There are 14 million stories in those monthly unemployment numbers, and most of them center on fear, isolation, loss of esteem, and frustration. Lots of frustration. Forbes contributor Kelly Phillips Erb got an up-close-and-personal note from a reader who recently lost her job. "To myself," she wrote, "I am still the same skilled, ambitious, generous, curious person I was three months ago. In the national debate, I am a person who needs to be drug-tested and monitored, who wants to take a check for doing nothing." Among her observations:
--Being downwardly mobile isn't as easy as it sounds. Believe me, after three months of unemployment, I have lowered my expectations regarding salary, benefits, and even basic courtesy from potential employers. I realize in policy debates that it is my lavish unemployment insurance payout that is keeping me from accepting a lower salary, but in reality if you have a salary history that shows you were even marginally successful, potential employers are immediately suspicious of your intentions. I have many times tried to sidestep the salary question. But today, it seems like most employers want to weed out those who may have any expectations at all of a better salary.
--Luxuries aren't always what you think they are. I know the unemployed are not supposed to enjoy luxuries such as cable television or refrigerators, but while some luxuries are easy to cut once you become unemployed, others are less so. The car payment gets you to interviews. Internet access allows you to look for a new job. And there are areas where it's not clear. About a week after my layoff, my cat had a foot injury. It took two vet visits and more than $200 to make sure the paw was healed. Now my pets, which I've had for more than five years, seem like a luxury, but I just can't imagine life without them. I also am grateful that I don't have kids. I can't imagine what it's like to debate whether to take a sick child to the hospital because you can't afford it.
--Get used to being invisible and not having a voice. What I miss most about work is not just the paycheck. I miss having an opinion that matters. I used to be a person who was entrusted with decision-making. But when you are unemployed, no one cares what you think. You are suddenly part of a faceless group that has the same needs, experience and skill level. The unemployment office in my state holds sessions on how to create a resume, as though no one who is unemployed today has ever had to do that. In the media, I see few voices of any of the 14 million Americans who are unemployed. Of course, many of us choose not to be visible because there are those who will shout that we deserve our fate. That is part of the reason even I won't sign my name to this piece.