Tag Archives: Unemployment

One Full Year of Living Life Laid Off

By Mariam Williams

“This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

one year anniversary calendarfree-printable-calendars.com

It’s not a happy anniversary, but I’m alive, and there’s still hope.  I’m thankful today for the writing opportunities God has given me in the past year.  I’ve gone from having a grand total of zero bylines to having 18 articles published in various print publications and having a regular column. By the end of the year, my publications list will include at least 25 entries.  I’ve put the name “Research Works” on my writing, editing and market research skills, and I’ve managed to convince a few people to let me put those skills to use and write their organization’s newsletters and press releases, come up with a slogan for their business or edit their regular business correspondence.  (I’m a little bitter that growing that into a viable business has been impossible given unemployment compensation’s requirement that I report any money I earn, even if it’s only a few dollars for a few hours in one week, but I’m trying to prove that honesty will get me somewhere.)

I’m thankful and more hopeful than I have been over the past few days, but I’m also admittedly confused as to why God has made so many opportunities for me in a dying field.  Let’s just be honest: print journalism is on life support.  Obviously, I can transfer my skills to online journalism, but the blogosphere is already heavily saturated, and people with more experience than I have get laid off every day.

It’s that looming uncertainty that makes me wonder if I missed something when I decided earlier this year that I wouldn’t take just any job that came along.  Was I supposed to humble myself, go to a temp agency or the Census Bureau and make less than I did at my last job and less than I do on unemployment?  At the eight-month mark, was I supposed to humble myself a little further and apply for a minimum wage job at the Target that’s now reopened right behind my apartment building?  Or was I right to wait?  A year later, is God saying to me, “Wait just a little bit more”?  Or is it time to do something entirely different from the path that I was on even before I began living life laid off?

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© 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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What’s up with lackluster job recruiters?

by Mariam Williams

I know the open job to unemployed ratio is out of control, but do recruiters at career fairs have to look so bored and annoyed with job seekers?

Yes, the unemployment rate in Kentucky is around 11 percent, but I’m thinking, if a job seeker comes to your booth, you could at least pretend like you might want that person to work for your company.  I attended a career fair this week and encountered recruiters who looked like they didn’t want to be there.  They were short with their answers, they looked bored, they wouldn’t elaborate when I asked questions that required more detail, they said they didn’t have any advice for anything beyond what I was already doing, and they said all their information was online anyway.  I expected two recruiters in particular to kick their feet up and begin filing their nails.

Has anyone else had this experience at job fairs? Am I being unfair here? Should beggars not be choosers? Should I just be glad there are still job fairs to go to?

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© 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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Let’s talk about health care – Part Two: More concerns, especially for the ladies, working or living life laid off

By Mariam Williams

“If a man will not work, he shall not have adequate health care.”  2 Thessalonians 3:10, NOECV (New Ongoing Economic Crisis Version)

I’m concerned about our attachment to employer-sponsored health care and the resulting fears and bad habits.  The above verse really says, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat,” but we behave as if health insurance as a standard benefit of regular, full-time employment were mandated by God.  We can’t imagine it being any other way, unless we are extremely poor or extremely old, in which case we already live with state and/or federally funded alternatives.

Yet, we don’t see how it traps us.  I know a brilliant entrepreneur who has often chosen to be someone else’s employee while running his own businesses just for the benefit of group insurance. I applaud a recent post on “Please Feed the Animals” for asking just how many other would-be entrepreneurs exist who desperately want to boost our economy and enjoy more time with their families but are afraid of losing their health insurance?

It’s a perk that I kind of miss for reasons you’ll see later, but the dependence on employer-sponsored health care coverage might be one reason the health of so many people in our nation is so bad.  It hit me just recently that employer-sponsored health insurance removes some of the individual responsibility to take care of yourself.  Do you smoke?  Are you overweight or obese?  A binge drinker?  Do you just like to see doctors a lot?  Are you into bungee jumping or sky diving?  Searching for health insurance on your own, every factor that you can control matters, as do many that you can’t control.  Smokers, the obese and the adventure-seekers pay more for individual health insurance.  If an employer handles it, the employer’s co-sponsorship portion goes up, but unless the company is forced to drastically cut costs, the employees never see the effects of their own behavior.  You can do as much damage as you please while someone else fits the bill, never fully understanding how much you’re costing everyone.

I discovered this about one month before I was laid off, when every employee at my former place of employment was required to re-enroll in or reject the company group insurance plan.  The plan had increased about $30 a month over the previous year.  I wasn’t happy about the cost increase, so I shopped around for alternatives.  A former health insurance agent advised me to go ask the human resources department just how much the company’s portion of the monthly premium is and to then compare the plan they offered to an individual plan with similar coverage.  He said I might be surprised at just how much the company was paying for each of us.  He went on to explain that along with all those factors we can control, participants in a group coverage plan also pay for other factors, like every coworker over the age of 45, every one with a pre-existing condition, all female coworkers still in their child-bearing years and all coworkers with children under 23.  The insurance company calculates the risk and, in my former employer’s case, a separate benefits company then negotiated a rate the employer felt was fair.

The HR manager wouldn’t tell me what that rate was, but I found out about a month and a half later when my COBRA letter arrived, informing me that I could keep the same coverage I was unhappy with for the low monthly premium of nearly $400.

You see, with COBRA, you continue with the group insurance plan.  You get your low deductible (although this particular plan’s out-of-pocket limit was still well into the thousands), $35 co-pays for office visits, free labs and your $15 prescription drug benefit. Your pre-existing conditions are covered.  You don’t have to get a physical.  You don’t have to sit on the phone for an hour with an underwriter who grills you about the medical records he has open right in front of him.  You don’t have to sign anything giving that underwriter permission to contact your doctors and find out if you left out anything.  If you’re pregnant, you’re still covered.  And for those conveniences, you pay what you didn’t know your employer was paying every month.

I, a healthy woman in her late twenties, had the option of paying a premium of $400 a month. And if I had had a serious pre-existing condition or if I had been pregnant, there wouldn’t have been many other options for me.  There’s just something wrong with that.

Even when the HR manager declined to reveal how much the company was paying, I had a feeling it was something ridiculous like that, and I started to get pissed off about it.  I was angry that I was in my late twenties, exercised daily, was petite, childless, ate right, rarely watched television, had never ever smoked anything, did nothing adventurous, and I was paying for everyone who wasn’t any of those things.  I think there’s something wrong with that too, and I’m concerned that a nation that doesn’t know about this stuff will continue to contribute to the astronomical cost of health care with its bad habits.

As a country, we have another bad habit that shows up more quietly in our health care system than it does in our economy, but affects health care just the same: we spend a lot of money on things we don’t need.  How much would each household save if they only bought the health coverage they really needed?  In my research on the group plan, I found the only prescription drug I used at the time for $9 at one pharmacy, and a prescription drug I had used in the past for $4 at another.  I didn’t need a prescription drug benefit.  I’ve shared my thoughts on children on this blog before; I obviously wasn’t trying to have any, so I saw the prenatal care and maternity coverage as being only for a shocking and nearly impossible accident.  I had no reason to see a doctor or a specialist several times a year, so although I appreciated the idea of a low co-pay just in case there came a time when I did need to see a doctor often, it frustrated me then.  I only opted in to the group health plan because the premium was pre-tax, and I would actually take home more money with the coverage.  The unemployed don’t have the pre-tax option.

As I end this venting session, I leave you with one more concern: adequate and equal health care for women.  When I met with the former insurance agent, I learned that my gender would complicate my search for individual coverage.  Did you know health insurance companies charge women more money just because we go to the doctor more instead of waiting until we’re near death like men do?  Did you know that birth control is never covered under an individual health care plan because (as an underwriter once explained to me) it’s seen as something for a lifestyle choice, not for a medical condition?  Did you know that’s bull, because some birth control does treat certain medical conditions?  Did you know that Viagra is covered under individual health insurance plans?  Do you know how difficult it is to find an individual plan that will cover prenatal care, labor, and the first seven days of an infant’s life?  Do you know of an individual plan that will pay for an abortion?

Did you know that the bill going through the House right now mandates that women can’t be charged more for their health insurance than men?

Do you trust the very insurance companies that treat women unfairly to be honest without a public option, or without any reform at all?

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© 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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Let’s talk about health care – Part One: Why health insurance sucks when you’re living life laid off

By Mariam Williams

I was taught in a personal finance class in my senior year of college that most Americans use health insurance the wrong way.  I learned in the class that it should be for truly catastrophic events, not for covering the basics.  Seeing a doctor for your annual physical is health care, but health insurance is for the medical equivalent of a tornado turning your home into a pile of matchsticks.

The former you should be able to pay for out of your liquidity fund (six months of income saved up) or out of a health savings account, something you get with a high-deductible health insurance plan.  The latter you can’t pay for no matter how much you make or how much you save.  But because you have an emergency fund and an HSA, you should be able to pay a deductible of up to about $3000 to $5000 dollars with the latter option. So you get a high-deductible plan with a low monthly premium, pay your basic costs out of pocket, and use your insurance for a true emergency.

For instance, an annual pap smear and the lab fees for the results might cost a woman about $75 and $300, respectively, out of pocket with such a plan.  That seems crazy compared to the $35 office visit and zero-dollar lab fee in the insurance plans most Americans choose, but reasonable when you consider a woman would have paid about $600 total in premiums over 12 months verses $1200 to $1500 in premiums over the same amount of time with a more traditional insurance plan.  If the results of the pap are normal, she may not have to spend another dime the rest of the year.  If they reveal she has cervical cancer, she pays her monthly premium and a $4000 deductible, much of it from the money she has in savings, while her insurance company pays the remaining hundreds of thousands of dollars for her treatment.  (Assuming they don’t drop her when she gets sick.)

You save a lot of money each month, but there are two main problems with these plans: 1. They don’t cover pre-existing conditions, not before you meet the deductible, not after.  2. When you don’t have any savings or liquidity—like when you’re unemployed for example—these types of plans can keep you from seeking out the preventive care that may save you money in the long run and save your life.

I bring this up because it’s the kind of plan I’m on right now, and because it’s the kind of plan I’ve been kind of hoping a public option in health care reform would allow me to dismiss some time in the next five years.

I’ve stayed away from this debate for a long time, feeling like there was enough confusion out there without me adding my two cents to the milieu and feeling like I’m just complaining without offering any real solutions.  Now that the White House is backing off of its endorsement of a public option, and my congressman (hooray John Yarmuth!)  has pledged not to sign a bill that doesn’t have the public option, it feels more appropriate to voice my concerns, to say what I would like to see, even if I still don’t have any real solutions.

Am I concerned that the government might not be able to run its own major health insurance system efficiently?  Absolutely.  I’m currently in a government system that assists millions of people.  I’m on emergency unemployment compensation, and I’ve been frustrated with the errors, the long appeals process, the need to have special inside connections to reach someone over the phone, the length of time I have to wait at the unemployment office to get my questions answered when the special connection is out of the office, and with the fact that an unemployment insurance appeals court decided the state does indeed owe me money from October and November 2008 that I still haven’t seen. Employees in the unemployment office have told me they run into new situations they have no clue how to handle every single day.  And yet, if I didn’t have EUC, I wouldn’t have anything at all.  No way to pay rent and keep the lights on.  No way to buy food.  No way to pay my monthly health insurance premium.

One other benefit: all the flaws in EUC motivate me to keep job hunting and find something better, just as private health insurance companies – big, bureaucratic systems with long phone hold times, long appeals processes, and at least as many claim denials as state unemployment offices – will theoretically be motivated to be better if competing with a public option.

To read the remaining concerns, click here.

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© 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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Would you RATHER be living life laid off?

By Mariam Williams

I’ve had jobs I loathed so much that I would cry when my weekday alarm clock signaled the time had come to get up and get dressed to go to the office of misery.  Is unemployment better than that?  Definitely, even with all the hassles of sitting for hours at a time at the local unemployment office, all the glitches in the system, an automated system that only understands hourly work, never being able to earn extra income, and knowing I’m one out of something like 10 million people.  But it’s only better because I can still afford all the food I need and like, and I can still pay rent and most of my monthly bills without familial or charitable assistance.  If that weren’t the case, I would probably be waking up and crying just as hard as I once did over a depressing, unfulfilling job.

Since October 2008, I’ve tried to avoid going back to that situation by not applying for jobs that I know would leave me depressed.  (I’m presently wondering if that’s the reason there are supposedly millions of job openings out there that the unemployed aren’t filling.)  I have focused instead on jobs that match my interests, experience and skills, and even ones that I think would be fun.  For me, that’s the ideal: fun employment.

Not quite the same as funemployment, a new term I learned from an article in Sunday’s Courier-Journal.  The funemployed have learned to enjoy their employment hiatus by spending time with their children, on their hobbies or at various, mostly free attractions.  From what I gather, all of the funemployed featured in the article share my mindset: they’re still paying their bills on time and taking care of the essentials first.  And one has the enviable position of having a gainfully employed and supportive spouse who’s bringing home enough for the family.

Understand, I’m not saying housewifery—or house husbandry—or lollygagging along on government assistance is the ideal setup for every American household.  I am, however, suggesting that the ideal isn’t just to have a job that’s fun to go to every day; it’s to have a steady source of income and the time and ability to enjoy your passions each day, even if you don’t go to any job anywhere.

Puzzled as to how to be funemployed?  It’s really just a combination of a positive attitude and knowing how to fill your free time now that you’re living life laid off.  Here are some suggestions.  I’ve obviously done number 13.  Numbers 37, 41 and 84 are quite useful.  And I strongly recommend AVOIDING number 46, but clearly it’s all up to you.

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© 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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My love-hate relationship with living life like a housewife

I’ve begun to do something I thought I would never do: let my exercise routine slip.  I haven’t devoted myself to five or six days a week of rigorous 30-minute to one-hour cardio sessions combined with weight training for a little over one month.  As a result, I think my breasts are bigger (they are just hyper-sexualized fat deposits, after all) and my butt looks rounder (always wanted that), but my stomach has forcefully, purposefully, and unapologetically reappeared, much the way I had hoped a job would by now.

I blame my recent apathy on two factors.  The first is my favorite Zumba instructor’s departure to another state.  I’ve raved about Zumba on this very blog, but since my favorite instructor’s final class on May 19th, I have only been to one Zumba class, and I found that one less than thrilling.  Trying to perform my former teacher’s choreography on the carpet in my apartment has proven treacherous to my knees, and I guess I could get certified to teach Zumba myself and do the choreography I remember him doing in front of my own class, but I don’t know that I have the patience to just let people have fun without correcting their movements.  I went back to cardio machines and free weights for about two days before being bored out of my mind, and about as soon as I added jumping rope to semi-daily walks around the neighborhood and park, it got too hot outside to blink without sweating profusely.  I miss Zumba, but I’ve taken the class with all the other instructors at my gym, and no one else has the music or the moves that my former instructor did.

The second factor is living life laid off.  See, my gym membership is attached to my mom’s, and she pays for it.  If I were employed, I would look for another place to work out because I hate my gym, or at least the branch of it that I’m closest to now that I’m at home most of the time.  I had an appointment near my favorite branch of the gym earlier this week, so I packed my gym clothes and stopped in for old times’ sake.  I was suddenly surrounded by professional people running in on their lunch hour for a 45-minute workout and a 30-second shower before running back to their desk responsibilities, and it felt great! As I told another member who remains a part of the downtown lunch-hour workout crew, I come to my favorite branch of the gym, and even though I’m unemployed, I relate to the professionals downtown.  The housewives near my home, not so much.

And yet, I live like a house-wife in training, and there are some elements of my life I actually enjoy.  When I worked out steadily, I liked being able to stay at the gym—even that gym—for two hours at a time, hours that were outside of the normal 9-to-5er’s pre- or post-work rush hours.  I like avoiding those same time constraints at the grocery store or in the park.  I like being able to go to the bank and the post office any time I feel like it, instead of at lunch time or on Saturday.  I like having enough time every morning to make a spinach and mushroom omelet if I want, to have a meaningful private praise and worship session, to fully dissect a bible verse I’ve been studying or thoroughly research something for this blog.  If the unemployment compensation checks were in an amount that allowed me to have as much fun as I want to, or if I had a husband who made about five times that amount, maybe I would be content with my life.

On a local news station the other night, the anchor welcomed the meteorologist back from her four weeks of maternity leave.  Four weeks? I thought.  What kind of maternity leave is that? Isn’t it just a little barbaric to take a one-month-old away from its mother’s breast and leave it at least 10 hours a day with strangers you just assume will take care of it? If I ever have children, I’m not sure I could do that. Eight months ago, I never would’ve considered any of that, not having children, not the hardship of being apart from them, not the savagery of leaving them with strangers.

I must take the time to remind myself here that housewife isn’t my only option.  I also like being able to jump on the rare freelance assignment that comes along and to take a day to go shadow an attorney, or mold my own schedule to a busy professional’s schedule to get the story.  I like having access to a venerable Who’s Who of the city, meeting people I would otherwise never come in contact with as an educated, intelligent, unemployed young woman.  I like when an editor says I’ve done a good job.

Hmmm.  A good job.  If I could just make this freelance writing thing steady …

And stay away from housewives.

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© 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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Keeping living life laid off in the headlines

Even after nearly eight months of living life laid off, I haven’t quite grown numb to the rejection letters or the lack of responses.  When the letters and silence come from employers or positions I think would especially fit me, it stings a little bit more than usual.  But what was really starting to bring me down recently was the feeling that no one, save my inner circle, still cared.

I have a bad habit of thinking that I’m more important than I really am.  I assume that people who know this blog exists but don’t subscribe check it maybe every other month or so, or that those who knew about October 13, 2008, the day that set it all off, know that I still don’t have a job, or that those who I’ve tagged in my notes on Facebook–notes that are copies of or links to posts in this blog–sometimes read them.  But more often than not, someone who I assumed knew otherwise will ask me where I work, what I’m doing these days, or how the job hunt is going.  And when I send mass emails that say something like, “Hey! Check out something new that I wrote,” about 95% of the recipients don’t click the link.  (I can tell when I look at the blog stats.)

So today, in addition to the faithful 5%, my inner circle, Tha Artavist, Javacia, and my other subscribers, I want to publicly thank Louisville Magazine.  Their June 2009 issue highlights three of the more than 36,000 people in Jefferson County, Kentucky who are unemployed.  No, I’m not one them, and that’s just as much a relief to me as it is to all of you who are tired of me.  It has begun to feel quite lonely here in the land of living life laid off.  But there are a lot of us still out there.

Click here to read Louisville Magazine, then click on “Faces of the Unemployed” in the upper left-hand corner.

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© 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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Filed under Economy, Unemployment