unemployment

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Tree Silouhette Against Sky

Photo by Asif Akbar

It all started at the end of January. My husband lost his job and our family of five, plus one cat, was suddenly without income. It would be nice if our cat could become an internet sensation and earn us some money, but alas, he doesn’t even flinch when the doves pass by him on their way to the water dish.

This job, which has lasted for more than thirteen years, has been slipping away from us for at least the last five. We didn’t know when the job would end, we only knew that it would. Even though we knew this, we weren’t quite ready for the shock of it all. We immediately went into recovery mode. We made sure we knew exactly where all of our money was, how much we had, and when and how much we could expect to receive in the coming weeks. The severance, which we were lucky to get, is gone. We’re receiving unemployment insurance, but that is less than one quarter of what we were earning. My family is helping me out, but, as grateful as I am, it will be better when we can stand on our own. We have been unemployed for just over six months now. The unemployment benefits will continue for 18 months.

We realized that I need to go to work, and that we have to put the kids into public school. It means the end, for now, of our homeschooling career. For me, this is huge. I have not been in the workforce for more than thirteen years. Resumes are different. Job hunting is different. Networking has taken on a whole new meaning. I am worried about how the kids would do in school. I am worried about the logistics of getting them to and from school while holding down a job. I am worried about how my energy would hold out.

Shortly after the job loss, I sank into a major depression. If you have never experienced this, it is one of the most terrifying things there is. I was barely able to get up, shower and get dressed. Without the boys in the house, I doubt I could have gotten out of bed at all. Because of them, I got up, got dressed and mimed my way through the day. My husband took over all the cooking and most of the cleaning. I lay on the bed or sat on the couch or at my desk and simply stared into space. I knew instinctively that I could not handle this alone. This was just too big. I decided to seek counseling and within 6 weeks, I started counseling at a place that offered a sliding scale.

Fast forward 7 weeks into my counseling. Things were looking up and I had a better grip on things. On the fourth Monday in May, I got a call from my Mom telling me that my Grandmother’s death was “imminent.” On Tuesday, I drove five hours to her home. I sat by her side for three days. She died while I was holding her hand on Friday. I had never known such devastation before. My Grandmother was as close to me as my Mother. She taught me how to survive with three rowdy boys. I spent summers as a child at her house, and when I went to college, I visited her on weekends. I spoke to her on the phone several times a week. She let me use all of her office supplies to make fleets of paper airplanes and “crafts.” She gave me the best bedroom in her house, with a big pink bed and an adjoining bathroom. It was a room fit for a princess. I adored my Grandmother.

This event yanked me forcefully backward. Someone had grabbed my hair and pulling me. My Grandfather had died a mere two years before, and I was still grieving for him. I fell back even more solidly into the depression. I felt choked, as if I was drowning. On the advice of my counselor, I immediately got on the waiting list for another counseling service that had a sliding scale and open ended counseling sessions. Ten sessions was not going to be enough.

Since then, we’ve had another death in the family – my late Grandfather’s sister. Luckily, there was not to be another funeral. I could not have handled that. Nevertheless, I traveled the five hours again to be with my family – to offer what comfort I could to my Great Uncle, my Mother, and my many cousins. Our family has lost and lost and lost these past two years.

My husband and I have not yet found employment. The kids are slated to start school in a little more than a week. Next week we must shop for the remainder of their school supplies. The air conditioner went out while the outside temperatures have hovered near 105. We had to buy two full sets of tires for the vehicles and replace the wheel bearings on the van. In case you didn’t know, that is an expensive repair.

Somehow, I’m still here. No one has been sick. The boys are happy and thriving. I just haven’t been able to write. I have had to sit still for a long time and in many ways, I’m still sitting. My Grandparents’ furniture is in my home, and my Mother is moving into their house. I continue to visit my counselor and my friends have helped to hold me up. For now, I sit still.

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Photo by Katelyn Thomas

Now that the deer in the headlights sensation has worn off, we are trying to move forward with our lives. Life does not stop when the breadwinner is laid off. There are a million things that we don’t think of that need attention. It’s very overwhelming. In fact, it’s very tempting to just escape and procrastinate. But that does no one any good. In fact, ignoring the situation can MAKE IT WORSE.

The Pit of Despair

 

When my dear one was laid off, one of the things that I worried about was that one or both of us would sink into a depressive pit from which we could never emerge. To some extent, that did happen. Spouse hid his head in a riveting historical novel (which he had read at least three times before) for two days. He just stayed in bed and read. I, on the other hand, spun around trying to fix things – you know, be proactive. I felt resentful that he was not trying to fix the situation immediately. I really didn’t react with much empathy. Never mind that he was laid off on a Friday and deserved a weekend off. Neither his reaction nor mine helped. Instead, after the flurry of activity, we both got sick for 2 weeks. The kids did not. Finally, I succumbed to a rather deep depression for a few days.

Initial Decompression

An acquaintance mentioned that my husband and and I were both probably “shell-shocked” and needed some time to decompress from both the layoff and the toxic work environment that he had endured for 13 years. I relaxed and tried to allow my husband to grieve his job loss and come to grips with our new situation. I immediately sought counseling. I am still on a waiting list, but just the act of calling to make an appointment relieved a great deal of stress. We leaned on family and friends to get through this period of initial shock.

The Plan

What did help was sitting down calmly and attacking the problem systematically.

  1. We agreed to have weekly financial meetings. These meetings would help us to work together and keep me from feeling that I had no control over the situation. He would tell me how his job search was going and I would refrain from repeatedly asking him about it. I would keep him abreast of our income and expenses and provide a weekly financial report.
  2. We brainstormed a list of things we needed to do to keep our family afloat financially, medically, and emotionally. When the list was done, we assigned tasks for each of us to do to run the household. This gave both of us direction and purpose in taking our family to the next stage.
  3. We made it a priority to safeguard our physical health, our mental health, and our emotional health. We committed to eating healthy, taking daily walks, and doing yoga. As I mentioned, I called for counseling. We decided to keep some things, such as weekly skating (only $10 for me and the 2 younger kids), occasional movie rentals (under $3 per movie), and date nights (using coupons and 2 for 1 deals only) in the budget for now.
  4. We re-instituted the weekly family meeting to keep the kids informed. It is important to remember that a lay off affects everyone, down to the cat (though he doesn’t have as much to say).

We haven’t heard back yet about that job. Our future is still uncertain. Our lifestyle will change of necessity. But we will emerge stronger and with more life skills than we had. It will take all of us, working together, to build a new life.

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Photo by patita_rds

On Friday, my husband lost his job. As a result, our lives have been turned upside down. This turn of events was not unexpected. The company he worked for has filed for bankruptcy and is in the process of “restructuring”. People have been laid off almost daily for several months now. It was only a matter of time. He has worked to keep and enhance his job for more than 10 years. In today’s economy, this is a big deal. The job that he lost was not the job he signed on for. In many ways, he created his current position.

The Downside

Our lives have been turned upside down. I am scared. We are a family of 5. We have one child in braces and one that will soon need them. I have a child and 2 adults with glasses. My dear husband needs extensive dental work. Finally, we had a big scare last summer when two of my three boys were diagnosed with allergy-induced asthma. On top of that, we have a cat, some consumer debt, and a mortgage. I think the mortgage and the medical and dental care worries me the most.

Periodically, we scan the classifieds for apartments, duplexes and rental houses that would meet our modest needs. Our home is only 1,400 sq ft.  So far, we have not found another housing situation that would provide enough room and cost less than our mortgage. We would end up paying more per month for less space. More per month is something we can not do right now.

As for the medical and dental care, it is my hope that COBRA will help and that I can make arrangements with our doctors and dentists to continue care on a cash basis. I have a long term relationship with the pediatricians and dentists that I don’t want to lose.

The Upside

On the upside, my husband occasionally has some paying music gigs. They don’t pay much, but may help put gas in the tanks. He also does some web design on a freelance basis. Again, not much, but it might help with groceries. Two of my three boys just had their annual checkups, so that is covered. My eldest just got a really good haircut, so I can try to maintain that for a while. The other two have easier hair to maintain. We just got a major house repair done. The garage door now closes securely and opens safely. Finally, both of our cars are paid for. We will put a priority on keeping them in good repair.

Immediate Impact

Ours is not an extravagant lifestyle. We have a flat screen TV, but it is the smallest one available. My dearest got it on Craigslist for $100. We do not have cable, satellite or pay TV of any kind. We just canceled Netflix and are planning to make full use of the videos available from our public library. Our audio receiver is broken, only to be replaced when we see a used one that is serviceable. We bought our bread maker and microwave for pennies on the dollar through Craigslist and at resale shops. We buy our clothes at inexpensive stores and try to avoid the mall. We do venture to Sears and JC Penney for clothing and housewares. Our grocery bill is very low, less than half of the weekly cost of food, compared to the average family. Finally, we do not own iPods, iPhones, Blackberries, or other cell phone plans. My husband did get a fancy phone through work, but that will soon be a thing of the past. We also do not own any video game systems. Our kids use the internet for games and my husband requires an internet connection for his freelance jobs. In short, there is not much fat to trim. For now, all extra spending is stopped. No new books, clothes, or toys. Each and every purchase must be scrutinized.

Our Goals

Our foremost goal is to maintain the status quo in regards to housing, school and medical and dental care. We want to keep our home. We would like to try to home school the two youngest at least until the end of the school year in June. That would put D in 5th grade in August and R in 2nd grade. We would like to make sure we are all healthy and have the care we need to combat orthodontics, high blood pressure, glasses and dental repair. Hopefully, with these goals firmly in our minds, we can thrive despite our immediate hardships.

Steps For Recovery

My husband and I have formed a plan to address these issues. We plan to do each step in its turn and check in with each other once a week. I plan to make sure we all get the exercise and stress relief we need. We will keep taking the kids to roller skating once a week. As time goes on, more may have to be cut. But for now, we will make do. Because that is all we can do. I am mindful of Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. We can only act on things that we have control over. We can’t control that the job is gone. We can only choose to do the steps that move us forward.

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