In Search For Empathy For The Unemployed

Unemployed Daughter With FatherMy 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.

Recommendation: If you are unemployed, I STRONGLY encourage you to shop around for health insurance to reduce your costs. The internet has really helped lower the cost of insuring yourself and your family. eHealthInsurance has some of the lowest rates and best coverage. They are based right here in the Bay Area, and I have met a number of their representatives.

Regards,

Sam

 

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Barbara Friedberg says

    This glance into the unemployment office is certain to touch the heart strings of those more fortunate. With current unemployment rates still in the high single digits, “But for grace of God go I.”

  2. Untemplater says

    What an impactful experience that must have been. I’m glad Alex was able to get answers in person. I’ve heard the phone system is pointless because nobody can get through. I’m sure the state would hire more people to answer the phones if they had the money, but we all know California is broke. I never really payed attention to the unemployment insurance that comes out of our paychecks until I started my own business. We pay so much in taxes so thank goodness people can collect unemployment benefits when the unexpected happens.

    • Financial Samurai says

      My friend called 35X before giving up. It’s an impossible system that is understaffed to help those who need help.

      There is probably even a business as an unemployment consultant b/c things are so complicated.

  3. shanendoah says

    Since I’ve written about this sort of thing myself (and sometimes in response to other posts you’ve made about the topic) I am glad that you were able to have a personal experience (without actually losing your job) that made such an impact.
    Yes, some people abuse the system. That’s because every system man has ever created has been abused by some people. It just is. That doesn’t mean that everyone abuses the system or that the system doesn’t fulfill a need in the community.

  4. krantcents says

    We are in one of those times when unemployment is is high, not just statistically, but in reality. Too many people have been without jobs for 1-3 years. At best, being unemployed is discouraging and humiliating. It is understood it is much better to find a job while you are employed. There is a definite prejudice against the unemployed.

  5. Elle says

    Great job on the piece Sam! I too was helping a loved one with unemployment and was touched at how some were working hard to find a job in this economy.

  6. David M says

    I do feel so fortunate to be employed continuously for over 20 years now.

    I collected unemployment insurance for 2 weeks over 20 years ago – I will be very happy to never collect again. I did not enjoy my 2 weeks of collecting unemployment! I could not imagine being unemployed for over a year and still fighting land a job.

    I will not be implementing your book on how to get laid off. However, I probably will read it to see what you have to say.

  7. Kris says

    Thanks Sam. There’s nothing worse than being made to feel like a pile of shit because you can’t find a job. In my situation, I had to realize that no matter how many interviews I went on, no matter how many resumes I sent out, no one would hire me while I’m pregnant. My unemployment got denied because my doctor had to fill out a form for the agency that stated that I’m pregnant, and on the form she put that I was unable to work due to the physical problems I was having with the pregnancy. I didn’t ask her to do that, she just did it. I’ve been thwarted in the job hunt, and it’s never made me feel worse, to be honest.
    At least I know that when this pregnancy is over, if worst comes to worst, I can still go back to working in restaurants if we need. But for right now…it’s a waiting game.

  8. Hanne says

    I graduated with my Master’s during recession, and at the same time my country changed study requirements which meant long time students had to hurry to graduate and there were hundreds of new graduates looking for job.
    I was unemployed for three years, and it sunk my self esteem really low. My major was Public Law, yet I couldn’t even get a job as a cleaner. Or telemarketing. I applied for hundreds of jobs, I even got our big regional newspaper to write one page story about my search for work, but nothing helped.
    Finally I bit the bullet and decided to start studying again. We have a shortage of qualified social workers and job market for them is really good, although the salary is lower than I would have got with my old education. It meant getting another Master’s degree (3 years done, 2 left) and my husband had to take paternal leave from his work (in Finland a parent can leave his job until youngest child is 3 and return to same position afterwards) so I could take a part-time job with 3 hour commute. But getting that first job helped. I got another contract, full time job for four months. And after I graduate again, I’ll have a permanent position.

  9. Shilpan says

    I wish our politicians were as much compassionate as you are Sam. We are paying over 50% of our hard-earned money to the big government only to make them more powerful. This country has resources to create lots of jobs. Look at North Dakota. This state is doing well due to oil.

    • Financial Samurai says

      I’ll have to look at North Dakota! Singapore is a great model country too. The one thing both have in common is that they are small and therefore more manageable. Hard to manage a country as large as USA.

  10. Investor Junkie says

    Obviously a sad story. Hear me out on this and where I’m directing your post towards. I’m not saying people aren’t trying to get jobs (ie sitting on their butt) or don’t deserve what they put into unemployment insurance.

    What I think is the bigger issue that your post sort of talks around, is looking towards our local, state, and federal as our “savior”, when it’s anything but that.

    Relying on the government to “do something” leads to false hope, and if anything become more dependent on someone else (this case government).

    Government’s at every level is “broke”. Only at the federal level can they keep the printing press going.

    Forget about the abuses you mention, California cannot continue down the path it’s going. There’s just not enough rich people to suck dry. That Facebook IPO profits California was expecting.. sorry the IPO wasn’t as big as it was expected… California relies on such a small amount of individuals for it’s taxes, you I’m sure included. Is that really such a smart thing to do??

    Voting for politicians who won’t cut the budget will just lead California down the path of bankruptcy sooner. TNSTAAFL. That’s a fact of your state and you know it. If you think otherwise you are really fooling yourself. Thankfully in your case you can live in another state. Others are not as so fortunate. So while it would be painful to you at some level, it wouldn’t be as great compared to others.

    Instead of relying on government for assistance we should rely on ourselves. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get assistance from government programs. What I am saying is you never know when they are going to run out or disappear. With California that might be sooner, than later.

      • Investor Junkie says

        I never stated government entitlement should be removed. Charity is another option.

        Though government entitlement programs are really forced charity in disguised.

        You would agree what’s bankrupting California is entitlements. Both working: pensions, high wages for government works.. and non-working: food stamps, unemployment, and medi-cal.

        I don’t think anyone can say Californian’s are NOT taxed enough right? It’s a spending problem, not a taxing problem.

        I personally think the only way out of the cycle of poverty is education: traditional, and informal. Problem is it again something that must be within you, not someone can instill on you.

  11. Marie at FamilyMoneyValues says

    Unemployment benefits helped keep our son afloat after he got hit in 08. We have otherwise been lucky (and stubborn) enough never to collect unemployment.

    It’s interesting (and laudable) that you are conducting in person research for your book.

  12. Virginia says

    I really like this post. I had very strict parents and did most things right. I got good grades, went to an inexpensive school, got a degree in something useful and got a good job. It was a lot of hard work and I used to simply think, “I deserve it, I’ve worked hard,” but there are a lot of other factors involved. If my parents hadn’t been there to guide me along the way, I don’t think I would have made the same choices. A lot of the choices we make when we are young and stupid can come back to you as an adult.

  13. Jerry says

    If you’ve ever lost your job, this is when it might lead to understanding how others might be suffering. Otherwise, when you have income, benefits and insurance then things are comfortable and you don’t think about others very often.

  14. traineeinvestor says

    If you are not willing to vote for any politician who proposes cutting job creation programmes, presumably you would not vote for any poltician who imposes additional costs an burdens on businesses – such costs being an impediment to job creation.

    There may not be anyone left to vote for!

  15. Thomas - Ways to Invest Money says

    I guess I am a little in between. I have seen both sides and feel like it depends on the person and location. I know people here in FL who are breaking there necks trying to get a job where ever they can. Some have settled for less paying jobs which seems to make it harder to get the jobs they do qualify for. Maybe they should just leave those jobs off the resume. Then I have people I know that live in GA and SC where unemployment isn’t that bad when you consider how much they were making in the first place. In fact they are not bothering to look for a job. I have been there helping friends/family fill out those forms and having to call. It sucks!

  16. Chris says

    Let’s see … $21,600/yr max, and for 2 years.
    Unless my numbers are off, that’s well above minimum wage isn’t it? Granted to earn benefits that high, you’d have to have an income in the $40k-$50k range I’d imagine.

    I think that it’s a good thing to support the unemployed when we can. However, isn’t that fiscal cliff coming up awful fast?

    And, after reading this article posted by Rachel (http://www.financialsamurai.com/2012/03/24/whats-it-like-being-unemployed/), don’t ya think it’s ridiculous that the unemployment tax (which is a tax on employers), is also taxed if you receive benefits over $3,000/yr?

    I have had to file for unemployment 2 times in the past. I was lucky enough to find employment before even finishing the necessary paperwork and filings to get a single check. It truly stinks to be sure. However, how long are the people that are working and making good money supposed to support those that are not finding work?
    I find it to be a catch-22 question, since it is completely dependent upon what the person was used to making before being unemployed.

    With that being said, since you managed to take a mere 13 years to achieve retirement or semi-retirement, doesn’t that bode that if someone can do the same that they shouldn’t?

    • Financial Samurai says

      Correct. You need to make at $45,000 or so in California to receive $21,600 max in UB a year.

      Hence, if you make $45,000 a year, $21,600 seems pretty good. However, if you make $150,000 a year, $21,600 a year only sounds OK.

      Don’t understand your last question. I think it’s missing a word,

      “With that being said, since you managed to take a mere 13 years to achieve retirement or semi-retirement, doesn’t that bode that if someone can do the same that they shouldn’t?”

  17. J. A. Saglimbeni says

    This is a tough time here in America and across the globe, it seems to me these days that the super rich are certainly getting richer. Where I work and currently fighting for my job, our CEO of our company makes several hundred times the highest paid employee…for what real reason…I can tell you this–I truly believe that the Uber-Rich similar to the turn of the century are back and do not want to give up making sure the little man never reaches that pinnacle. My advice is to take responsibility of one’s finances so that NO ONE can control your life.

  18. Invest It Wisely says

    Hey Sam,

    I agree that so much in life is due to circumstance, as I can ask so many “what ifs” as well, and I used to get caught up in that game when I was younger and thought so many things were unfair. Things are random in that way, I guess.

    I just think there’s a better way of helping people that doesn’t involve out of control government spending. As a rather small-government guy, my biggest issue is with the revolving door between the corporate world and government, and the government living beyond its means and imposing its weight on the people. Excessive regulations and red tape is what kills the economy, not a bit of spending to help out those who truly are in need.

    Providing welfare to help out the poorest really doesn’t cost a lot at all, and I don’t see why anyone should have to go hungry or suffer through no fault of their own, with all of the wealth that we do have today.

  19. Dan says

    Liberal, are we? Cry me a river. My sister got laid off from her job of three years (the company was expanding hiring at the time, so obviously her lay off was quite discretionary) and decided that, instead of finding a 9-5 job like the rest of us, she would “pursue” a real estate career. Unemployment ran out after two years of not searching for a real job, she had all of one comission in those two years, and you and I footed the bill for her vacation. She started working at Target once the unemployment ran out and a few months later found a “real job.” She now works a real job but I have no sympathy for her. Had this been six months of unemployment like had been the case before OBama, she would have been working 1.5 years earlier and taxpayers would have been better off. Yes, I have been fired more than once and you have a “bleeding heart” and never really lived in the real world.

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