I will try not to take too sanctimonious of a tone here, and probably fail. I understand why we're gloating at Boehner's failure. I respect that both as a matter of partisan strategy and good long-term policy, we very well might be better off to just go over the cliff, though the unpredictability of the consequences gives me more pause perhaps than most.
But personally, I can find no joy in tonight, or the coming cliff. I'm one of the two million or so for whom this really is a fiscal cliff, not a curb. I'm one of the hostages whose only source of income for the last six months, unemployment benefits, will go poof. The complete and utter failure of our government to govern doesn't give me much space to go HA HA HA HA HA, to borrow a diary title.
My particular circumstances aren't relevant to anyone but me, nevertheless:
I was a history professor. I was exceptionally well-rated in my teaching, beloved by my students, well-thought of by about as many people in my department as a guy could possibly hope for, took particular pride in my work training and supervising the next generation of high school social studies teachers, and somehow on the side produced three well-received articles and a book (released Monday of this week and, ironically, about the history of trying to stigmatize the poor) at an institution dedicated to teaching, not research. I did this for six years on consecutive one-year contracts, before an unfortunate set of Circumstances Beyond My Control left me essentially term-limited out of my job.
I probably don't need to tell anyone here just how difficult it is to land and keep a good academic job. But in the last six months I've also discovered that I'm simultaneously overqualified and underqualified for every entry-level McJob: no manager wants to hire a guy with a PhD and a book, in the assumption (quite correct) that I'd ditch it the moment something better came along, and no manager wants to hire a guy who's never worked a cash register or waited a table. I've discovered that my network of academic contacts does me little good outside the academic world. I've discovered that, having spent my entire adult life working first to get a PhD and then using it in a university, my crazy-rad skills in writing, editing, speaking, and teaching do not seem to count for much at all in terms of "real-world" corporate experience.
My first round of unemployment benefits expired in mid-November. I was deemed eligible for the extension, which, in a sane world, would carry me through mid-March if indeed I needed it to carry me that far. Instead, it will expire on Dec. 29th if nothing is done in Congress.
In my own case, I probably (probably...) will wind up coming out of this relatively unharmed. I have no dependents -- not even a pet -- no debt, no health concerns that make my loss of health insurance too troublesome (so long as my appendix doesn't decide to burst), and am an almost obsessive saver of money. I presently am waiting for word on the results of my finalist-interviews for more than a couple of very appealing teaching opportunities, ranging from substitute high school teaching to tenure-track professorships. We'll see...
If those opportunities fail to materialize, then in ten days it looks like I'll begin the transition from where I've been -- trying to hold close to break-even -- and into the phase where my life's savings begin to get wiped out and I have to begin the countdown to being unable to pay rent.
If my own circumstances amount to about the best-case situation that someone could hope for as he faces the expiration of his emergency unemployment extension, think about those with families, without savings, without the educational opportunities I've had, who are going to find themselves falling off a very steep, very dangerous cliff.
So please, enough with the "it's not a cliff it's a curb" cuteness. This sucks.
Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 8:24 AM PT: Thank you for the rescue-treatment. I appreciate the thoughtful comments and find I don't have much to add, beyond my appreciation for how we're all struggling to find the right answers in a nearly impossible situation.
Fri Dec 21, 2012 at 11:46 AM PT: Your suggestions, insights, and encouragement have been a wonderful holiday gift. More than anything, it is nice to feel like I have something to offer in a larger, thoughtful dialogue. A useful feeling for an unemployed prof. :)