Violet* had been looking for a job for over a year. She complained she couldn’t even get an interview. Being pretty good at creating resumes that land interviews and jobs for friends over the years, I volunteered to fix her resume.
I turned her three-page, jargon-filled resume to a single page, tightly written treatise of her qualifications and lo-and-behold, she gets an interview and a job offer!
Which she then declined.
Turns out the starting pay was $20 per hour and she had to make “at least $22 per hour.” I was completely taken aback. “Take the job,” I told her. “Get your foot in the door; get raises down the road!”
“Nah,” she replied, “I’ll always be $2 per hour behind. I’ll just keep collecting unemployment.”
Wes*, a father of three grown kids, hasn’t worked in two years. He’s an experienced teacher who collects unemployment while cycling at the beach, visiting the zoo and hanging out in coffee shops. He also loves the gym.
Violet and Wes may not be working jobs but they sure are working the system.
If their choices were the streets or any job, they’d take any job. If their choices were no food or any job, they’d take any job.
But those aren’t their choices. Because of our country’s unaffordable, too generous, well-intentioned but ultimately crippling unemployment safety net, they and far too many others are opting to not work. They collect unemployment while goofing off or waiting for the “perfect” job.
No doubt today’s employment environment is challenging but there are jobs out there even if they’re “beneath one’s standards.”
The late great Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, said of work beneath one’s standards, “You ought to be thrilled you got a job in the mailroom. And when you get there, here’s what you do: Be really great at sorting mail. And if you don’t, where is the proof that you can do anything? No job should be beneath us.”
When my father, a physicist for the Apollo Space Program, was laid off in the early 70s after we landed on the moon, he got a job teaching at a little school in Vermont. He went from receiving NASA’s Achievement Award for programming Apollo 11th’s reentry into the earth’s atmosphere in FORTRAN to teaching middle school/high school (the town was so small, one school serviced 1st grade through 12th grade).
Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he was relieved to be working and supporting his family. He enjoyed teaching, ultimately becoming a professor in Boston.
During the NASA lay-offs, the news show 60 Minutes did a piece on NASA rocket scientists’ struggles to find work, I recall a few becoming janitors. It was sad but as one scientist-turned-mopper said, “I’d rather shower, get dressed and go to work, then lay around in my robe all day.”
I have a client who has to be around 90-years-old. She has vivid memories of The Great Depression. Her father did hard labor and farm work odd jobs, while mom and the daughters took in mending to survive. They didn’t have a choice - unemployment wouldn’t be around for another decade (began in the 1940s).
Relying on their own survival skills and hard work instead of relying on government benefits gave rise to our country’s “Greatest Generation” – the generation that won World War II and built the most powerful, prosperous, inspiring country in history.
Short-term unemployment benefits may help people land on their feet but long-term unemployment benefits help people land in a hammock.
* Names changed to protect their identies.