I was one of the earliest of those affected by the recession. Long before workers were being laid off in large numbers, or before news articles were examining whether unemployment numbers reflected “discouraged workers” – I had already been looking for a job for at least a year. I struggled through college with a small child and a permanently disabled husband, with high hopes of changing all of our lives for the better if I just hung in there and finished. And, though I did get my B.A in ’04 – that change never came. As a matter of fact, our lives have progressively become more and more tumultuous. My student loan balance has tripled from what I originally borrowed, due to all the deferred payments and consolidations. I never once, since obtaining my degree, have had enough to make a single payment – which would now be at around $700/month, if it were not still being deferred. I invested an initial $29,000 into my education, in order to also invest in a future in which I could provide for my family – an investment that has now become over $70,000. When a $70,000 education investment brings a return that is far, far into the red, I can’t help but feel a college education is over-rated. My sister did years in prison, got a G.E.D. and went to beauty school, and she is making a very comfortable living. I have tried five times harder, with a college education and a great resume – and come up completely empty.
I have applied tirelessly for jobs; everything from entry level marketing jobs (my degree is in English/journalism; I have extensive online and traditional marketing experience), print media positions, small newspaper jobs, advertising, communications jobs – even plenty of jobs that have nothing to do with my degree: administrative assistance, customer service, bartending, restaurant/hospitality mgmt, office personnel, legal assistance – I doubt there are many jobs that I HAVEN’T applied for. I even moved to NYC for a year and a half, to do an internship in hopes it would give me a push. I’ve gone to dozens of interviews, each time with the hope that this could be the one – and each time I got that horrible, formal letter of rejection in the mail, I tried not to cry. It is pretty impossible not to feel as though something is intrinsically wrong with oneself, after years and years – and years -of trying to obtain a professional job, and being a complete failure at it.
Still, that is not the worst of it.
Unlike most unemployed Americans, I never had unemployment benefits to fall back on, because it had run out before all of the extensions. The work I had done was mostly waiting tables, so that unemployment ran out long before the real crisis hit. When you are never given a chance to pay into the system, the system does not pay out, regardless of how hard you’ve tried to work. So while everyone worries about what they will do if their unemployment expires – I’ve had to deal with 4 years of absolutely no income benefits. How do I survive, or get any money? I freelance online for a couple pennies a word; doing the exact same work that most professionals are paid very high salaries for: SEO/SEM, online marketing, copywrite & content managment. I’m usually hired by people with website hobbies or start-up businesses who can’t (or won’t) pay anything substantial, and which doesn’t begin to add up to even most part time job salaries – but anything is better than nothing.
My husband’s disability payments are also pitifully small – not enough for even a single person to live on, much less a family of three. The three of us have had to live with my parents, humiliatingly, for the past 5 years. We’ve never owned a house, nor does it seem like we ever will. At this point, a 2 bedroom apartment sounds great. A job for me, and our own living space, so we can win back whatever small bits of dignity are left – seems like an impossibility, after 5+ years of trying to obtain such a humble goal, and being unsuccessful.
I was in an advanced education program throughout 4 years of high school – I could’ve entered college as a sophmore, had I had the money to go to a normal college. But because I had to figure out my own funding, I had to settle for a community college, followed by commuting to Penn State for the rest. I was nominated for the Creative Achievement Award my senior year, and I was at the top of all my major classes at PSU. My point? I have not been unemployed for over 5 years because I lack motivation, or intelligence, or because I can’t pass a simple drug test, or because I won’t “settle” for something less than my ideal job. I am not unemployed because I expect a hand-out, or that a fantastic job will just fall into my lap. Under normal circumstances, I am a very high achiever; a perfectionist, even. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why no one, no one at all, has given me a chance.