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I Am the Face of Unemployment

With the call for “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” at the center of political rhetoric and making headlines daily, it’s time for another glimpse on what it’s really like to live it — firsthand.

I’m more than a number — my family is greater than a statistic. We are the face of unemployment.

I  shortly after my husband was laid off. That was 14 months ago. Unfortunately, we’re still in the same boat.

Both of my Patch columns, “” and “,” are written from a very personal perspective. In writing about the layoff, I tried to give a glimpse of what it felt like and what we were going through. I couldn’t claim to be opining from my perspective each week if I didn’t really give readers an honest account and the true context of my life.

It also helped to share our story, both from a cathartic, therapeutic standpoint, and also from the belief that others in the same situation would feel some sort of comfort to know they weren’t alone.

This is only my story — I don’t presume to speak for anyone else, as if to say it’s the same for them, or even universal. But it’s a window, perhaps, into something that often, in communities like ours, is faceless, anonymous and hidden.

I also know our experience is uniquely ours — it’s neither better nor worse than someone else’s misfortune, it just is what it is. It helps to write about it and it helps for people to hear about it. Perhaps it takes away some stigma from what unemployment has been thought of in the past — in what’s true when you shine a light on something historically shameful and concealed.

But in recent weeks, I’ve had more friends and acquaintances suddenly join me in what I call the “Hidden Wives Club.” Finding their families now part of the great unemployed, it’s all the more raw and real once again.

So I wanted to revisit the topic — sort of as a “check-in” on how we’re doing one-plus year later. But perhaps more importantly, I also wanted the column to stand as a prism through which you might think when you hear about “those unemployed people” in a debate, or “how we lost 8 million jobs” in the .

Admittedly, I write mostly about my feelings, not my husband’s. To protect his privacy and his right to control what’s "out there" about him, I only write this from my POV. He’s given me the okay to write this column, but I try hard to maintain his boundaries and I don’t presume to speak for him.

It takes so much energy to get through each day. Unemployment stress definitely takes a mental toll and it’s easy to fall into a funk. I have to summon a strength to put on a positive face for the world — not to pretend or mask it, but because it’s ongoing for us and I can’t be depressed every day.

I also have to dig deep to write my columns. I know I need to be entertaining and clear, and vary my subjects. I find sometimes that I’ve written three or four pieces in a row that are philosophically dreary or too introspective. I’m not surprised it shows in my writing, but I have to make a concerted effort to find the joy in the everyday too.

Somehow, even with the worries and the various disappointments, I find some strength to put one foot in front of the other. It takes all my energy to get the kids to school and to their activities, pour out my feelings for a column and manage the household. Some days are better than others and some are not so good. Some days are still stay-in-pajama-days and some days I can conquer the world at meetings, school obligations and volunteering.

We are not needy, yet. We are fortunate to have the emotional and sometimes financial support of family and savings to fall back on (thankfully, we were prepared). We are also lucky to have supportive friends.

I recognize that sometimes my friends don’t always know what to do — extend an invite for the weekend away or hope I don’t find out that they’ve planned it without us, so as not to make us feel bad if we can’t afford to go. I also recognize my instinct to sometimes pull away from them and cocoon with my sadness and I don’t reach out as often as I should.

We try to handle it with grace and strength. We appreciate the support we’ve gotten from our synagogue community and we look forward to the certainty that we will pay it forward when we can. We try to do that still in ways that are manageable even with the stresses of "our situation."

I often wonder how we’re thought of and what kind of reaction people have internally when they find out. “What does your husband do?” is always a tricky one to navigate. I wonder how my answer impacts whether they’ll be eager to set up play dates between my children and theirs, or if I’m ever a topic of conversation over someone else’s lunchtime chatter.

It’s been quite an experience for our kids too, of course, and one I wish they’d never had. At first we tried to shield them from it as much as possible, especially from the fear of the constant unknown that we now live with. But as weeks turned into months, it was harder and harder to hide it. For each child we’ve handled it differently depending on their age. My nine-year-old understands so much more than his five-year-old sister and, of course, it carries a bigger burden for him.

Quite often, facing the strife of any life test like unemployment can take its toll on a marriage. I’ve seen friends in similar situations not be able to withstand the stress and their marriages haven’t survived. In some ways, I think our relationship has strengthened. I see the kind of pressures my husband has withstood in the last year. I see how hard he’s working to find work. I see how punishing it can be to come close (several times!) to a new position, only to be disappointed, but then he picks himself up again and faces the day anew.

I love him more now for his resilience and perseverance.

Resilience is what this is all about, after all. When I read headlines like  “Bernanke To The Unemployed: Don’t Get Your Hopes Up,” it’s tough to picture we might be in the same place this time next year. But we are withstanding it, so far and getting by.

I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Lorna January 28, 2012 at 02:53 PM
It galls me to see how many job postings in my chosen field, marketing, call for a "recent college grad." There's a youth bias and employers want to pay the lowest possible salaries. It's not as if I'm a dinosaur when it comes to knowledge of software and social media, either. I'm willing to take a cut in pay and not have to put in the kind of hours I used to do, and my prospective employer would benefit from my years of experience and maturity in judgement. The search for employment has been trying. So I have some idea how your husband might feel, and I think I know of what you mean by the "hidden wives club." I'm not in the position to attend galas, entertain and give the charitable contributions I once did, and it seems that those who don't are written off in Wilton's caste society. On the upside, I'm still able to afford to live here, have wonderful neighbors, and have been able to devote a few days to Habitat For Humanity. Nothing like working up a sweat to help a deserving family in Bridgeport get out of a crappy apartment and get a decent home of their own. Makes one realize how all the luxuries so many people here take for granted are "keeping up with the Joneses" frills. I hope that those of you who are are reading this and unemployed can take a day off from your job hunt and help with Coastal Fairfield County Habitat For Humanity. They are working in Bridgeport and Stamford.
EMR January 28, 2012 at 04:57 PM
your husband's resilience and perserverance and yours will be rewarded sooner or later. as to age bias, i find that amongst my peers, consulting or having your own business is the way to go. corporations do nothing more than number crunch by laying off the vets and hiring the newbies for 1/3 the price. this is the new way. build your own business, establish an llc, get out there and try to earn 100% of the money for your work rather than giving 90% to the corporation only to get laid off...good luck!
localmom January 28, 2012 at 11:20 PM
EMR is right on. My husband was laid off in 2008 after 10 years with his company. After a couple of years of worrying it would happend, it finally did. He started working there as his first "real employee" position after 15 years of consulting when hourly rates were pretty impressive. In order to get back into the work force, he went back to consulting after 6 months of fruitless searching for full-time work. Three years later, he is still consulting at 3/4 the rate he commanded in 1998, he is travelling farther to assignments, but the work is there consistently for him. I had to close the doors on my small business and get a job in order to provide the health insurance for our family. The salary at my job is not much, but the combined value of the salary and benefits is worth it. Its not at all what I thought I would be doing 5 years ago. Its not my passion, but I am satisfied to help make ends meet. Through this experience, we hope to show our kids that life is not always smooth sailing, but when the storms come, we can emerge together with an appreciation for weathering the bad times and appreciating any good times ahead. Its not always easy. We have made some tough choices along the way.
sadness January 30, 2012 at 03:25 AM
I think it's getting worse. I did a little digging in my circle. In the past few months I have uncovered so many layoffs. I had no idea how my friends / neighbors were suffering. And yes, the families have been trying to keep it a secret. I feel so bad for them. - 50 y.o. in banking. Laid off from 20 year career. Found a new job. Lasted 3 months and was laid off again. He thinks it's because the culture at the new job was younger. He hid both his job losses for the past few months. - 53 y.o. in finance. 23 years with same company. Forced to take a package. He's okay for the moment, but has two kids in college and the package won't last that long. Hid the forced retirement, his wife finally blurted it out tearfully to me. - 49 y.o. Let go from telecom industry two years ago. Got some work as consultant but that has dried up. He found out he has a heart condition. Their situation is getting dire. - 49 y.o. single mom. Hedge Fund. 8 years with same firm. Downsized three months ago. No prospects. Had just bought a new home last year. Big mortgage. Doesn't know what she will do. Hid losing her job for these three months. - 42 y.o in publishing. Now he is repairing cars to earn cash under the table. Still hasn't told anyone but his wife spilled the beans after an entire year. - 57 y.o. in sales. Lost job 14 months ago. Doesn't think anyone will hire him at his age. Common themes: Older people being replaced with younger people. Hiding the job loss.
Tricia G. February 16, 2012 at 10:38 PM
I feel so bad for you and your husband, and all the other people described by "sadness," and their families. Please don't take this the wrong way, but other than networking, and making "getting a job" your "job," as your husband is doing or working for yourself (as EMR suggested), the best thing that can be done is to replace the current occupant of the WH. He has only made the economic downturn and unemployment much worse, by measures such as Obamacare, and refusing to allow the pipeline from Canada to be constructed. Companies are afraid to hire because of the mandates and costs of Obamacare, and the fact that Obama seeks to 'punish' corporations and the job creators, with higher taxes! If a new president is elected in November, the economy will immediately start to turn around, or if the Supreme Court rules before that the Obamacare mandate is un-Constitutional, the turnaround should begin then. Until then, best of luck to your family and all those millions of others. Your husband is blessed to have such a supportive wife, Heather.

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