by Glenn Reed
(Swans - October 8, 2012) Three-day, holiday weekends. Who doesn't love 'em?
Well, maybe not those who are...(don't say it too loudly)...unemployed or underemployed.
Late Friday afternoon, before Labor Day weekend. There's an Internet article on a progressive Web site that talks about the forgotten "99ers." You know...or maybe you don't. They're the unemployed who have run out of benefits. Who have fallen silently into the abyss. The ones that entitled Republicans contemptuously call "lazy" and that the Democrats simply ignore or use as political pawns.
Actually, now the term could be "77ers" since the last battle over the debt ceiling led to the slashing of extensions on unemployment benefits.
For those people, Labor Day is not a celebration of the American worker. It's a painful waiting game. A reminder of where they are at. It's something to dread. Why?
It's the norm in so many workplaces to say that not a whole lot gets accomplished the week before a long weekend and that the week following a long weekend is a time to "get back up to speed." It's also common for people to take an extra day off or leave early on the day before a long weekend. For the unemployed, that translates into: "don't expect to hear anything from us this week or next week because, you know, nothing much gets done around holidays and long weekends."
The job interview from the previous week? There probably won't be a response until the week following the week after the long weekend. That is, if there's ever a response at all. Job listings? Far fewer get placed in the weeks surrounding holidays and long weekends. The human resource director that a resume was sent to the week before a long weekend? She is taking her two-week vacation around that holiday. She'll start "reviewing" the resumes in about three weeks.
And if a job-hunter calls for any answers, even though so many job ads emphasize "absolutely no calls!...." (even while a majority of employers never even e-mail you a rejection any more)... the human resource person will say "we'll begin reviewing the resumes in two weeks, contact potential applicants for interviews in a month or so...", and then they'll say "enjoy your three-day weekend!"
Right. The joys of the three-day weekend for the unemployed/underemployed.
It's a time to practice entertaining oneself with no money. A chance to engage in free activities. Like visiting relatives who are strangely silent or repeat the question "how's the job search...any possibilities?", which they've said hundreds of times in the past year-plus. Or hang out with friends who have no shortage of helpful suggestions and advice: "maybe you're not selling yourself," and "I've heard they're hiring at (fill-in-the-blank)." Or there are the invalidating comments such as "I don't believe that" when they're told that someone (confidentially) said that nearby employers won't even consider someone unless they're locals. They "don't believe" that there has not been a single response to low-end, low-wage jobs that are increasingly becoming necessary to apply for out of shear desperation.
Even better are the "why don't you just go back to school?" suggestions.
With no job. While living at a relative's house. With savings depleted and debts mounting. With no way to pay for community college, let alone a program that may or may not lead to a job by the time you're sixty, when no one wants to employ anybody over 50 in this market except as Walmart greeters or night shift clerks at a convenience store for minimum wage. Not to mention the tens of thousands in debt that one would incur while drifting into the years when people used to think of retirement and with absolutely no guarantee that jobs will be available with an XYZ degree and after having just paid off previous student loan debts.
When invited to a movie, excuses are manufactured because there isn't a spare nine bucks for entertainment. When invited out for coffee, calculations are made as to how much is available for the smallest frills in a week. Absolutely forget the lattes -- only caffeine addiction will allow consideration of a small cup of brewed java. If invited out for dinner, previous engagements arise because eating out is certainly not in the budget and the humiliation of the "I'll treat you" offers now engender feelings of regressing to childhood or being a loser even when it's not intentional. Slowly but surely, friends are avoided because they have real lives to talk about and they remind of the harsh reality and make the depression worse.
Still, it doesn't cost money to go for a bike ride or hike (not including gas money to get anywhere). Great, relaxing, free activities that get one back in touch with nature.
But the anxiety never goes away now. The brain still spins with the stress and the chest feels heavy and the stomach is perpetually upset. And there's always the return to unemployed/underemployed reality and the dread of that which has become constant pressure. And perish the thought of falling off a bike and needing medical care because, of course, there's no health insurance.
Even progressive or otherwise understanding friends ask the questions that imply personal blame for unemployment, of not trying hard enough, of not being willing to "settle for" a low-wage job, that "everything is possible in the great wonderland that is capitalist America" because that is a mantra, a chant, a subliminal message drilled into everyone's brain from childhood onward. Friends say to "talk about it," but when that conversation is begun, their eyes glaze over and they repeat the things that have been heard for over a year and that have not worked at all. They say "you've got to stay positive" but don't want to see the hundreds of job rejections or the hundreds more that never responded at all.
So the unemployed stop talking and the pressure builds and builds inside. The realization increases that the only ones that truly get it are those in the same boat, and even those people have started pointing the fingers at themselves.
The boat that is rapidly sinking in shark-infested waters. With no life preservers available. While the Newt Gingrich types rant that "you're just lazy and want something for nothing!" and the Mitt Romneys say "just borrow money from your parents and start a business!" while they plot how to shred the safety net more.
Ah, the society of ultimate personal responsibility for all. Except those making the big decisions, those for whom the unemployed/underemployed are stats and very brief talking points padding the way to their own goals.
The Tuesday after a long weekend. Labor Day weekend.
Clock-driven work and school traffic roars early in the morning. The campers and cars with bikes and kayaks on their roofs are pretty much gone. There's a feeling of back to work, back to business, mellow summer days faded into hectic fall ones. And for the unemployed or underemployed, it's check the mailbox first-thing, scan the e-mails (all asking for donations or to sign petitions), review the regular job Web sites. Every phone ring is jumped at with anticipation. There's a modicum of relief that the long weekend is over and that the possibilities for that full-time job have been reopened. Then still another day passes with no snail mail or e-mail messages regarding employment, no new job listings, and only a phone call reminding that a bill payment is late.
Favorite progressive Web sites are checked out. But there are no pieces about the age discrimination or credit checks that penalize those who are struggling by eliminating them as candidates for jobs. There's nothing about the increasing number of employers who toss aside resumes when they indicate long-term unemployment. There is one piece about the increase in temp jobs with no benefits, but that is skipped over because that's the harsh reality right now.
Then another whole week is gone. With the same results each day. And a weekend looms.
Meanwhile, the article on the so-called 99ers has silently drifted to the bottom of the pack of other stories. Soon it will disappear altogether.
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About the Author
Glenn Reed is a freelance writer who has worked in the non-profit world for nearly 30 years, both as paid staff and volunteer. He is also a lifelong activist for social, economic, and environmental justice. He currently resides in Fair Haven, Vermont. (back)