Want to feel worthless? Try this experiment: find a way to lose your steady, high-paying, full-time job. Run through your unemployment benefits. Lose your marriage and your job. Live off the generosity of your friends and family while pursuing a degree you hope will make you more employable. Graduate with top honors. Now, start sending out resumes. Keep going for a year with no response to any of them. Keep looking for jobs anywhere that you have not already applied to. Even to places and companies that abhor you. Still no replies? Keep going!
Keep going, and don’t worry about that ever-widening gap of unemployment on your resume. Don’t think of how much of a burden you are on your friends and family. Don’t think about not having health insurance or money in your bank account (if you still have one). Just worry about spending up to two hours at a time filling out online applications to jobs and potential employers that you know are never going to reply back. Don’t worry about those terrible thoughts at the back of your mind (What’s wrong with me? Where did I do wrong? Why won’t anybody get back to me?). Just keep going, day after day, on and on, on and on…
It’s been five years now since your last steady job, and several months since your last interview, but keep those resumes going! There’s been positive job growth for years now, just not for you. It’s nothing personal. There are still plenty of job opportunities out there, so keep going! Feeling diminished as a human being yet? Feeling ignored, shunned, and rejected? Feel like giving up? Congratulations! Welcome to worthlessness, but you’re not a lone. There are millions just like you – many of them once hard-working, middle-class people like yourself – wondering if they will ever get a good job again. Or own a home again. Or be insured again. Or enjoy financial security again.
Where's our champion? Who's our savior? Nobody speaks up for us. These days it's all about helping the middle-class, raising the minimum wage, and housing reform; all of which is great if you already have a job. What about us without jobs? Take a good look at this site or any other progressive site. Go on. See anybody seriously talking about the pain and damage caused by long-term unemployment? Not likely because the employed and government alike fear our existence. We're the inaccessible stone clogging the safety-net drainpipe. We're the glowing elephant sleeping in the capitalist playground. We're the untreated plague upon the economy.
I began writing Postcards from the Bottom when I noticed a distinct lack of discourse on the subject. So about a year ago I started posting them here to lend some insight into how distressing and soul-crushing this plague of worthlessness feels. I don’t like to be ignored, especially when it’s an issue that affects the lives of millions of my fellow Americans. I'm a human being filled with feelings and a drive to do what's right. I'll take a hint from the other side. If I yell loud enough, I will be noticed. Maybe, if I yelled loud enough, I could stir up some interest in the plight of my fellow long-term unemployed brothers and sisters.
To date, I am still disappointed by the overwhelming lack of sympathy toward our situation. We continue to wait for our moment. Marriage equality. Womens' rights. Immigration reform. Minimum wage. Healthcare. Housing. Keystone. NSA. IRS. Something. Something. Okay, what about jobs? None of us planned to be unemployed. We’re not lazy slackers out to leech off the system. We simply can’t find work and employers are unwilling to hire us. Even Congress and the President refuse to stand up and declare this is a total national tragedy. If anything, government wants us to suffer even more than we already are. Want to make things better? End discrimination against the long-term unemployed!
All we ask for is decent jobs. Honestly, we’re not charity cases. We’re just down on our luck. So why is it this way? What did we do wrong? Why are we derided for doing the right things only to wind up in the ditch? I cannot speak for all long-term unemployed, but those I do know are good, hard-working people who want nothing more than to make their honest contributions to society. We want to pay taxes! What's wrong with that? If anything, we bring to the table a hunger for redemption and a perspective of what it's like to have little or nothing. We've all hit bottom. We have a new respect for all people and the problems in their lives. Most of all, we having a burning desire to give back to those who have kept us going. Those who survive this dark stretch in our lives are stronger, more resilient, more resourceful, and far more humble. We are a benefit, not a burden!
At this point I don’t know what to do. Is long-term unemployment now the new normal? Do I get a membership card? Does this army of one have to storm Washington and camp outside the White House then hope to get noticed amid all the other demonstrators of various flavors and causes? I do not know. I’m just tired of my fellow long-term unemployed brothers and sisters being ignored. I’m tired of being ignored. I’m tired of having to rely on others for my well-being. I’m tired of my skills, desire, and experience going to waste. I’m tired of my life slipping away. I am capable of great things, but I’m just tired.
It’s as if the powers-that-be want a whole section of perpetually poor people. For what purpose? To ridicule us for our misfortunes? Our laziness? The huge gaps on our resumes? But the sad reality is we’re a ticking time-bomb. We will have a dramatic effect on the health of our economy. We will be a strain on support programs for years to come. Yet nobody sees this coming. So we’re swept under the carpet like all the other blight on the system. Congress and Mr. President, you do so not at your risk, but the risk of our entire nation. This is one problem you can ignore but, I guarantee you, it won’t go away.
More Postcards from the Bottom: