I didn't mean to become one of the long term unemployed. Really I did not.
I'm starting here with a bit of a biographical piece. I know it is self indulgent, and long, but it also helps shape who I am currently. It is not my story alone. I am married, and that is part of my narrative.
It probably could have been written, and may have been written, by quite a few others too.
The recession for my family started a bit earlier than it did for many. The signs were appearing well before the media caught on, before I caught on. Even the people who were writing those signs didn't realize it at the time.
I was a mid level manager. I kept a data entry department humming. It doesn't seem like much now, but it involved judgment, cunning, and attention to detail. It wasn't a dream job, but it was something that I could, and had, done for years. My other half worked in the auto industry. Oil prices spiked, and it showed how many people, and companies were not ready for the changes that were coming. US car companies were feeding from the SUV/Pickup trough and it is doubtful if they predicted this first calamity.
It was during this time that we started to notice the changes as well.
The car companies responded by trying to cut costs, and the suppliers were asked to reduce cost, and reduce more cost. There were
demands strong recommendations from Detroit that manufacturing work be sent to Mexico or China. The customers were dictating business conditions. They succeeded.
Costs increased for the suppliers as plants were closed down, tooling was moved, employees laid off, and production was started somewhere else. The number of rejected parts increased, and I am sure the threat of a recall against their parts didn't help the bottom line either. Costs for health care were going up. Mandatory unpaid time off was being discussed.
Working hours for the wife and I increased. It was never stated, but we both knew that putting in just 40 or 45 hours would no longer be enough. Our work weeks extended to 50+ hours, the occasional Saturday, etc, and that was only because we fought against putting in even more hours. Our payroll status placed us both as exempt, so this did nothing to our paychecks.
Soon thereafter I was looking for additional help in my department. Even with increasing my hours, I was having a difficult time keeping up with the workload, and I asked about hiring a new employee, or at least a temp. I was refused without comment. It was expected that I would pick up the slack, because my underlings were hourly. Then one of them quit. Conditions did not change.
The spouse was transferred to another department. The current department was being
gutted streamlined. People were moved into new jobs and some people were encouraged to take retirement. Retirement was the better option, because those who were supposed to retire, but did not, found themselves targeted with new and interesting violations that could be used to support their eventual termination. Others who were just not ready for retirement found that they too were targeted for the same violations. It is easier to fire someone when you have a reason, right?
Fast forward about six months. Nothing much has changed for me. Another performance review was skipped, and I am finally catching up. I was too relieved to worry, or even notice that the workload had diminished.
My spouse is transferred again, now into a cost cutting role. The job description was to make things cheaper, but not all the tools needed were supplied for the job. Every step forward was a fight for any changes to the product, and then they are rejected. Search out alternatives, and then find out they were suggested by the last person who held the job, and they were denied by the same boss. Why would the boss have the same job duplicated in the span of just 18 months? The next step is schedule a meeting with the boss and the suppliers for possible solutions, only to have the boss skip the meeting, and then have the ideas raised and proposed rejected.
Then the first shoe fall. Layoffs again. My spouse is not spared during this round. The boss had been selecting certain people to have less than stellar performance reviews. It was so that selecting people to lay off would be easier. Set up is an easier, and just as apt description. And for the first point in my life, I was shaking, wishing physical harm to another person because of their maliciousness. I could have pummeled the guy.
Luckily at this point I am still employed, but that isn't enough to cover the mortgage, daycare, and all the other bills. We cut where we could, and just tried to survive another day. Just trying to make it until something new appears.
Our next few months are very stressful. There are resumes sent out almost daily, and interviews almost every week, but no job offers. Our savings are quickly being eaten alive, and it is time to look into other options. She prepares to go back to school. She has the engineering degree, but, but, but...I thought it was the 'right' type of degree.
An aside. I just don't have enough venom left to reply to the people who try to tell me about the 'right' and 'wasteful' degrees. I can't do much except shake my head at them anymore.
Before classes start, a head hunter calls and another interview. A contract job is offered. The job is for a 6 month contract located 2,000 miles away.
The amount of stress before now seems minimal as I have become effectively a single parent. Both of us are now working again, just not in the same city, or state, or even time zone. My job hasn't changed, but the contract gig the spouse is doing is well paid. We just don't know how long it will last.
I am no longer working 50 hour weeks. I can't get the kids to school, back home, and fed within a 'reasonable' day otherwise. I am starting to hear grumbling from my co-workers that I'm not putting in my fair share, but nothing from management. I am hitting my performance targets, and I am even taking on new projects. The ability to do this while cutting back on my hours should have been a huge warning. One that I didn't see until much later.
Just before Christmas we are reunited. The gig turned out to be a short term contract. 6 months, no extension. Holiday party at my work is (much) smaller, and no bonus is given. A first since the 10+ years I've worked at the company. Luckily, my other half who saw this as only a short time gig, has found a new contract position. In a different city, and this time only 1,000 miles away.
It really isn't that different of a situation. I stay at the house with the kids, still working. We will not uproot the kids and sell the house until we know that the position has become permanent. Another mistake. We should have sold the house while we could. The market had not yet tanked. Neighbors were still making money selling their houses.
This contract job does eventually become permanent. The best news we have had in a long time. The kids move to be with the spouse. I stay with the house to prepare it for sale. My work has a mandatory unpaid week off. I quit my job, and I move to be with the spouse and kids. It is Summer. I stay at home with the kids during summer. The cost for daycare for full time day care for three kids is the same as a $30,000 a year job would bring in.
The unsold house continues to drain our finances. We are paying double for utilities, a mortgage, and rent. I am quickly finding out that I do not have any local contacts. Searching for a job takes up the majority of my time. I have two interviews, and then nothing. And more nothing.
I move back to take my previous job, at only a slight reduction in pay. I am honest with my former, and now current, employer that I am only here until the house sells. I am willing to help hire and train my replacement. The first several months has me playing catch up again, as my position was unfilled for part of the time I had spent with my kids and spouse. The next several months is spent looking for a replacement. Then the last few months is spent training, then firing my replacement.
All told, it takes over a year to sell our house. Even with the market down, we manage to break even on selling the house. I quit, again, and prepare to move. I am not eligible for unemployment. I have not worked long enough to be eligible. I may be able to appeal, but I would have to do so from out of state. Moving makes this effectively impossible.
Again I move back in with my family, and again I find that finding work is next to impossible when all my contacts, my friends, and family are in different states. I have been to numerous career fairs, walked into temp agencies, and applied more times that I am willing to count.
At first I did not worry, but as time has dragged along I resume questioning if my unemployment is due to some fatal character flaw that I just can not make out in the mirror when I wake up in the morning. The only job that has shown interest in 'hiring' me was from craigslist. A job posted for proofreading and editorial work. The rate was .001¢ per word. At $0.001 it is a bad deal, much less the rate they offer. I decline. That job 'offer' was several months ago, and there has not been an interview or call back since.
But the resumes still go out. Something will break my way eventually. I'll wear down this recession.