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As I now come down the home stretch of my professional working life, I can look back and see more clearly the terror of my own past encounters with potential joblessness. I feel that such reflection can help me better understand and empathize with the plights of the unemployed, the under employed and those facing jeopardy of unemployment.

In about 90 days I retire. I will stop going to work and forfeit my biweekly paychecks. I started working part time jobs 52 years ago, making 35 cents/hour. After that, I always worked part time, and full time in the summer, except during military service. I have never been fired or laid off from any job. However, I have sometimes lived in terror of losing my job.

Follow me out into the tall grass for a story of joblessness terror moments.

By the time I finished college I was already married and obligated to report for military service not later than November. After my May graduation we relocated 400 miles so that I could work in the same union factory where my step-father worked until going on active duty in November.

Four years later, I mustered out and immediately started law school. My first brush with unemployment terror came at the end of law school.  I finished in the top 10%, won class and school-wide academic awards and wrote for the law journal. I was certainly a prime recruit, on paper, to become a newbie associate at one of the city's well heeled law firms, unless you counted the way I wore my hair and beard, and dressed, and spoke and thought and believed. Then I didn't fit in that well at all with that sort of career path. Another guy in my class graduated No. 1 and saw himself in a similar situation. So we partnered and hung out a shingle.

Is unprofitable self-employment as bad as joblessness? We made very little money after the overhead of keeping a downtown office, but the business was promising and the professional opportunities we were getting were unique. Then my partner insisted upon bringing in his new wife on an equal footing after she finally passed the bar on multiple attempts. Her mother became our secretary. I became a third wheel to their cozy family arrangement. The three of them dining out on the firm American Express card to discuss "firm business" became a problem forcing me to face the possible loss of my practice and the end of the kind of ideal we had once sought.

But it was a small city and a small legal community and I had approached legal practice somewhat iconoclastically.  If I was squeezed out of my practice, my employment prospects in this town had changed. The same law firms that once recruited me now knew me as a troublemaker and definitely not a "good fit". I mostly represented working and poor people and that hadn't yet given me much of a "book" of work from the point of view of another firm thinking of taking me in. Mrs. Left had a good corporate job at the time, but wanted to go to law school, so the crumbling of my practice situation and poor local reemployment prospects heaped on a ton of extra stress. I was terrified of becoming a failed, unemployed lawyer after just a few years of community practice building.

These fears subsided suddenly when I was able to snag a job at the state capital as an assistant attorney general. Several vacancies had become open when an incoming Attorney General cleaned out loyalist appointees of his (same party) predecessor. We relocated to the capitol city and I staked out a new career path while Mrs. Left started law school.

That's when my boss got primaried from the right and lost. I knew about the night of long knives that created the vacancy I had filled. Assistants serve at the pleasure of the Attorney General. The guy who won the primary by calling my boss an SOB went on to win the general election. I didn't know what to make of my prospects, but I was terrified by what I perceived to be the worst: Why wouldn't the new guy want to clean house and hire his own people, especially higher paying jobs like my deputy division chief position?

I dodged the bullet. The incoming AG was savvy enough to survey my state office and agency clients. Important clients spoke up for me. The new AG kept me on with even greater responsibility and autonomy.

Then the AG ran for Governor and lost the primary. The unemployment terror monster lifted its head and growled during a period of uncertainty about what the new AG, who won the general election for the open seat, would do about the staff. Soon enough I learned my appointment would continue. I remained until I resigned after having secured an associate position with a commercial law firm downtown. From there, my career has been something of a roller-coaster, but never again in danger of putting me out of work.

Now that I am about to put myself out of work, I can look back and still feel the terror of merely contemplating joblessness, without even experiencing joblessness. I can only guess how bad the psychological injury must be sometimes to those to whom joblessness actually happens. I don't totally have to guess because I've watched my daughters and their friends go through it during the Bush Economy's disastrous, for jobs, aftermath.

It's amazing, isn't it? America has a surplus both of jobless people and deferred maintenance. We also have a surplus of under-taxed millionaires. It would be nice if Congress would connect those dots and attack joblessness. But Republicans are more interested in making joblessness more horrifying for the jobless, by curtailing benefits to the jobless and their families.

The Republicans continue to root against the American people. Republicans oppose every proposal that might produce a stronger domestic economy under President Obama. While it is true enough that the Democratic Party contains some troublesome strains, it is nevertheless the case that if Democrats fully controlled Congress, then long-term unemployment benefits would not have just lapsed and federal food assistance would be more available.

Fight the terror of joblessness. Support the Democrat, even a crummy one.

Originally posted to LeftOfYou on Sun Jan 19, 2014 at 04:59 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I can relate, except... (19+ / 0-)

    ...I did have to endure unemployment. 2-1/2 months between my first and second jobs out of engineering school, and I had only worked at the first job for 9 months, so no UI. Six months between the third and fourth jobs, having left the second job for a better-paying one at a larger engineering firm. Then losing that fourth job, and being on UI for 11 months, until I started working for the City of Chicago. I gave them 27+ years, but the first 20 were reporting to a guy who thought the best way to "encourage" me was to threaten me with firing (he was insecure in his job). So I salute you for not having gto go where I did. Enjoy your retirement!

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Sun Jan 19, 2014 at 05:12:57 PM PST

  •  Scaldingly stressful is the way that I describe... (16+ / 0-)

    ...getting laid off in 2002 after having assumed a mortgage.  It was compounded by the fact that I couldn't stand the work I had been doing and wanted to pivot completely. The CEO who laid me off was himself out of a job 1 month later. I prided myself for talking him out of $5000 for the mounds of useless stock options I held in the company. He had had the gall to say to me how stressful it was to have to lay folks off.

    Unemployment payments, luck, and some friends put me into a good position starting a new path within six months.

    I didn't have a kid then and can't imagine if I had.

    Later at one point I had a boss that wanted to fire me and tried to...I had done some things wrong, but the biggest thing I had done was challenge ineffective bureaucracy.  The big boss figured it out and had my back...

    I never for one moment think I have been anything but spectacularly fortunate.

    I think of how very different my life quite easily might have been. Had some of that stressful unemployment synced up with major bout of debilitating depression that did occur...well, I shudder to think. At that point, I was lucky to have a compassionate boss.

    Thank you for your post. I never stop thinking how wrong-headed it is to cut unemployment for people struggling on that edge. I never for once believe anything but the 99.99% of those unemployed would do anything to have a job.

    Scaldingly stressful is the way I began to describe it. Scalding.

  •  Having been unemployed several times (11+ / 0-)

    and worked (full-time, mostly temp or short-term) while staying well below the poverty level, mostly while married, I can say that struggling to find work in stagnant economies or even less-than-stagnant ones when someone's "qualifications" don't match opportunities or luck just fails to materialize (I had an advanced degree, taught part-time and maintained jobs on a loading dock, as a Admin Asst., proof reader at a law firm, seemingly endless such jobs, always without benefits), I remember the experience as being very personal. I took it personally. I felt I was a failed human being, thought my degrees and the colleges I went to were substandard, thought I was not a "man," whatever that means. It contributed to the end of my marriage, since I believe my ex-wife thought I was a failed person during this period too, since she could find some positions in non-profits that eventually got us above the poverty level. That so many legislators seem not to get it suggests to me that too many of them have had advantages, connections, probably most of them inherited. My blue collar upbringing didn't seem to provide avenues to help me enter the white collar world. I despised who I was and where I came from. This kind of despair is extremely hard to overcome but can be easily exploited by crafty political animals who see advantage in characterizing those who struggle as being deficient human beings who deserve to be denigrated and even blamed for the struggles of others who either struggle slightly less or identify with the platitudes also uttered by those same opportunists who mythologize the notion of the "takers" and "makers" (of things, opportunities and nations) and conveniently identify themselves and those who identify themselves within that myth as the "makers." It is a sad state of affairs. You are right. The nation (not the ideal but the experiment and the physical entity) crumbles within the horrorshow of that false narrative's perpetuation.

    I discover myself on the verge of a usual mistake. ― Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

    by dannyboy1 on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 03:28:14 AM PST

  •  Facing possibility of joblessness Now (16+ / 0-)

    Myself, and it is scary.

    Since 1998 I've worked in non secure job situation and until now it's been very good to me. I work during the fall winter months in one job, pool guard during summer, it's been very beneficial till now.

    In the job situation they have always been able to let me go at any time, I have no contract, no Union, but that's never been a problem till last week.

    I have a meeting with this new supervisor tomorrow, I won't go into details mainly because I don't know much about a  'complaint' against me.  Now I've never had one before, but I also know I'll be 66, went from full time, to part time 3 years ago, also my pay is good for long term service.  I LOVE my job, and I am very good at it!

    I had  many thoughts about being homeless at my age this weekend, it's frightening.

    I have 10 months left to pay off a car, I was going to attempt to pay it down quicker these next months, now I don't know.

    It's so frightening, older, single women like me, often live in poverty.

    I have a small social security check, this job is exempt from paying into the system since they have their own retirement--it's an old style deal. I will have some retirement from them but social security will take half which I understand.

    So tomorrow I will have a meeting to find out about the 'complaint' lodged against me, Friends think I 'will be fine' I hope they are correct.

    I'll let you know how it turns out.

  •  fantastic diary! xoxo (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LeftOfYou, weck, JVolvo, northerntier, Wary

    "...i also also want a legally binding apology." -George Rockwell

    by thankgodforairamerica on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 07:10:02 AM PST

  •  I've been out of work 15 months and counting. (12+ / 0-)

    When the axe finally falls, you become amazingly resourceful. With government help, we've been able to tread water financially so far. My wife and I tell each other, "day by day."

  •  thirty+ years at a vocational school, and until (11+ / 0-)

    hitting thirty and one  month, I was always stressed by the possibility of my job disappearing.  Even with tenure, if the enrollment dropped below a certain number of students, the course would be cancelled.  I did get cut to 1/2 time early on, but the numbers rebounded.

    When the Albany big-wigs changed course, expecting all to learn languages and pass trig, my school was forced to decimate the Business Dept.  First teacher pushed out on "charges" (she later won back pay in court), the next pushed as she hit 30 years.  They landed me in oddball placed for a while, thinking I would quit.  

    I finally developed a course for them that increased their revenue significantly, so they moved me again and put someone else in charge.  

    I landed in the Alternative school, with 16-21 year olds needing to pass the GED as my students.  I developed a highly successful program that management hated, but worked for the kids.  They kept messing with my room, my furniture and what kind of students they were sending me.  My final year ALL of my students had IEP's, Anger Management or ESOL.  Who wouldn't be crazy, I was carrying nearly twice the load of any other teacher in SPED or Alternative Ed. with the most frustrated students in the building, and yet, they were still graduating!

    I am still de-stressing from the emotional overload they put me under.  Pretty much, it was because they wanted me to retire so they could afford two inexperienced teachers.

    Lesson.  Don't be a smart, successful woman in a school staffed almost entirely with men, they find a way to mess with you, year after year.

    If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever. &

    by weck on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 09:08:49 AM PST

  •  I Is There - - (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    But the sky is quite blue today.

  •  Terror... Fear... Flight? Or Fight? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greengemini, marykk, Diana in NoVa

    A friend became unemployed and unable to find any work. He lived off his cash cushion for a time, then ate through his retirement savings, then lived in another person's second room before that person was forced to downsize the apartment. Then he came to live in my spare room.

    That was two years ago. He's got nothing to speak of.

    Seeing no end to the current situation in sight; he attempted suicide on new years eve.

    He just wanted to escape, get away from what his life has become. In the face of the fear of unending joblessness, unending inability to pay for his own shoes or clothing when they wear out etc, he wanted to flee.

    Why did I choose that subject for this comment?

    It's amazing, isn't it? America has a surplus both of jobless people and deferred maintenance. We also have a surplus of under-taxed millionaires. It would be nice if Congress would connect those dots and attack joblessness. But Republicans are more interested in making joblessness more horrifying for the jobless, by curtailing benefits to the jobless and their families.
    Some people, like my friend, are taking the Flight option to address the gut-fear of joblessness. Suicide rates are up Up UP. (Link to RT) And, of course, this is a problem.

    There comes a point where the people who aren't compatible with the Flight option overcome our cultural barriers to that other method of addressing what frightens them - Fight.

    It's not enough to just support the D. There also has to be a lot of yelling at all of the D's so that they reverse the actions that have led to a population that is stretched to the point approaching a dangerous snap.

  •  Oh, Lefty (0+ / 0-)

    (may I call you Lefty?)  Your trajectory sounds very much like my husband's and my own.  Started out self employed, took on a partner who wanted to turn it into a full employment project for the family, ended up in public service subject to changes of administration.  It's not the money one might make in private practice, but the conditions are relatively humane and the sick and vacation days are good, as is the insurance.

    I just can't figure out which AG you started with.  

    If you think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in the dark with a mosquito.

    by marykk on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 07:01:57 PM PST

  •  I haven't (0+ / 0-)

    seen anything good happen in the US to make possible a bright and secure future for workers in the last 20 years.  Who is afraid of terrorists blowing us up with this type of leadership who always cater to multinational conglomerates and economic theories that simply have not worked ever?   The only threat of terrorism that is statistically significant is joblessness and the policy makers who create it.  And that is all I have to say about it.

    "History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance." -James Madison

    by FreeTradeIsYourEpitaph on Mon Jan 20, 2014 at 07:41:52 PM PST

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