I should have known something was wrong. I should have run far, far away. From the outside, the company looked great. It was a local nonprofit serving the poorest of the poor, and the bosses loved me. From my first interview on, I was told that I was a rock star. I had no problem leaving my old job for something better, something more fitting for me.
I was on top of the world... I finally had a job that paid enough to survive and even splurge on myself a little. No, I couldn't do anything crazy, but I could pay my bills and still afford to see a movie now and then. I'd spent most of my 20s in college, pursuing a Bachelor's in business and finance and a Master's in a lucrative, practical field from a fairly prestigious university. I graduated at the worst time, in the middle of a recession... but I did what I had to do to get by until, finally, the economy improved and I landed my first post-graduate job. It was mostly administrative work, but it paid the bills and gave me experience, which was important. After almost two years there, I decided to try to find work in my given area, doing what I really wanted to be doing. So while I had a secure job, I started throwing my resume out to nonprofits in the area and waited for a bite.
The company recruited me from day one... they loved me. I was even able to negotiate a slightly higher salary than their original offer and everything looked great from the outside and I was on cloud nine. My life was finally headed in the right direction.
In the beginning, my boss seemed great... We were around the same age and he was fun, friendly. He often doted upon me, regularly bringing me cupcakes and he even decorated my cubicle for my birthday. It wasn't long though, before I noticed another side to him. Some days, he'd lock himself away in his office and the only way we could communicate with him was via e-mail. During those times, he would often send out abusive and angry e-mails, criticizing me about anything he could. This happened after I had only been there a few weeks and before I'd received any formal training. Afterward, he would apologize and say he struggled with his mood swings and that I shouldn't take it personally. So I brushed it off as nothing more than him having a bad day now and then.
I was always pleasant, kept a smile on my face, worked as hard as I could and did my very best every single day.
But I soon realized that I may have made a mistake... First, several items I had negotiated prior to being hired were compromised. Once I had started with the new company, they tried to backtrack and say that they had never agreed to my original terms. I was livid and tried to stand my ground. Though, I compromised and gave in more than I should have simply because I wanted to keep my job. I was civil and finally, they agreed to honor our original agreement. However, I learned, this concession would come with consequences.
I should have known something was odd when one of the outside contractors we worked with made a comment to my boss about how I was the only one who managed to stay with the company for more than a few months. My boss grimaced and rolled his eyes. I stayed quiet. The contractor pushed my boss to “keep this one.” He said, “She's obviously smart and good at what she does.”
That month, I had an excellent performance evaluation.
That Friday, we had a meeting and I was told that I was a rock star and we were allowed to leave 15 minutes early to celebrate.
The following Wednesday, I was unemployed. No reason given other than my quality of work was not up to their standards. Despite the fact that I was still learning, my boss had showered me with praise, telling me that I was picking things up quickly and doing a great job. I had never once been told that my quality of work was anything other than great. I was shocked. I had no idea why this was happening to me.
Looking back now, I wish I hadn't left my old job. I left a secure, decent paying job for this opportunity only to be let go 90 days later. Truthfully, I know there's no way I could have planned for this to happen. It didn't make sense. It still doesn't make sense.
Still in a state of shock, I started applying to other jobs right away, but here's the problem I run into... Do I list my previous employer and make the companies I'm applying to think I only worked somewhere, willingly, for 3 months? Do I leave it off and look like I've been unemployed for longer than I have? I'm screwed either way, honestly. My record is spotty. I mostly worked odd jobs as I made my way through college... and then my two year gig... and then what? Unemployment?
Prior to losing this job, I rarely had trouble scoring an interview with any company I applied to. Now that I have this black mark on my record, I can't even get an interview at a grocery store, No joke. Why? Because unemployment discrimination still exists, my friends. Believe it or not, it really is harder to find a job once you have to answer “yes” to “Have you ever been let go from a job?” Even if you can promise that your termination is no fault of your own. There are too many other people who haven't been fired or laid off, and they appear to be the more secure applicants.
Many people seem to have this idea that the unemployed are just enjoying their time off, that we live as well as we did when we had jobs. Some seem to believe that now we just sleep in and then watch Price is Right and talk shows all day long. Oh, how I wish that were true. I have never been more stressed out and depressed in my entire life. I thought I was barely surviving before... try living on less than $1400 a month in Southern California where the average studio apartment is $1200 a month. And guess what? We all know it runs out... so we sit here, scrambling to figure out what we are going to do when that happens. The longer we stay unemployed, the harder it is to find work, yet no one will even call us back for an interview.
And even worse is when the EDD systems are messed up and you just don't get paid. Or while Congress negotiates whether or not to extend extensions, we just sit here and twiddle our thumbs over Christmas wondering if we will be homeless come January 1st. Even if they do approve the extensions, there will be delays... there are always delays it seems. So even if the extensions are improved, we can expect to go without pay a few weeks. No big deal, right? Nothing like wondering how you're going to pay January's rent when you don't get paid until February. If you haven't experienced the joy of trying to get through to someone at the EDD to tell them you haven't been paid in three months, well then... let me tell ya, you're missing out. It would seem that no one ever gets through to a real person. No one I know, at least. You send e-mails out into the unknown, hoping they will eventually get back to you while you decide between paying your electric bill or buying groceries to make sure you have enough to cover the rent.
I don't know about you, but this doesn't sound like any vacation I'd be willing go on.
And I know many others like me. We aren't, as some people seem to believe, too good for some jobs. Not at all. I'd gladly flip burgers or scrub toilets if it meant I wouldn't be living in my car. But like I said above, even those positions turn me down. Why? Because I'm “overqualified.” I've considered leaving off my education, but then I have these big blank marks in the middle of my resume and no excuse for them. What then?
Not to mention, try living on minimum wage in some of these areas. It's not possible. The answer, according to some, is for those who complain that they can't live on minimum wage is to go to college... well guess what, the number of college graduates working minimum wage jobs is 71% higher than it was only a decade ago. As of 2012, 284,000 college graduates can't find their way out of minimum wage work, and 30,000 of them have a Master's degree. I don't see it getting any better in 2013 and 2014 either.
I went to college, I went to graduate school and I worked for a better life... I'm not lazy. But simply put, minimum wage wouldn't even pay half my rent and I live in one of the cheapest parts of the state in the cheapest apartment I've found. I share it with someone and perhaps, a job at McDonalds would pay most of my half of the rent... but nothing else. No food, no electricity and definitely not my student loans. That's a simple fact.
This isn't fun. This isn't a vacation. It's pure hell. People claim “there's jobs out there” and yet, I can't seem to find them. I've submitted well over a thousand applications, sent my resume out to hundreds more. I've had my resume critiqued by professionals, same with my cover letter template. I keep changing it around, hoping that somehow I can hide this big, gaping hole in my work history that is there due to no fault of my own.
Get that? No fault of my own. I worked hard. I appreciated my job. I paid my taxes like everyone else. I did everything right and I'm still here. And guess what? I'm not alone. Yes, you may know one or two people who cheat the system. Maybe you know more. Maybe you know people who have enough money to accept unemployment benefits and still live a comfortable life so they aren't stressing about work. But get this... they aren't the majority. The majority of us are hard-working people who want to work, who want out of this rut and who don't appreciate being called lazy and worthless and are treated like second class citizens because we got a bad break. We aren't expecting handouts, but something needs to be done. We can debate all day and night about what that something is, but the truth of the matter is that what we've done up until this point is not working. Jobs are not being created. The middle class is disappearing. And those who fall upon hard times shouldn't be left to starve or live in their cars simply because of a situation they did nothing to create.
Yes, people make mistakes. I see now that I made the mistake of changing jobs. At the time, I thought it would lead me in a better direction for my future. There was no reason to think this would happen to me. Others are just like me. Sometimes, you take a chance and it works out. Sometimes, it doesn't. But we make decisions based on what we know at the time and sometimes, those decisions don't work out how we'd intended. Sometimes we have family to help us out, or we know someone who can get us a job right away. Sometimes we have no one who can help us and we're alone, trying to find a job in a system that labels as as incapable from the very beginning. And sadly, many people would rather sit back and judge, point fingers and act superior because they didn't end up like us. It's easier to place blame on those who aren't as successful than to admit that sometimes things happen that are well outside of our control. Because to admit that would be admitting that bad things can happen to good people. And when you admit that, you admit that maybe... just maybe... bad things can happen to you too. It's much easier to think those people deserve it than to admit sometimes, people do get rough breaks in life. Not always, there are people who cause their own problems, sure. But there are a lot more people like me who did everything right, who worked hard and we fell on bad times anyway. But we fall through the cracks.
That is exactly why the unemployed struggle as much as they do. The problem won't be resolved until we, and employers too, stop thinking that the unemployed deserve what they're going through and actually start making changes so that yes, they can find jobs and pull themselves out of this mess.
Sadly, I don't expect to see it anytime soon.