My no crying streak came to an end recently when I went to the Employment Development Department (EDD) to help out an unemployed friend and learn a little bit more about the process for my book.
Alex and I sat down in front of one of the public computers to get the EDD to resend a paper copy of the Continuing Claim Form. Because Alex finally received his accrued vacation as part of his severance, he clicked “Yes” to the very first question of the online Continuing Claim Form questionnaire:
“Did you receive money other than wages (vacation, pension, etc) for the two week period ending XX/XX/XX?”
Instead of getting approved to receive unemployment benefits for the past two weeks like usual, the system denied his benefits and told him to file a paper claim form instead! After verifying with the EDD in person, receiving vacation payment does not preclude one from receiving unemployment benefits if there is no set return date for employment. Alex dodged a bullet and finally did receive his unemployment benefits a few weeks later.
During this process, I noticed a roughly 35 year old woman accompanied by her 65+ year old father (see picture). I glanced over at her screen to see that she was editing her resume in order to apply for one of the many CalJOBS that were listed in the system. The father sat quietly behind her daughter, waiting patiently for her to finish.
When the daughter finally submitted her resume to the various opportunities online, her father said, “Great job daughter, I’m so proud of you.”
SADNESS AND HOPE
My eyes started to tear up as I waited for my friend to finish up his online questionnaire. I didn’t want him to see me crying so I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Along the way, I saw dozens of other folks working away at the computer and attending workshops, all for the sake of improving their chances at finding a job.
I rushed to a bathroom stall, locked the door and began to weep. Everybody on the floor was trying their best to get ahead. They weren’t slacking off like some of the stories the media loves to highlight. Instead, they were following instructions and hoping someone would call them back.
I began to feel guilty. Why did I have strict parents who pushed me to study so much in school? Why did I get to go to college for cheap? Why haven’t I ever been fired yet? Why them, and not me? WHY!? There is no question that LUCK has a lot to do with good fortune. If you were born poor, didn’t have supportive parents, graduated during a recession, or joined a collapsing industry you are just unlucky. It’s not your fault!
The most you can get from the EDD is $450 a week, or $1,800 a month here in California. $1,800 doesn’t go very far at all in San Francisco where studios in good neighborhoods cost $1,800 a month alone. I’m sick and tired of people saying that the unemployed are abusing the system. Do people really think that in a city where the median house costs $700,000, people would rather not work and collect $1,800 than find a job that pays double that and provides healthcare benefits? Of course not!
The dignity of having a job goes far beyond what little the EDD provides. $1,800 is obviously much better than nothing. I see very little evidence that people are living it up on unemployment. $1,800 is used for survival.
SHOW A LITTLE UNDERSTANDING PLEASE
I spoke to a couple employees of the EDD and they told me that they both were unemployed for extended periods of time. They were proud to work for the EDD in order to give back and it showed. The only problem is that it gets depressing when they see parents teeter at the edge of financial oblivion.
There’s no way I can consciously vote for a politician who is willing to cut spending on unemployment and employment development programs. It’s so easy for those who are employed to think the unemployed are too lazy to find a job or deserve their present situation. Until we walk in their shoes, there’s just no way we should judge. From the hour I spent at the unemployment office, I could very much see the human spirit try and fly above the clouds of despair.
Of course there are abuses to every system. Let’s not let one bad apple ruin it for everybody else. Unemployment insurance is paid for by our employers and is there for a reason – to help us during times of unemployment. There is no shame in collecting unemployment, and those who have jobs should just feel fortunate and certainly not debase those who do not.
I recognize the crinkle of writing a book about how to get laid off when there are so many people who are unemployed. I needed to see and experience things for myself before making a change. With this understanding, I believe the book will be that much better in highlighting the human spirit, balancing the risks with the rewards, and showing people there is hope.