Heartless thoughts about joblessness from someone whose lifestyle hasn’t been affected too much by the recession

I blush to admit this, but the recession has been something of a blessing for me.  Subject to two short intervals, once when I was a 19/20 year old exchange student and was not allowed to work abroad, and once for a few months after my second child was born, I’ve worked steadily since I was 17.

I worked my way through college and law school.  Since I am self-employed, I went back to work within a week of my first child’s birth.  I slowed down briefly after my second child only because I’d reached the end of my rope, and was worried about damaging my reputation as a quality attorney.

Admittedly, since I’ve had children, I stopped being the primary breadwinner, but I kept working, with my workload varying between 20-40 hours a week.  In between times, I was also a full-time parent to my children, as well as I full time housekeeper.  I did volunteer work at the schools and youth organizations, ran carpools, shopped, cooked, cleaned, did laundry, helped with homework, etc.

I’m neither boasting right now, nor complaining.  I’m not boasting because I know dozens of other mothers who carry the same load, most with more grace and competence than I.  And I’m not complaining because, thanks to the recession, my work dried up.  It’s been a tremendous relief for me to hold down only one job:  parent/homemaker, and not to have to worry about legal work on top of it all.  Indeed, I’m going to regret it when the recession (eventually) ends, and my phone starts ringing again.  I’ve liked not working and have been fortunate enough to be able to afford not to work.

A friend of mine hasn’t been working lately either.  Her story is quite different from mine, and it’s why I’m not always quite as sympathetic as I should be to all of the jobless claims.  You see, my friend has been unemployed for 4 years.  Her husband has been unemployed for 13 years.  Up until 4 years ago, they lived off of her salary.  Then, they lived off of their savings.  Now, after having abandoned their home to the bank (a home worth substantially less than the original loan the bank issued them) they’re living off the last dregs of their savings, plus food stamps.  Welfare is not far away.

If you ask them, they will tell you that they’ve given up on looking for jobs (and my friend, to give her credit, looked very hard for work in her rather narrow, specialized field).  What they say is that there are no jobs to be had where they live, so why bother?  What they won’t tell you is that, despite their travails, they’re very picky.  The jobs that are available are “beneath them.”  The hourly pay is too low to be worth their while.  (This is especially true for jobs that do not require special training, such as fast food store clerks, etc., where the pay for a tiring, demoralizing job is comparable to that of a welfare check.)  The company that might hire them has an inconvenient habit of requiring drug tests.  Unlike my parents’ generation, which would do anything or move anywhere (following the jobs) to bring in money, my friends represent a generation that believes that, unless the job is not only just right, but is also in their back yard, they really shouldn’t have to work.

My friend’s friends are similarly situated.  They live a welfare lifestyle that doesn’t include such bourgeois notions as being a reliable employee, refraining from drugs and alcohol, having children within wedlock, etc.  Although they swell the unemployment roles, their unemployment isn’t a problem of the recession, it’s a moral problem.

I know with absolute certainty (or at least I think I know this) that my friends are not representative of the vast majority of those left unemployed by this economy.   I know that whole industries, especially those that are traditionally male dominated (c0nstruction, especially) have been wiped out.  I know that, because the government has sucked money out of the private sector and paralyzed potential employers with fright, there are simply fewer private sector jobs to be had.

But I also know that there are people out there who, like me, are enjoying being unemployed.  The difference between them and me is that, while I can afford it (at least for now), they cannot.  Or, rather, they can also afford it, but only as long as you pay the bill.  I also suspect that, once the American taxpayers stop willingly footing this bill (Nancy Pelosi’s economic theories notwithstanding), this specific subgroup of unemployed people will find that there is less virtue in their work-free lifestyle.

I’ve never been a fan of George Bernard Shaw (a bombastic old socialist who believed in eugenics, and therefore supported the “cleansing” aspects of Nazi social policy), but he certainly articulated beautifully the distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor, as articulated by that delightful reprobate, Alfred Doolittle:

What am I, Governors both? I ask you, what am I? I’m one of the undeserving poor: that’s what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that he’s up agen middle class morality all the time. If there’s anything going, and I put in for a bit of it, it’s always the same story: “You’re undeserving; so you can’t have it.” But my needs is as great as the most deserving widow’s that ever got money out of six different charities in one week for the death of the same husband. I don’t need less than a deserving man: I need more. I don’t eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more. I want a bit of amusement, cause I’m a thinking man. I want cheerfulness and a song and a band when I feel low. Well, they charge me just the same for everything as they charge the deserving. What is middle class morality? Just an excuse for never giving me anything. Therefore, I ask you, as two gentlemen, not to play that game on me. I’m playing straight with you. I ain’t pretending to be deserving. I’m undeserving; and I mean to go on being undeserving. I like it; and that’s the truth. Will you take advantage of a man’s nature to do him out of the price of his own daughter what hes brought up and fed and clothed by the sweat of his brow until shes growed big enough to be interesting to you two gentlemen? Is five pounds unreasonable? I put it to you; and I leave it to you.

Both the federal the state governments  paint only in broad, distant, brush strokes.  They are incapable of distinguishing between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor.  If charity was a bit closer to home, there might be a better process for winnowing out those who truly want work and those who, like me, are enjoying a recession breather.

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  • suek

    I heard yesterday on the news that there’s a whole new class of people – of which you might be one! – called the “funemployed”.  Supposedly they’re developing a whole new group of online stuff/activities/groups, etc.


    The story about the picky couple comes under the header: Gainfully Unemployed.

  • http://home.earthlink.net/~nooriginalthought/ Charles

    “Both the federal the state governments  paint only in broad, distant, brush strokes.  They are incapable of distinguishing between the deserving poor and the undeserving poor.”

    Sorry, Book, as one who is among those unemployed (BTW, I consider myself unemployed, NOT poor)I can tell you that it is more than just the government that cannot tell the difference.  I cannot even begin to tell you how many “well-meaning” people offer suggestions on how to land a job as if I am sitting at home all day watching soaps, eating bon-bons and commenting on blogs (okay that last one is true).

    Also, being “picky” is often a matter of survival.  While I would be willing to work at the local grocery store, or whatever until I find something in my field, not only would they NOT hire me as they know that I would leave as soon as I find something better, but a position in my field would want to know why I worked at something “beneath” me.  I know this for a fact as I did this 20-some years ago and it was the most common question asked by interviewers.  Despite the fact that I thought that it spoke volumes about my willingness to work hard, they all seemed to think that I had some fault they could not see if I wasn’t in my field.  The attitude seems to be the same today.

    Lately, I was willing and did work as temp admin assistants.  boy, did I learn my lesson there.  yes, unemployment would have paid more (and I would not have had the commuting expenses), and I would not be told sorry we don’t want to hire someone who is just an “admin assistant” when I do get lucky to land a job interview.  This attitude is despite over twenty solid years in my field!  Hiring Manager only seem to care about what you are doing now or what your last job was.  Everything else doesn’t seem to matter. ARRGH! So, it isn’t just the government folks who are dumb.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com/ Ymarsakar

    They are covering themselves because they aren’t allowed to take risks. And they aren’t allowed to take risks because the government took all their investment cash and gave it to their rich relatives.

  • Jose

    BW, were you channeling Ben Stein?

    Some time ago I commented that a personal acquaintance, in his desperation for work, was attempting to join the Army at age 47.  After losing 60 lbs (the Army changed the standard twice on him) he has indeed enlisted and is currently in training to maintain mobile missile launchers.  When his training is complete, he is assured of heading to Afghanistan.
    He was allowed to enlist at such an advanced age due to prior service in the Navy, and, of course, he did pass the physical.  If he can stick this out for 13 years, combined with 7 years of Navy service, he will be eligable for a military pension.  He will be 60 years old.

    The thought of beginning a military career at 47 leaves me cold.  The physical demands and the surrender of personal freedom would be hard to face.  I did my 20, and the thought of taking orders again is not appealing. 

    While I applaud his dedication to his goal, I must also state that he is in his current position to some poor choices and lack of marketable job skills.  And he did pass up low paying jobs to remain on unemployment. 

    In the final analysis, he shares some responsibility for being unemployed, but did find an opportunity and worked very hard to get there, including a regimen of walking and jogging 12 miles a day.  I wish him success but mostly I’m glad I’m not in his shoes.

  • Texan99

    I grew up with too many stories of how my folks managed during the Depression to be able to tolerate the excuses I hear these days for not working when you could.  For people with savings who can afford to last it out in order to manage their resumes, I say great.  When it comes to living on the taxpayers I draw the line.  That should be strictly for the disabled.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    Charles/Ymar on hiring decisions. Insane government policies are the primary cause of our current problems, but it is true that too many corporate people..both in HR and in line organizations..make bad decisions about the criteria to be used for hiring. See <a href=”http://chicagoboyz.net/archives/12370.html”>hunting the five-pound butterfly</a>.  These issues predate the current economic mess.

  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    Charles, I’m so sorry about your plight.  I know people similarly situated to you — people who are qualified and determined, and utterly frustrated by a benighted economy.  I also know that you’re absolutely right about being over-qualified, to the point where employers are afraid to have you around, whether because they know you’re just “slumming” or because some low level manager is worried that, pretty soon, his job will be yours.  I also know that every single person like you — someone who actually wants to work — has found work.  Heck, there are a couple of “yous” in my neighborhood, both of whom suffered terribly during the construction drought last year.  They never gave up, which I so admired.

    I just got to venting about this couple I know, and their surprisingly large circle of friends and neighbors, many of whom are professionally unemployed.  They are the living embodiment of Alfred Doolittle.  I know from my friend that this isn’t an aberration.  There is a certain echelon that simply has no work ethic, has no desire for a work ethic, and is completely at ease with a status quo that includes perpetually extended unemployment benefits, not to mention welfare.  It’s these people who frustrate me.  There’s just no reason for an able-bodied man with varied skill sets to be unemployed for 13 years.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I can relate. I have a friend, a professional, who evolved a career in a currently hot technical field associated with helping companies save money. He lost his job with a good severance package a number of years back. He decided  to take time off and live off his severance to pursue “hobbies” until the very end before seeking a new job. Huge mistake.
    Of course, by the end of his severance period, he had a big unexplained gap in his resume and the economy had turned sour, so he could not find new work. He casually sought consulting jobs but admits to me that he doesn’t know how to sell himself.
    The longer he was out of work, the less marketable he became, hampered by his (not uncommon) inability to properly market himself (he gets extremely anxious and tongue-tied). As the gaps in his resume get wider and his consulting contracts fewer and fewer in between, I feel sorry for him: while much of what has happened is his own fault – for example, resting on his severance. However, his inability to get in front of people and sell himself is not laziness but a reflection of his personality make-up. We’re all made differently.


    I believe all of us know someone who has been out of work for a period of time. My younger son was laid off at one point and it took him a year to find a paycheck. The paycheck is 40% less. He could have stayed on/off employed with several head hunters for more money but w/o health benefits. At age 40, he knew he would have to have a paper trail of employment.
    This is where the rubber meets the road in that I believe hiring could improve if employers were not terrified by the unknown health care outcome. Obama on the campaign trail made it very clear what the agenda would be. The unemployment rate rises with age, I think it was referred to as the ‘gray ceiling’.
    Live below your means, you never know when they’ll evaporate. Income or lack of it, becomes more of an issue later in life. There is simply no way to calculate the cost of aging, illness, prescription medications that are not covered or any one of a dozen neurological diseases [dementia, Alzheimer, Parkinson] that can take everything away.


    Public Service Announcement [WARNING]

    as of midnight Dec. 31, the death tax returns – at a rate of 55% on estates of $1 million or more. The effect this will have on hospital life-support systems is already a matter of conjecture.

    The lowest bracket for the personal income tax, for instance, moves up 50% – to 15% from 10%. The next lowest bracket – 25% – will rise to 28%, and the old 28% bracket will be 31%. At the higher end, the 33% bracket is pushed to 36% and the 35% bracket becomes 39.6%.

    The marriage penalty also makes a comeback, and the capital gains tax will jump 33% – to 20% from 15%. The tax on dividends will go all the way from 15% to 39.6% – a 164% increase.
    Both the cap-gains and dividend taxes will go up further in 2013 as the health care reform adds a 3.8% Medicare levy for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and joint filers making more than $250,000. Other tax hikes include: halving the child tax credit to $500 from $1,000 and fixing the standard deduction for couples at the same level as it is for single filers.



  • http://bookwormroom.com Bookworm

    @Danny:  You are perfectly describing my friend’s husband.  The concept of being employed is often bigger than the job itself.  My friend’s husband, at age 50, simply decided that he was “better” than work, and that his wife could support him.  When her job prospects collapsed, he’d been unemployed too long to be re-employed.  And unlike other people I know who used that same time to engage in non-paying activities that were nevertheless useful (raising a family, getting a degree, training in a skill, etc.), he was so self-indulgent that there was nothing for the resume.


    I am fascinated by the ‘couple’. The wife was the enabler, giving husband the Life of Riley.
    Q. What did she get out of it in the end?
    A. The same thing her husband wanted to do – nothing.

  • Cheesestick

    There are lots of people on unemployment that shouldn’t be.  A number of my co-workers, yes, co-workers get it and thus, don’t have to work but a few hours every week…if that.  It is shocking to me that they are not ashamed of what they are doing….but even more so that they are able to get away with it.  Some of them have been on the dole since this whole mess started; 1-2 years.  Part of me wished they hadn’t approved the extension…but the other side of that is, none of these people have been looking for another job that will give them the income they need.  So when their extension goes away, they’ll be back competing w/ me for hours.  And while they’ve been on it, I have been able to pull 50-55 hours per week the whole time.  It’s very messed up.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Oh, forgot to mention in my Post#9: my friend’s wife enjoys a nice trust fund that helps them to survive. Many of the people that I know that fall into this “middle-aged and unemployable” category received some support from a dead relative. Unfortunately, it seems that trust funds just enable bad behavior by providing a financial crutch to people.
    I’ve lost my job a total of four times, including times (such as immediately after the 9/11 attacks) when I was self-employed and all economic activity ground to a halt. Those times forced me to look at the financial abyss and forced me to work harder than ever to reinvent myself as necessary and find work. Thus far, it has worked. However, had I a financial crutch to rely upon, I probably would not have been nearly as motivated. That, I am afraid, is the legacy of forever extended unemployment benefits. It will create a permanent class of unemployed to parasitize the productive segments of society.