An Economy of Humility

by Mariam Williams

At the time for prayer requests in my Sunday school class this past Sunday, I shared that I’m seeking God’s will and

applying for jobs with hat in hand ...

applying for jobs with hat in hand ...

direction in what to do with my life now that a new idea for self-employment, or sometimes just self-improvement, leases space in my head each day. The request spurred the following dialogue:

A mother of the church (church-speak for elderly, long-time, well-respected, female member who tends to speak her mind rather unabashedly) said, “You know the Census Bureau’s hiring.”

I shook my head as I replied, “I know. I don’t want it.”

“Oh. You don’t believe in taking something just to have something until what you really want comes along?”

Cringing and bracing myself for a harangue about my spoiled generation I said, “No ma’am, actually I don’t.”

Instead of the harangue, she said, “Well good thing you don’t have babies to feed.”

She’s right: it is good, and I said as much and recognized the same privileged status in a previous post. There’s a chance I won’t have full-time work before April.  Even if I get an extension in my unemployment benefits, I know the compensation will eventually run out, and that it may do so long before writers, copywriters, research directors, other media personnel, and creative types with unusable bachelor’s degrees come back into demand. As the church mother said to me after class, “It may be that you have to get some new training, go into a different field all together.” Others suggest an employment tactic along those same lines but even more extreme: humility.

In Good Morning America’s “Unemployment Rescue” segment last week, workplace contributor Tory Johnson suggested five part-time jobs to get back in the workforce or supplement underemployment: 1) substitute teacher or college prep course instructor; 2) staff member at major league baseball or indoor rodeo stadiums; 3) valet parking attendant or guest services worker for major healthcare facilities; 4) senior care companion; and 5) pet-sitter.  Hmm.

In the comments section of the story, a great debate rages between pride and survival. To some, going from a government “hand-out” to several jobs that pay between minimum wage and twenty dollars an hour is a joke. Others believe beggars can’t be choosers.

Also taking a stake in the game are the requirements for unemployment benefits. You can’t exactly supplement your income. In Kentucky, when you report income from any source – temp assignments, odd jobs, self-employment, tips, bonuses, reserve pay, holiday pay, etc. – 80 percent of the gross of that income is subtracted from your unemployment benefit check. So if you earn $100 house sitting one week, instead of getting your usual $415 – the weekly, pre-tax maximum in Kentucky – you get $415 minus $80, or $335. Your house sitting money makes your total for the week $435, raising your usual income by twenty dollars instead of one hundred. Temp assignments that bring in more than your weekly benefit check but that don’t last for very long have been known to make the automated system believe you’re now being selective and refusing full-time work, thereby at best delaying your benefit checks when the assignments stop. At worst, you could be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits all together, and if you make more than the benefit check at any time, you don’t get any benefit money that week at all. Hence, cash under-the-table is highly encouraged and honesty highly debatable.

I get it: unemployment benefits are to help discourage you from staying unemployed and living off the government. But that’s easier when the nation’s unemployment rate looks like this:

us-unemployment-rate-dec-2000-avg-map

Jobless rate: 4.0%

instead of like this:

us-unemployment-rate-dec-2008-map2

Jobless rate: 7.2%

These are different and difficult times. The savings account is depleting faster than you thought it would. You’re ignoring that weird sound the car makes every time you make a right turn. A health emergency will either bankrupt or kill you because your health insurance is gone. The past due notices are arriving in an assortment of colors. You know a foreclosure notice is next.  Even CEOs of The Big Three went to Washington with hats in hands, and they’ve made severe changes to their structure just to maintain their existence.  Why should you or I be any different?

Although I plow through my days without much regard for my own needs and zero regard for those of anyone else, I know the above argument rages in homes throughout the U.S. daily. At least one person who made comments on the Good Morning America segment has done the math and figured that to earn less than your unemployment benefit check just to say you’re employed seems silly. However, a certain amount of pride and dignity comes with having a job. A certain amount of pride and dignity also comes with having a job that’s sufficient to support your needs and the needs of those for whom you are responsible; with finally getting a job that required the degree that engulfed your life for several years; with being rewarded for staying out of jail, not using drugs, not having children before graduating from high school, being a straight arrow, and generally avoiding the trappings that tend to lead to government hand-outs or to working several jobs that pay minimum wage only so that you can make ends not even meet, but wave to each other from across the Grand Canyon from time to time. And a certain amount of pride and dignity is lost when you stand in line at the unemployment office next to former classmates who fell into said trappings. Once that happens, a little bit of pride is all you have left.

Well, I also have my beliefs. I believe that busying myself with things I am not designed to do distracts me from finding opportunities that lead down the right path. I believe I’ve wasted enough time that way and that before I reach the breaking point, I’ll find the right opportunity. It may turn out that the opportunity comes from a temp assignment or from meeting the friend of a friend of an owner whose dog I’m walking. It may even come from one of the good, full-time, self esteem edifying jobs to which I apply each week. Each person will make a decision according to his or her own situation and need. Just as much as I need food, I need to hold my intellect and talents in high esteem and not settle. I don’t think I’m regarding myself more highly than I ought; it’s just that I remember vividly the sense of sadness, defeat, disillusionment, and even hopelessness that settling caused me in the past, and I never want to be in that state again.

So I continue to look. And wait. Even if my strategy prolongs my time for living life laid off.

203518-1 203723 203835-1 203805 204358-11 203902

Hat in hand?  Nah.  I think hats are meant to be worn.

© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.


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4 Comments

Filed under Economy, Health, Layoffs, Lifestyles, Mental & Emotional Health, money, Recession, Unemployment

4 responses to “An Economy of Humility

  1. Concerned Mom

    Is begging considered being employed–even temporarily?

    Maybe the Red Hat Society is in your near future!

  2. I’m really enjoying this blog. Great meeting you today. Keep on keepin’ on. What about pitching yourself as a TV commentator on this topic?

  3. Pingback: In a state of unhappiness « Pink Slip Blog - Living Life Laid Off

  4. Pingback: Before you make higher education your sanctuary from living life laid off, consider this « Pink Slip Blog - Living Life Laid Off

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