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I am long-term unemployed. You might have heard about us. There a several million of us formerly hard-working Americans who have fallen off the gainfully-employed treadmill into the formless void of perpetual joblessness. It doesn't mean that we are lazy. It doesn't mean that we are moochers or takers. We've already run through our unemployment benefits and now are either out on the streets or living off the kindness of friends and family.

What is like to be long-term unemployed? Picture being tried, convicted, and imprisoned simply for a single act of misfortune beyond your control. Picture being treated like the walking dead. Picture living with a plague that leaves no scars or injury, yet has no cure. Picture living day after day wondering if there is a future. Picture struggling for the strength to carry on. Picture more long-term unemployment fun beneath the decorative doo-dad.

What is it like to be long-term unemployed?

It sucks. We never pictured our lives turning out this way. We believed in the American Dream like anybody else, only to encounter occupational difficulties and setbacks beyond our control. Some of us have given up. Others, like myself, have gone back to school to earn a second degree only to find ourselves back in the ranks of the unemployed.

It's distressing. We are not failures. We were once successful. We once paid mortgages, supported families, and saved for our retirements. Now that's all gone. We live day to day wondering if we'll ever see work again. We live hoping we never get sick because we don't have health insurance. We hope no emergencies arise since we have no money to afford getting things fixed. We worry about our friends and family running out of patience with us.

It's frightening. We live on the edge. We're one step away from ruin - if not already there. The rich refuse to acknowledge we exist since that would be admitting the failure of capitalism. Society refuses to recognize us since that would mean the American Dream is a lie. My friends refuse to associate with me for fear of catching the unemployment bug. I am unwanted and shunned.

It's humiliating. I am ignored. We all are. But when we go unrecognized by those who claim to care, it really hurts. We already get enough of that with every resume we send out and every application we submit. Our lifestyle centers around futility and despair. The least you could do is acknowledge that our message has been received, our plight has been noticed, or our resume has been considered.

I refuse to be ignored! The long-term unemployed are real and we deserve to be heard. The following are my postcards from the bottom 1%. These dispatches are the real me. I may not represent the entirety of the bottom 1%, but I believe the sentiment I express is mutual.

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Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 12:04 PM:

Another day, another reality check. As my unemployment creeps along into its ??th month, I am left with the conclusion that it is the lack of work that encourages laziness, dysfunction, and confusion. I simply do not have the energy or desire to participate in any of the usual activities I once loved. I no longer feel like calling upon my employed friends, nor do I feel welcome in their company. It's like having a disease, that somehow they will catch the unemployment virus simply being in my proximity.

I'm not lazy. I'm disconsolate. As the days pass by, the more I feel my life slip away. I feel myself becoming ever more unemployable because the gap in my employment grows wider. Never mind that I keep busy with home-bound projects and furthering my education. All that matters to potential employers - or so it seems - is that I haven't had a full-time job since November 2008. Just pondering that fact gives me pause. No wonder I never get any callbacks.

It's all about waiting and trying not to go insane. Feelings of worthlessness are unavoidable. How can I not dwell on it from time to time? Sending out resumes is a near pointless endeavor. If I had a dollar for every one I've sent out, and for every application I've submitted, and never received a reply I wouldn't need a job! I could live off my futility.

Today is no different than yesterday or the day before or last month or last year. With sequestration I see my few employment possibilities dwindle away. Avenues that I've been pursuing are drying up. Layoffs are rampant in my field. I can't even get an internship or volunteer position, which I am quite willing to do if only to add some additional recent work experience to my CV.

As I type this I listen to the jet noise outside my window and wonder when the defense budget cuts are going to kick in. When Oceana goes silent, that's when it will be time to worry for my community.

Mind you, my hopes are still high. As best as I can maintain them. Friends ask me why don't I go back to work for OfficeMax. First, that was twenty years ago. Second, I didn't earn a master's degree to push multi-function printers at Officemax. It's like moving on from grad school to earn my BA all over again. I'm not destitute. I can wait it out.

I know this doesn't matter to you in any way, but it matters to me. I'm living in an America that doesn't care about long-term unemployed. Once you've burned through your unemployment benefits, that's it. It's like you no longer exist, and America would gladly wish that we no longer did. We're the fly in the ointment that disproves the infallibility of capitalism. Sometimes I wonder how many others are in my position. I don't really want to know. The number will probably only depress me further.

I'm not the face of failure. It's America that has failed. We would rather have millions suffer than succeed. I guess we long-term unemployed serve our purpose by making the disgruntled employed feel better about themselves. We are the 21st century equivalent to starving kids in China. 'Shut up about your piddly wage-slave job and be grateful you have one at all! You could be like that lazy bastard who hasn't worked a steady job in three years.'

I am America's loss. I am full of limitless creativity, relentless determination, and unyielding loyalty. If America and potential employers don't see that, too bad for them! I actually feel sorry for them because they are missing out on some hot and talented commodities out here in the land of the long-term unemployed. Just because we haven't been in the game for a year or more doesn't mean we can't get the job. It only means America is no longer interested in the best and brightest. America is now only interested in known quantities, the usual same-old. No wonder we haven't been back to the moon in forty years.

Teej

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Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 7:21 PM:

Just checking in. Still unemployed. Still hopeful. The hardest part is the depression, keeping sane. There are days I have trouble remembering that I am human. That I have meaning. That I do have a worthwhile life. That I am a contributor to this world. That I still have a role to play and that I am still capable of accomplishing great things. I keep up with my creative efforts. There's not much to say about that - nothing that pays the bills - but it helps keep the mind active.

I don't have a lot of financial resources left, so I stick to doing activities close to home. I walk to the local shops, not for any real purpose other than to keep active, and I bike when the weather (and my sanity) is willing. I've become very adept at finding thrift store deals. Just yesterday I scored a signed first edition for only a couple of bucks. Now that's something I would never have discovered if I was still employed. It's the little things like this that bring joy to my life. You can keep the fancy car.

But I wait, mostly. I wait for something better. Is it out there, I wonder? Maybe not today or tomorrow, but I know there will be better days. I haven't lost my hope. A couple of days ago I got a callback in regards to a volunteer position with the national park service. I don't know what will come of that, but I'll go wherever I am needed. I've certainly acquired a charitable heart over the past three years.

Rich people don't like to acknowledge there are people like me because it exposes the lie that is the American Dream. How can a hard-working person with a post-graduate education not find a job? Aren't only the lazy, uneducated moochers, and welfare queens incapable (or unwilling) to find work? I'm not a moocher or a taker. I am not on welfare or any other government entitlement program, although I probably could qualify. I'm just unemployed. I don't need a handout or pity. I only want a job. I only want to do my part to build the American Dream, not tear it down!

Although it feels like my life is on hold right now, I haven't lost my perspective. My experience being long-term unemployed is an experience I will always remember. If only I knew back in the days when I had a job what I do now, I wouldn't have been such a whiny-assed, ungrateful worker. I would have been thankful that I had a job. Not that I'm implying I equate self-worth with employment. I've done amazing things that I would have never considered if I was still employed. I've been places I never had the time to visit. I've met the love of my life when it seemed all hope was lost. None of this would have happened to me if it wasn't for the Great Recession and all the ills that came with it.

I am blessed in many ways, yet my heart yearns for more. I now know what it means to be at the bottom, but I also realize how lucky I am to have a strong network of friends and family for support. By rights, I should have been out on the streets over two years ago, but I've been granted the gift of time. I have the time to explore who I am. I haven't found myself yet, but I have done more toward doing so these past three years than the previous four decades of my life.

This is a hard lesson learned! Is it a sad commentary on modern society that we equate self-worth to so many superficial aspects of life? Have we grown so out of touch with ourselves for the sake of wealth, security, and the pursuit of the latest gadget? I have no health insurance, no income, and no retirement savings, yet I have more confidence now than I did when I was gainfully employed. Is this wisdom or willful ignorance? Maybe a bit of both. I don't know.

What I have discovered is that life is not about work. It's not about moving up the corporate or property ladder. It's not about earning six digits or owning the fancy car. It's not about having the latest smart-phone or meeting the right people. It's about being happy with who I am and what I have. I am richer for the things I've gained through my unemployment. I've learned to appreciate the dollar in my wallet and the thoughts in my head. I especially appreciate this gift of life, although at times of despair I sometimes entertain ways out.

Whatever it takes to get through this, I do it. I just keep in mind this is only temporary. I will prevail and achieve the goals I set. All in good time, or so my grandmother used to tell me. So I wait and read a good book.

Teej

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Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 10:09 AM:

Hello, again. More perspective from the bottom. I truly believe the only way to understand long-term unemployment is to be long-term unemployed. This is a fate I wish upon no one. Every day is a constant struggle to maintain my confidence and will to live. Part of the problem is my dwindling financial resources as well as my necessity to rely upon others for my existence. I spend my days looking through hundreds of job listings, sending off a few resumes to postings that match my skills, then wait for any responses. Very few ever respond. At least the companies with auto-reply promote the illusion that my resume is being considered. Most of the time I'm convinced they're all sucked into a digital black hole never to be seen again.

What I find most depressing about America today is that it is no longer the land of second chances. You screw up and you're done. After I realized I was not going to get rehired in my original profession, I took the initiative to pursue an education in another. I worked hard for my degree. I devoted two years of study, research, and late nights to graduate at the top of my class. My reward? Nothing. Not a nibble from any of my applications and resumes. Even volunteer and charitable organizations do not respond.

Yes, I gripe. But I have good reason. When did top academic honors and well-rounded experience become an occupational liability? I've proven myself in everything I do, but it all doesn't seem to matter. I know I have a sizable gap in my work experience, but earning my degree was a big chunk of that. Which brings me to the most critical part of long-term unemployment: lack of realistic self-assessment. I've got the education, the skills, and the determination, so why no response at all from potential employers? What's their problem? Are there really that many job-seekers who have earned MS degrees with high honors in addition to fifteen years of solid work experience? What kind of country do we live in if these qualities are not good enough to get a decent job, or just a call back?

I want to work! I am a proven, driven, and relentless force for the betterment of mankind. Problem is, as far as I can tell, mankind wants nothing to do with me. I could easily say it's mankind's or any potential employer's loss. Well, okay, it is. I've been told that I may be a victim of my own success: that no employer replies because either (a) they're convinced they cannot afford me, or (b) they just don't believe my resume. So I return to the concept of success as liability. If hard work and accomplishment scares potential employers, then why bother? If I had only known that my academic success was going to prevent me from getting a job, I would have slacked off and not given a s---. But that's not me, and it's certainly not the America I want to live in.

Excellence should be a virtue, not a detriment. I want to live in an America that values hard work, success, and loyalty. But no. Instead of living in the land of second chances, I've discovered I live in the land of second best.

Teej

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Tue, Feb 26, 2013 at 12:08 PM:

Hello, again. Still unemployed but not giving up hope, although it is tough these days with the sequester about to kick in. You see, I live out in a place known as Hampton Roads, Virginia. You may have heard of it. We've got Naval Station Norfolk, Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek, Fort Story, and other military facilities. We're a community that depends on the military for a large number of our jobs and keeping the local economy healthy. Service personnel shop at our stores, visit our tourist attractions, use our banks, and utilize our services while their kids attend our schools and daycare centers. We also have the Norfolk Naval Shipyard out this way that depends upon US Navy contracts to stay in business.

As you can see, the military is a vital part of our community. We love jet noise! All this week our daily newspaper, the Virginian Pilot, has been running stories about the damage the sequester is about to do to my community. Living with the possibility of losing many jobs that depend on the military (either directly or indirectly) is a frightening reality here. A good friend of mine lost his job when the navy project he was working on was cancelled due to coming sequester cuts. The occupation in which I recently earned my master's degree faces hundreds of lost jobs throughout the state as a result of the sequester. Another at the naval shipyard is concerned about job security when the refit of one of our carriers was cancelled. Out here, when the jet noise stops, we're in trouble.

Virginia is going to be hit hard and I do not look forward to it. As somebody who is already having a miserable time trying to find work in my field, it will be an absolute hell as soon as the sequester layoffs begin. So, to anyone who thinks the sequester is an acceptable solution to our financial woes, think of Hampton Roads and the looming economic disaster facing us when the defense budget cuts start impacting our local businesses and services. I agree sacrifices must be made, but many of those cuts that look like a good idea in Main Street America are the stuff of nightmares in a military community.

Just sayin',

Teej

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Mon, Feb 18, 2013 at 10:30 AM:

I've got something to say. I'm one of the forgotten among the forgotten that nobody seems to care about: long-term unemployed who returned to school to earn a degree only to return to the ranks of the long-term unemployed (graduated in May 2012, still unemployed). I don't think my story is all that unusual these days, which is pretty sad. I lost my last full-time (and well-paying) job in November of 2008. Since then, I've lost my marriage, my home, and my life-savings to get through this rough patch in my life. I've done very well. I have earned a master's degree, created music and art, wrote a four book series, and done my part to make this a better world. Problem is, these things don't pay. I've earned maybe a total of $20k over the past four years. Hundreds of resumes sent out, only a couple callbacks so far. The view from the low ground is that creativity, academic success, and hard work doesn't cut it any more.

Stuff that once mattered to me no longer does. Nice things, for instance. In 2008, I would never have thought of shopping at the thrift store. Today, I've memorized which ones have the good stuff and the best prices (not always the same stores!). I only buy necessities, unless I come across some forgotten money then I may buy something special for myself. My computer was a graduation present. My phone was a freebie from four years ago. I rarely go out any more, unless it's a walk to the store or for exercise (always eyes to the ground looking for loose change). I do what ever it takes to keep from crying or remembering the way things used to be. Or engaging in what-ifs. Those are the killer, the slayer of hopes. I'm not a failure! I'm a victim of the times, like so many others who are out there banging their heads against the wall.

The hardest part of long-term unemployment has been swallowing my pride. I am no longer self-reliant, and it pains me that I have to beg and borrow. I currently live off the generosity of friends and family, otherwise I'd be out on the street. I have just enough left to my name to pay for my meds and phone bill. I certainly will never again see the kind of pay I was making in 2008. So, I've finally accepted my situation and quit fooling myself. The good life is gone. However, I haven't given up looking for better. I've given up on unrealistic expectations, such as finding a good job, owning another home, or even saving up for retirement. These are no longer options in my world.

I just wanted to add some perspective that those of us at the bottom aren't all takers or lazy freeloaders. Some of us are taking measures to do better. I wouldn't have gone back to school if I had given up hope. Thankfully, I'm one of the lucky ones. I am loved, and I have good people in my life who support me and console me when the depression kicks in. I'm in no immediate danger of becoming homeless or going hungry. I only have to cope with the nagging guilt of being a burden on others. I know I can do better and I look forward to that day. But if we live in a country where a creative and hard-working individual with a post-graduate degree can't find a job, things are seriously screwed up.

For what it's worth,

Teej

Originally posted to Unemployment Chronicles on Wed Mar 06, 2013 at 08:07 AM PST.

Also republished by Income Inequality Kos and Community Spotlight.

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