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.