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Well, my plans for surviving the recession have just collapsed around me.  This is not going to be an easy diary for me to write, but at this point, ranting to DailyKos beats the alternatives, which is mostly to think about what's going to happen over the next couple of months.

So why am I not getting unemployment?  It's not for the usual reasons.  It's because of a confluence of bureaucratic snafus that nobody told me about, and that there may be no way out of.  Follow me below the fold to learn how even the most supposedly privileged of people, a white, male bioscience Ph.D., is a disposable commodity in this economy.

About two years ago, I'd joined the National Institutes of Health - one of the premiere organizations in the world for bioscience and medical research - as a postdoctoral fellow.

So what's a postdoctoral fellow?  Think of it as a journeyman stage in science; you graduate with your degree, you work 2-3 years to get the best publication you can, and you then go on to an academic professorship or industrial science position.  It is a temp job, but with benefits.  All well and good.

But pretty much since Reagan came to power, the pipeline from postdoc to full time job has broken down, and during the Great Recession it's become almost completely blocked.  As I had said in my original diary, it's gotten to the point where 1200 people are applying for a single Scientist-level job at biotech companies like MedImmune.   5 unemployed for every job?  Try 1200 unemployed Ph.D.s for every job...

After a  year of frantic job hunting in several different fields, I had to move back in with my Social-Security-receiving elderly mother, not a single interview to my name, at 40 years of age.  Fine, I thought.  I'd called the state of Maryland many months ago, and they'd told me that as a postdoctoral fellow, I was eligible for unemployment compensation.  That'd keep me going, at least, while I worked on my card game and continued to job hunt from Michigan.

I wasn't counting on the NIH fighting my unemployment tooth and nail.

Turns out that federal government workers -- Full Time Employees in the lingo -- pay into a separate unemployment fund so the state of Maryland will pay their benefits if they are laid off.  That fund doesn't include postdoctoral fellows.  So while my supervisor is fine with my UE, NIH Payroll is asserting that if I were granted unemployment, every postdoc in the system would become an instant free rider.  They quite happily argue that it is better to let me die then every postdoc to suddenly become eligible for unemployment, without having to pay UE taxes.

Die?  Yes, that's what's at stake.  Without unemployment, I will quickly lose my health insurance.  Without treatment for the aftereffects of ulcerative colitis, I will just as quickly become disabled, and eventually, die.  Since I live in Michigan, and am a non-SSDI male, I will never be eligible for Medicaid...not, at least, until ACA kicks in in 2014, by which time it will be far too late for me.  (Nor will I ever get Social Security Disability - I haven't paid enough into the system, since I've been a trainee nearly all my working life and haven't paid FICA).  Nevermind what losing my car will do, since up here in rural Michigan, public transit does not exist.  No car, no job, no hope.

But, there's one hope spot in all this.

Rather then simply go down passively, one more victim of the Great Recession, I wrote a letter to my previous Congressman, Chris Van Hollen, in MD-8.  He's one of the top liberal democrats in the House caucus.  (My current Congresscritter is Dave Camp, MI-4, one of the top Republicans in the House Caucus...and he doesn't even believe there should be unemployment insurance.  No help there!).  Against all odds, they agreed to take my case.  Apparently, to a liberal Democrat, an American-born, American-trained STEM scientist is worth trying to save -- who could have predicted?  However, the question remains: what can they do against the entirely of the NIH?  Right now, it's the only chance I have.

If you folks have anything to suggest, anything I might be able to do, I'd love to hear about it.  I'm asking for whatever advice you may have, because I'm fresh out of ideas.

(Edited to correct a minor typo)

Originally posted to ArchTeryx on Fri Oct 14, 2011 at 03:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  ArchTeryx - I can't help on the benefit side (14+ / 0-)

    But on the job front I would encourage you to contact your local angel investment groups and tell them you are looking for a startup where you can work for equity. If you aren't earning any cash, why not earn something?  If the company is funded you will have a paying job and will not be competing with hundreds of other applicants. Most startups are virtual so you will likely be able to work at home, without the expense of commuting and it will be very educational.

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Fri Oct 14, 2011 at 03:16:34 PM PDT

    •  That's a very interesting idea. (8+ / 0-)

      In the past I've shied away from startups not so much just for the risk, but because they require insane amounts of hours of work - the initial people REALLY have to be invested in a company.  In my 20s, that (might have) worked, but not now that I'm 40.

      I need a salary enough to live on these days.  But if it's between that an unemployment with no income, well, that's certainly something to consider.

      I have to wonder if I can combine it with my game somehow (LLC?  Self-employment?)

      •  on a side note (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        alizard

        there was a very interesting talk given at the commonwealth club today.  I'm sure you can find it on the KQED site.  Go listen, he was talking some about you and others like you.  Then go think of some really outlandish plan that they can fund grin

        •  here's the info (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ArchTeryx

          Next Broadcast:

          A Revolution in Biomedical Innovation
          The program's guest is Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). One of the world's most influential scientists and medical researchers, Dr. Collins will discuss the coming revolution in biomedical innovation - and what it might mean for you. Before taking the helm of NIH in 2009, he led the international Human Genome Project and made landmark discoveries of a number of important disease genes. Today, one of Dr. Collins' top priorities is to accelerate the movement, or translation, of scientific advances from the research lab to the medical clinic.
          Sat, Oct 15, 2011 -- 2:00am

          podcasts link

  •  But, but, but there are no qualified Americans... (16+ / 0-)

    I'm so very sorry to hear of your situation and wish I could say that, at least, it is exceptional.

    Every time I hear the Plutocrats (including those in the blue jerseys) spew their BS in defense of wage suppression, I want to scream.

    "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

    by Greyhound on Fri Oct 14, 2011 at 03:18:49 PM PDT

    •  Sadly it's not. (8+ / 0-)

      That incredibly crush of postdocs and other Ph.D.s trying to get that MedImmune job sure as heck told me that.

    •  The "qualified" are the ones getting most screwed (9+ / 0-)

      I have a Master's (that I went back for after getting my BA in the year of 9/11 and finding no work then either) and have now been out of work continuously for 2 years.  They cut off my unemployment compensation last summer, and I am now making ZERO income.  I've tried repeatedly to get a "job of last resort" (the minimum wage kind, as in, part-time, retail or food service, etc.) but even if I leave my education off the application, they can tell from my work experience that I don't belong,  and I don't get the call.  I'm 34 (today's actually my birthday, not that I can really celebrate...) and in decent health, but I haven't been to a doctor or a dentist in 2 years.  At the unemployment office, they even admitted they didn't know what to do with somebody like me (since most of their aid programs are geared to helping people finish an undergraduate degree or take courses in things like basic typing or computer skills.)   So they told me to turn one of my hobbies into a business, which I tried.  But so far, there's been no demand...  thus no sales... thus no income.  My unemployed friends who didn't finish college or grad school are all trying to do so now, and are pretty much all having better luck picking up part-time or low-wage work (some of it campus-sponsored) than I am.  If I had known getting an advanced degree would've made me completely unemployable, I NEVER would have done it!  Not being able to go back to those minimum wage jobs is a HUGE problem for people who have already earned an advanced degree, and yet I don't see any proposed legislation anywhere geared to getting us back to work.  Is this really the demographic America wants to rid itself of?  Because if the "overqualified" can't eat or get medical care, that's what's going to happen. :(

      •  Amen. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        northsylvania

        And the only time I've managed to get a low-wage job post-degree, my employers took great pains to make my life as miserable as they could, just because they could.  The only reason I lasted so long at that job (graphic design) was because I was GOOD at it and they couldn't replace me really quickly.

        I dread what is going to happen when I start looking for minimum wage jobs locally.

      •  Been there. Lie. (0+ / 0-)

        Seriously, make up about 3 CVs and don't lie about how good your qualifications are, but leave about 2/3 of them out. I had an excellent job selling tropical fish at a huge pet store by doing that. That may sound awful, but it meant being warm for 40 hours a week.

        "Bootstraps are a fine invention as long as they are attached to boots." blueoasis

        by northsylvania on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 02:15:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  . (0+ / 0-)

        I went thru the same thing after the lies of 911, former rocket scientist and computer programmer couldn't get a job at an Ace Hardware counting nails.

        It is why my name if free-trade-is-your-epitaph ... 3 more were just signed this week .. and the corrupt politicians are either trying to kill the unemployed (republicans) or the democrats want to make more unemployed that they can't even fund unemployment for.

        Note, Obama is a free trade freak and globalist, Romney is free-trade freak and a globalist.  They call this democracy.... its not.  Its rigged.

        "Let me issue and control a nation's money and I care not who writes the laws." Mayer Amschel Rothschild, 1790

        by FreeTradeIsYourEpitaph on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 03:54:40 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  our government has become amoral (14+ / 0-)

    bordering on sociopathic.

    Who are these people who create these rules?
    They do not speak for me.

    My heart goes out to you.

  •  Sorry to hear that. I was in the same boat but (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    northsylvania

    did manage to find another position. Research faculty which is essentially the same postdoc by another name but beats nothing. Try to look into those positions, btw. Also, an adjunct teaching position at community college may be an option.

    •  I may well be looking into adjunct positions. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      alizard, OHdog, FG

      Long as they're local, they may actually bring in enough coin to pay my basic expenses.  Living rent-free with my mother greatly lowers my expenses -- by about 2/3rds, actually, over Maryland.

      Thank heavens Maryland COBRA doesn't terminate upon finding employment. It only terminates when I join another health plan.

  •  Get the hell out (4+ / 0-)

    of the country, if you're able. I know your finances are shot, but surely a scientist is a valuable asset for whom some company overseas would pay relocation expenses.

    Probably not the most useful suggestion, I know, but it was the first and only thing that popped into my head. I'm sorry if it's utterly useless to you.

    When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained. - Mark Twain

    by Late Again on Fri Oct 14, 2011 at 08:59:13 PM PDT

    •  In the short term, maybe... (7+ / 0-)

      ...but in the long term, assuming there is a long term for me, it may well be the best option.

      The big problems it that ALL my friends and family, built over almost 30 years, are here in the States.  My best international option would be Canada -- Europe is bunkered in for another major recession -- but their research funding got hit just as hard as ours by Stephen Harper and the Great Recession.  Their surplus of Ph.Ds is pretty steep, too.

      Still, at least there, I wouldn't have to worry about being left to die with no health care.  Chances are rising it'll ultimately be where I end up.

      •  Have you considered looking in another location? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ArchTeryx, northsylvania

        Where I live (in the SF Bay Area, CA) there are a lot of bio-tech firms.  It's extremely expensive to buy a home here but not quite as bad to rent.

        •  Looked on both coasts. (0+ / 0-)

          In normal times, companies would readily relocate a well qualified Ph.D.  For the upper echelons, that's still true.  But for an entry level Scientist I position, they increasingly are turning to their own universities and not even bothering with anyone living outside the company's immediate vicinity.

          Not that being local helped that much in Maryland - I STILL didn't get any interviews, and I applied to almost 100 different outfits in that year.

  •  Unfortunately, all I can offer is "good luck". (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rogneid, ArchTeryx

    The best I could think would be another country, but that would be Dubai - Europe doesn't have money.  

    On the unemployment insurance front, I think the Congressman is a great idea, if that doesn't work, a "my story" interview with a TV personality, like Rachael Maddow, Ed Schultz, etc?  

    Your story makes me furious, and so, so very disappointed in this country.  We fail our citizens in the most basic of ways - to give health and happiness.   You need that to be a productive member of society, to work, to contribute  - it's not the other way around, it's not some reward, as they've trained us to falsely think.  It's a basic necessity for being a member of society.

  •  I Am Very Sorry (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ArchTeryx

    We are all in different versions of this same boat.  At the end of the day, you must try to keep getting the medical treatment that you need, regardless of your ability to pay.  If nothing else, just don't pay the bills.  But within driving distance in Maryland, you will find a medical clinic for people with low or no incomes.

    "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

    by bink on Sat Oct 15, 2011 at 04:40:17 AM PDT

    •  Not in Maryland any more... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dotdash2u

      In Midland, Michigan, near rural North Central Michigan.  Much tougher to find free clinics that have any expertise in my specialty (gastroenterology).  The local hospital is entirely for-profit and they turn away anyone with an inability to pay - it's the very same hospital that turned out my dying father, who suffered a heart attack on the way to an in-network hospital.

  •  No ideas, but lots of good wishes. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    Post docs have had a raw deal for a long time.  The pay is crap and they're totally at the mercy of the principle investigator.  I didn't know they were denied UI though.  This is terrible.

    Are all temporary appointments with the US government denied UI?  One of the benefits to the civil service is it's supposed to be uniform across agencies.  It doesn't seem right that agencies can pick and choose who gets covered.  

    This is only going to get worse as research finds itself in Republican crosshairs.  I work for the USDA's Agricultural Research Service and we'll be totally defunded if crackpots like Rand Paul get their way.  

    I hope something comes through for you soon.  My son in law with a physics PhD found there were more jobs in bioinformatics, if that's any help.

    •  Well.. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OHdog

      ...all government contractors are denied UI by state law.  Contractors are not eligible.  They are paid on a 1099-G.

      However, temp workers, so long as they work 6 months or more, ARE eligible for UI.  They are paid by the normal W-2 withholding process.

      Postdoctoral fellows in government are not contractors, but are paid by, guess what?  1099-Gs.  We have to withhold our own taxes and pay quarterly, just like contractors and self-employed people.  The state takes one look at my pay material, sees 1099-G but/not independent contractor, and bluescreens.

      If I were an academic postdoc (say, with the U of Maryland) none of this would be a problem; I'd still have to withhold my own taxes, but I'd show up in the state system since UM pays UI taxes.  They get UI, no sweat.

      As for bioinformatics, sadly, I tried that many years ago.  It requires database programming skill, and I can't program my way out of a wet paper bag.  It's far easier for an IT person to learn the biology then for a biologist to learn the IT stuff.

      •  That totally sucks (0+ / 0-)

        about the 1099-G.  I see what you're up against now.

        Are there jobs in the pharmaceutical companies?  Not to mean you should sell your soul or anything...

        If there's some way of finding out where NSF grants are awarded you might get a heads up on other applicants.  Going for another post-doc is a drag but it's something.

        I wish you the best in your search.  My daughter and her husband both have PhDs and though employed now, I worry terribly for them in the future.  I hope the congressman comes through for you because this really sounds like government post docs are getting shafted.

        •  I have no objection to working in Big Pharma. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Oh Mary Oh

          It's actually where my scientific career got started, in Baxter Healthcare.  Trouble is, Big Pharma is as swarmed over as academia is, right now.  That 1200:1 application to job ratio?  In one of the biggest Pharma companies on the East Coast, MedImmune.

  •  we live in a right to work state (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Oh Mary Oh

    So it is next to impossible to get unemployment from most employers  here. They can fire you for any and no reason and if you contest can win the case quite easily. You usually need a lawyer, and usually here, can't afford a lawyer right then.

    I really hope your congress person helps you and it doesn't get to it but:

    If you think it is not going to work out and you are going to be stranded without a car you can see if the company will take back the car (some do right now) or if someone will buy out the rest of your terms.(Or BEFORE you go dead broke, STOP making payments when you know they are going to take it anyway and save it for buying a cheap car, people make this mistake all the time and get in a bind. Survive, we get guilted about these debit commitments but corporations do it all the time without a thought.Yes it will hurt your credit. But if it is getting repo'ed anyway, at least you kept more cash out of it.) Then scrape together enough for a cheap used car out of what you can liquidate. Preferably a van if you think you might be living in it.

    As far as your medical condition, scout out any free medical clinics in your area. You may have to give the homeless shelters a ring and ask. But lots of areas have free or sliding fee scale clinics. If there aren't any, you might consider that in a move to an area with more friends who can help you through with couch surfing and medical clinics.  There is usually one though, not well advertised, and very packed with a long wait. If it tells you anything, there is a chain of centers of them here, they operate I think 4 total clinics, all full, all the time.

    Also, if your stuff on Medicare/Medicaid/SSDI is speculation and you haven't gone down to the offices and asked about it, it might be worth a venture if the time comes. They may find a special program to help you or have another trick up their sleeve. They have special medically needy stuff that is unique to each state.

    So see? It isn't the end. It just gets a little more complicated.
    It also isn't the greatest, but soon retailers are hiring for the holiday season and it used to be anyway at Target you could get some crappy Starbridge benefits @ 30days and better benefits @ 90. Same with others like Starbucks. You might consider something like that to keep the bennys going. You will be floored by how many people you work with who have bachelors and masters degrees who are  team members and cashiers @ Target. :(

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