on the page magazine

issue no. 11, summer 2004


tales of the unemployed

OtP calls for voices from the trenches

Earlier this year, OtP solicited stories from those who have been unemployed for six months or more, by placing an ad, among other places, on craigslist.org.

We were flooded with responses—from recent college graduates endeavoring to land that first job to experienced professionals laid off after dozens of years in the work force. We were most moved by those who confessed anxieties and struggles—with financial crises, emotional relationships, and self-esteem.

And while some of our out-of-work respondents found the opportunity to write about their experiences therapeutic, others were offended by our seeming lack of insensitivity to their plight.

What follows are selected excerpts from the tales of the unemployed.

show me the money
on not making ends meet
rejection, fear, and self-loathing

show me the money

Editors' note: As a nonprofit magazine with no subscription fee or advertising revenue, On the Page does not pay anyone for their contributions to the magazine—not its writers, not its readers, not its editors—no one.

Let me see if I got this straight: you are posting an ad in the writing/editing section of craigslist—a section that is already pretty barren—and you're specifically targeting people who have lost their jobs, and you're asking people to contribute something to your magazine for FREE. Is that right? I just want to make sure I got it right.

Good luck with that.

Online magazine seeks tales of the unemployed.
Do I get paid for writing this? Yes or no = []

"Why don't you pay the winners of your contest because some of them don't have rich parents and an expense account like you?"

You might want to accept the fact that most unemployed people are staring at their computers looking for jobs and don't have the luxury to "train for a marathon, finally finish War and Peace, take up figure-skating, travel to India, become addicted to soap operas, or download every episode of 'Six Feet Under'?"

Why would you want the stories of the unemployed? I know a few writers who are having nervous breakdowns because the only thing they can get these days is a byline with online magazines that "can't hire you, but we might be able to publish you."

A writer is worth his/her wage per word... so why don't you pay the winners of your contest because some of them don't have rich parents and an expense account like you?

Why would someone who has been unemployed suffer the insult of not being paid for their work?

It had been a hard week.

I had scored a temp job, doing data entry. It was several orders of magnitude below my training and experience. Nevertheless, I was relieved; it was a two-month project, which would be just enough to get me back on my feet. Three days in, the job was shipped out to India.

So, I started looking through craigslist for work, checking the ads, and posting my resume.

A web design company called me, then found out I didn't have a car. I haven't heard back from them.

Another guy called me from craigslist, and said his company would love to hire me, but I'd have to work for them for free for several months.

Another guy from craigslist called and said he could hire me, but first I'd have to invest several thousand dollars in his project, so he would know that I was serious and dedicated enough to work for him for free for several months.

Then I saw a posting on craigslist:

"On the Page magazine is looking for stories of the unemployed for our upcoming issue on Work....Unfortunately we can't hire you, but we might be able to publish you. Send the tale with contact information, including name, address, phone, and e-mail address, by March 21 to unemployed@onthepage.org."

Translation: "Hey, you struggling people out there! Why don't you tell us a story about being unemployed, for free! If we like it, we'll make money off it, and you'll still be looking for a job!"

So I sent in this story.

Jim Beach
San Francisco, CA

on not making ends meet

"I got my first check today; I worked 71 hours and my net pay was $505 and it's not going to get any better."

Finally I found a job, $8.00 an hour, I had to take it, but I cannot pay my rent and survive on it. I am working so hard, on my feet for 7 hours and 15 minutes a day. I got my first check today; I worked 71 hours and my net pay was $505.00 and it's not going to get any better. I signed up for a lottery to receive Moderate Rehabilitation Housing and I won the lottery. They estimate that I will probably be receiving an offer for housing within three years. I don't even know what Moderate Rehabilitation Housing is. But it said congratulations, I had won.

Patricia McCuin
Alameda, CA

I'm, 58, worked for a decade at Wells Fargo Bank as a vice president, leading an award-winning group responsible for customer information and analysis. I was laid off in the middle of 2001 with a package that paid my salary for nearly a year. I thought that would be plenty of a parachute but that and unemployment benefits ran out long ago. I have tried all avenues and haven't found work in more than two years.

My health has deteriorated from excellent to troubled as the stress works on my body even to the point of a short hospital stay. I've had to refinance my house twice to get money to live on, but there goes an important element in my hoped-for retirement. My COBRA health insurance runs out the end of March and I'm trying to get individual coverage.

It's hard not to be bitter. But I try. And, by the way, the government doesn't count me or those like me as unemployed. My recruiter acquaintances estimate as high as 25 percent unemployment here. My next door neighbor has been through it twice in the last two years and may be laid off again.

Jim Mesler
Oakland, CA

I have been unemployed for six months, this time. I have never been fired from a job and, until January 2003, never been laid off. I was first laid off as a telemarketing agent due to lack of work. [After starting with another company in June 2003] and a couple of weeks short of receiving my benefits, I was laid off in September. Since being unemployed, I have applied online for many customer service representative positions, to no avail. Because my unemployment benefits will run out in a couple of weeks, and there is no option to extend, I have contacted temporary employment agencies as to my availability.

Having been laid off, not once, but twice in a row, has made my life extremely difficult. I am in constant conflict with my roommate, who blames me for his financial woes and has on two occasions threatened to move out. In past years, due mainly to dentist-phobia, I have lost several upper and lower front teeth. Having realized the importance of a good smile, I began the process of getting dentures with my last job. By not getting the dental benefits I so desperately need, I am left with a limitation on job options. I never thought I would be in this situation. The only thing keeping me going is the faith I have that something will happen for me, and I will get a job, temporary or permanent, before I no longer have any income. I refuse to believe I have lived to be 46 years old, only to end up as an unemployed homeless person, with a 19-year-old cat who has been with me all her life. I refuse to be beaten.

Christopher Schmidt
San Francisco, CA

"My friends do not understand why I just don't get a job. I don't understand either."

rejection, fear, and self-loathing

In 2003 I decided to finally make my dream of living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, come true. I had some money to last me a few months and I sold many of my possessions. I was very excited as I drove west from New York. I had gotten an apartment before moving and all was going to be okay, or so I thought. I began to look for jobs and wasn't too concerned at first because I had some money. As the months passed, however, I was applying for tons of jobs and getting none of them. I was told by people in employment agencies that I shouldn't expect too much and that for some agencies I wasn't even qualified enough to do temp work.

I had to move back to New York when I ran out of money. I got a temporary job in human resources which does not pay too much and I am still not able to pay my expenses. This experience has been one of the most traumatic of my life. I have lost several friendships because, in my friends' words, I make them uncomfortable when I am in this anxious state. They also do not understand why I just don't get a job. I don't understand either.

I am staying in a house that I must vacate in five weeks. My job will end before that. The income from my present job barely gets me by, let alone gives me enough to prepare to move again. I have never been in such a precarious position before. I am hanging by a thread and feeling like I will fall into an abyss any time now. This situation has made me well aware of powerlessness. I am trying everything that I know to turn my situation around but nothing seems to be working. Am I missing an important message from the universe or is this just what came up for me on the wheel of life? I am looking for the answer and hope to leave the world of unemployment, fear, and poverty behind me forever.

Brenda Mallery
Santa Fe, NM

Everyone knows that being unemployed means having to deal with a lot of rejection. If you only apply for work you truly want to do, it could be decades before you so much as get called in for an interview, so you almost invariably have to cast a wider net. In a bad job market, even if you're applying for work no person with a pulse would enjoy, you nevertheless have to act eager to do it. A funny thing about human psychology is that if you expend enough energy acting out a lie, part of your brain will begin to think it's the truth. That makes the impact of rejection doubly hard when it inevitably comes, which is compounded by the fact that another part of your brain still understands that the job you've been rejected for lies somewhere between doorman and donut store clerk in skill level.

For someone like me, an even more distressing aspect of the job application process is that it puts you in the position of having to sell yourself. The problem is not simply that you're implicitly transmogrifying yourself into an unholy hybrid of used car and used car salesman. It's more that self-promotion goes against the grain of many people's temperament and upbringing, and can lead to a severe accumulation of psychic stress and self-loathing.

It can therefore be helpful to keep in mind that most jobs are, at bottom, ridiculous.

David Gamon
Oakland, CA

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