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)