also gained much-needed time to spend with both my daughter and my son, something I never had much of in the past while I was a single working mother. The only area lacking positive productivity was my search for another job. In my area, and with my experience (or lack of), the jobs just are not there.
I heard this week that some people in the government are calling not passing the unemployment extension "tough love." This tough love is supposed to motivate us to look harder for a job. Most of us Americans are working hard to find employment, and we cannot always take the first job that is available. Do people forget that our unemployment checks are not just for us, but for our families as well? People like me have more than just ourselves to worry about and take into consideration when we apply for a job and deciding what hours we work. How beneficial is a minimum-wage job that only pays enough money to provide daycare while you work?
So now I am at the end of the line and there is little money left. I thought I would have found employment months ago, but here I am still searching every day and not receiving feedback. It is scary standing on the edge of "paid on time," and falling into "overdue." There's not much left I can do, so I try to keep the financial issues from causing tension in my home and worrying my children, and I hope for a phone call, and maybe passing extension that will help us survive a little while longer.
-- Terra Szczurek
Being creative has helped me survive
As a worker for a local wholesale toy company, holding my job for five years, I never saw unemployment coming my way. I mean, you would always see and hear on the news about all of the people that were losing their jobs due to the failing economy, but I was sure it was not going to happen to me. Boy, was I wrong!
For the first time in my life, when I was laid off I was forced to go to the unemployment office and was accepted. I continued to look for work, but that is when I witnessed for myself just how bad the economy really was. It seemed like there was no company out there looking for help.
During my time of unemployment, I continued to look for work the first three months, but nothing got any better and before you knew it, about a year had gone by and my unemployment benefits were ending.
What was I to do? How was I to pay my bills? I didn't want to sit around biting my fingernails all day worrying about all of the things I need to pay, such as my rent, car payment, credit card bills, etc. Fortunately, while I have been unemployed, I embarked onto things that I had never thought of exploring before. I guess when you become desperate for money you will look into anything. I discovered a few new ways to make money, and both of these ways of making money involved the Internet. Of course, you'll need enough money to have the Internet to do these things.
The first thing I did was to start selling things online on some of the popular e-commerce sites. Since I worked for so many years for a wholesale toy company, I had met lots of people and had the sources to buy things cheap, at wholesale prices, and them I could resell them at retail prices. This worked pretty well for me and helped me a lot, but didn't make up my salary at my old job. But while on the Internet I also discovered freelance writer sites where they will pay you to write articles. I didn't think I was a good enough writer, but to my surprise I have hooked up with a few websites that pay me regularly for my articles.
My whole point here is that I didn't just sit around and complain about not finding a new job. Sometimes when there is no job out there for you, you need to create your own jobs and make money. Doing my e-commerce selling and freelance writing I now earn roughly 90 percent of what my earnings were at my job.
What is my next step, now that my unemployment benefits are over?
I am actually going to try to build on my online business and writing skills. I enjoy knowing that I can make as much money as the time and effort I put into it, instead of just having another job. Not that there is anything wrong with having a job, it is just that I have found some joy in what I am doing.
-- Ronnie Altamirano
Unemployment ends and my new life begins
I have always had steady income since I graduated high school 21 years ago. As an undergraduate I worked on campus, and as a graduate I worked as a substitute teacher and as a counselor on the weekend. As an adult, I landed two very good jobs -- one was teaching as an adjunct faculty member at a state university and the other was as a department director at a career college. Both were great jobs, but both ended within three weeks of each other. It was the end of January and I had no job -- not a great way to start a new year.
So I applied for unemployment and was told that I could receive benefits for up to a year. I scoffed and thought that I could get a job quickly because of my experience and my education. Unfortunately, I sit here six months later facing the chance of no income. After panicking, crying and getting angry I began to make a plan. I sat down and made a list of things that I am good at or that I enjoy. Here is what I came up with: writing, reading, traveling, lecturing, teaching, event planning and social media. But how could I turn these interests into income that can help me until I find that career? Here is what I have found:
- Writing – Graduate school made me realize how much I love to write about things that I enjoy. I began looking around and found that many people blog, write for online entertainment sources and even do journalistic assignments. Yes, this isn't guaranteed money and not always a lot either, but it can cover a small bill or two. So, I have signed up as a writer for Examiner.com and am now the Lexington Vampire Examiner where I write about my love for vampire movies, television shows and books. I have also signed up on Seed.com, Associated Content, Helium and Textbroker in order to get a little more money doing what I enjoy.
- Reading – A lot of my extra money, when I had a job, was spent on books. I did research and posted an advertisement up on my Paranormal Literature Examiner page, saying that I would like to review paranormal books. I got a lot more than I bargained for, for I received more books than I could review and they were all free! Plus, I got paid each time someone read my book review.
- Traveling – I love to travel, but now that I have I have the time I don't have the income. But, the idea came to me to be a travel writer, to write about local events, places to visit and even to take those vacations that I had planned and even paid for, before unemployment hit me in the face. So, I have enjoyed trips to Florida, Europe, gaming conventions and local events, and it's all on my Cultural Event Travel Examiner page.
- Lecturing – I love to present at conferences and symposiums. I have spoken at both academic and fandom events. Many times you won't get paid for doing this, but you may either get a free trip and/or make connections to find a job. Networking is the most important thing in any career.
- Teaching – I have a teaching certification for high school and experience in teaching middle, secondary and collegiate levels. So I have applied for both teaching and administrative jobs; but to ensure some income I signed up to be a substitute teacher. They are always in need for substitute teachers.
- Event Planning – I have taken a class on event planning and was the student activity coordinator at the career college I worked at as well. I have always loved planning events, even more than I liked attending them. So I decided to take what I like and make into a job. So, far I have organized a monthly gaming event, a book release party, a murder mystery event, and am in the process of organizing a Halloween workshop and ball. It is a local event with a workshop setting during the day, a dinner and movie late in the afternoon, and ends with a huge Halloween Ball. There will be authors, vendors and speakers there on everything from werewolves, fairies, vampires, Harry Potter, etc. It will be a fun event with low overhead and will hopefully result in a lot of revenue.
- Social Media Manager – So you say, "What is a social media manager?" Well, it's someone who can design websites and manipulate blogs, Facebook, Twitter and the many other websites, to maximize traffic to websites, events, businesses, etc. I am fairly good with this, so I have used this skill to help make the above-mentioned skills more lucrative.
So this is what I have been doing since I found myself unemployed and was told time was ticking. I plan to continue to go through every newspaper, all of the online job websites and to hit the pavement as well. Who knows, I may find that perfect job like I had before. But for now I am going to do what I am suggesting that you do. Make a list of things you enjoy doing, find ways you can make some money on the side doing them, and market yourself. And who knows whom you may meet while you are out and about? Maybe your next employer. So many people make the mistake of staying home to save money or because they have nothing to do; but I believe that in order to find a new job you must get out and market yourself.
-- Bertena Varney
Next: Rules for Unemployment