L in the Southeast

L in the Southeast
Atlanta, Georgia, United States
November 04
Retired PR Director
I am a retired Public Relations professional who now writes purely for fun and catharsis. I covered most of my memoir-type pieces in the first three years here. Lately I have dabbled in politics, current affairs, pop culture and movie reviews. Life is my muse.


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JANUARY 24, 2012 1:32PM

Unemployment: Caught Between Classes

Rate: 51 Flag


It’s not that I’m looking for sympathy; not the “woe is me” kind, anyway.  I’m not interested in getting involved in pity parties.  I abhor pity.  Understanding and non-judgment would feel just about right.  That’s what people like me, people who don’t deserve sympathy or pity, could use a healthy dose of.

I was one of the lucky ones.  A childhood friend loved to point that out to me, especially if I had the audacity to sound as if I was complaining about my high-paying job.  She worked just as hard.  She put up with just as much bullshit from The Man as I did.  But, in her mind, she was entitled to a little whining.  I wasn’t.

My friend believed my success was the result of things over which I had little control.  Brains.  Looks.  Skin color.  Never mind how hard I worked in school.  Never mind how much pride I had to swallow to survive in the corporate cesspool.  I was lucky.  She was not.

My so-called luck wasn’t worth much when The Recession That Is Really a Great Depression set in.  I was just as laid off as  my next-door neighbor or the stranger in the next neighborhood.  One day I had a job, the next day I didn’t. 

I had already retired from my 25-year career at a Fortune 100 corporation.  My plan was in place and I was in the process of implementing it when I started to read the faint handwriting emerging on my wall.  The way prices were rising, my retirement money was not lasting as long as it was supposed to last.  I needed to unload my beloved home of 17 years sooner, rather than later.  It needed updating to be competitive in what was fast becoming a buyers’ market.  I had hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity, so pulling some of that equity out to remodel made all the sense in the world.

Until it didn’t.  I had already completed the refinance and the remodel when I became uncomfortably aware of the softening of the housing market.  By the time I was able to complete a sale, it was a short sale that took me 18 months to cajole the bank into accepting.  I had lost all my equity, of course.  My retirement plan was in shambles, much like my nerves.

I had taken a full-time job making less than half of what I had been earning before retirement.  The small sales training company foundered when its corporate clients began slashing training budgets.  The paycheck that was allowing me to make my mortgage payments without having to use funds from my 401(k) suddenly went away.  I begged the employer to give me the proper paperwork to allow me to collect unemployment benefits.

I felt like a woman dropped into the middle of the ocean with only one water wing.  Swimming in circles while I searched for another paying job, it soon became clear my full-time job had become doing battle with my mortgage lender.  I was ashamed of having to go, in person, to the unemployment office and wait for hours to apply for UI.  No matter how many people told me there was nothing to be ashamed of, I still was.  This was my first dance with “government handouts.”  I had never received any kind of government aid and I was raised to believe that was something of which I could be very proud.  I felt foolish.  I was a failure.  And I was so ashamed.

But I also feel I have no basis for complaint.  Throughout the recession, I have never had to worry about my next meal or my next month’s rent.  Yes, it IS rent instead of a mortgage, which at one time would have been a devastating step down for me.  I am able to get by on a small pension and Social Security, plus the small amount I have left in my seriously depleted retirement account.  The lights are on, the heat is on, and the dog is still a pampered diva. 

I feel a strange sense of relief that I am no longer collecting unemployment because my benefits ran out.  And that luck, for which I have been so envied, did send my way a six-month writing contract that added welcome new funds to my stash. 

I don't search for a job anymore.  At age 67, I feel guilty taking a job that someone who needs it more than I do could have.  My life has changed dramatically and permanently, but it is not a bad life at all.  I seem to have passed on the “Lucky Gene” to my son – or so my old friend tells me.  Never mind that he has paid his dues in spades in Hollywood for 14 years, scraping together rent money any way he could.

One thing I have learned for sure:  Unemployment is just as much a state of mind as it is a fiscal reality.  It does something bad to a person’s self-esteem.  It has absolutely nothing to do with poor work habits or contentment with government handouts.  It sucks.  I would tell you to ask my next-door neighbor, if you don’t believe me, but you can’t.  He committed suicide a year ago.

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Lezlie, I so TOTALLY get this. It's about the declining middle class. People get mad at me sometimes if I complain about the changes in my life. I didn't everything right, but it still didn't matter. No one TRULY knows what is going on in another person's finances. Even if one has socked it away for retirement, loss of income whether 75% or 100% and the things that came with that income (cheap health insurance) can be really devastating. Carry on.
Not only do many of these details resonate with me, but I too know people who have suffered far more than us. These are hard times, but I am so glad you're surviving with your wit, your clear wisdom and your never-flagging good nature intact.
Lezlie, this touches on the real issues with this 'recession' so well(*snort* ...recession....pfffft)...and I love how you thread in your past and being a lucky one. I can relate so well. Even we lucky ones can have terrible times, and so much of that luckiness is truly perseverance and wits, acceptance and letting go, and still finding ways to be grateful.
That's how I see it, anyway : )
This speaks to me, as I have always been the "lucky one." I won't collect unemployment either, for exactly the same reason, there are others who need it more. I'm down, but not out...and the company we have is good.
This is a resonatingly strong stellar and vital post. Every point of it echoes the reality of now...and then as it all slipped away. Bloodied, yet unbowed...we are lucky. You are one strong woman. Admiring this piece...its truth and yours. So well stated. rated
So much is attitude. I try to be realistic and a post like yours helps me to see that we just have to figure things out our own way until it works. Never give up. I'm so proud to know you.
You got this straight Leslie.
you did very capturing this.
Excellently written. TY
Yes, Ma'am.
Very deserving.
Woohoo! even.
: )
"Unemployment is just as much a state of mind as it is a fiscal reality. "
You better believe it! And that state of mind numbs you and fills you with despair. But the "jobs creators" have no conception whatsoever. They are both oblivious and uncaring.
I think I collected UI for about 3 months in my life then I became self employed because I realized that being different is not an asset even in the fashion world. But now things are so different and you can never give up no matter what. Tough time require a different mind set and I really would not want to be in that situation now. All I know is now no one is safe especially if you are over the age of 45. One day you can be in and the other out.
Is there still a middle class? I have doubted it for some time now.
There really was a time when the harder you worked the luckier you got. But these are not those days anymore and too often it's about knowing that "if it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all".
Bamy: I know you get this as well as anyone. I did everything right too, and in my linear mind that is supposed to mean I am now traveling the world. That I’m not has been very hard to take.

Cranky: I’m glad you, too, are surviving these hard times.

JT: Again, we see it the same. Even if I got there in a straight line and you in a circle! :D

Buffy: Very good company, indeed.

Muse: Thank you so much!

Zanelle: And I’m proud to know you! You are figuring things out, no matter how hard it gets.

Julie: :D

Mission: Thanks!

JT: :D

Walter: …and they aren’t doing much job creating either!

Linda: You are a true survivor, in every sense of the word.
aka: I've always kind of thought we make our own luck. When it comes knocking, one needs to be ready.
First off, congratulations on your EP for this superb post!

Having been raised with much the same attitudes toward *hand-outs*, I did not ask for unemployment when I was eligible to receive it; however, ultimately, I did apply for and receive benefits. While I was chided and often ridiculed by those I knew who tended to abuse the system as being *entitled* (in my mind read "you owe me"), I followed the rules for maintaining said benefits every week. It was awful and the guilt overwhelming.

Two *retirement plans* that I had established were decimated by circumstance: Once by the owner of the business I was planning to buy in 2005 and the other from the 2008 financial collapse. I have a third in place now, but having learned by experience that the outcome has nothing to do with my ability to strategize, I can only hope. Meantime, I do the necessary footwork to stay afloat as I am forced to continue to ride the waves of this broken economy. Thank goodness I'm a good swimmer!

Thanks for this shining reminder that none of us struggles alone and en masse may be leveled with peace of mind.

Very powerful, this left a strong impact on me. Thank you for sharing, Lezlie.

Strong writing from a very strong woman. Congrats on the well-deserved EP!
Eyespye: What we have all received is a harsh lesson in humility, haven't we? You are a fighter who will prevail. I sense that nothing will hold you back.

Fusun: I appreciate that, my friend.

Barb: Thank you!
I loved this piece. You capture the quixotc nature of the current financial and socioeconomic climate so well. And your last sentence took my breath away.
I have to admit I never felt one ounce of guilt or shame accepting unemployment. It was my due as much as any paycheck. There's a social contract made that keeps society from tearing apart and that is not a one way street.

If we are going to require people to work to get money that is fine. But you can NOT then on the other hand deny that person work unless you are willing to compensate them. The true guilt is our acceptance of the idea money is more important than people. That's the Big Lie NOBODY wants to admit!
Sometimes, as Red and I have discussed, I feel like the subject of the song "Fortunate Son" because I've been so lucky. Got into the workforce at the right time, got out of it at the right time. Lumps, bumps and busted finances along the way? Sure. But I always managed to muddle through. So, obviously, have you.
Still fascinated I get anywhere at all, aren't you? : )
divorcedpauline: Thanks very much for reading.

Harry's Ghost: I hear you. That's what others tried to tell me, and I don't disagree at all. That is what the UI was designed to do.

Boanerges1: One advantage of being slightly older than the Baby Boomers, I think.
JT: LOL! You are a such a treat.
a couageous and well-written post, Lezlie.
Whoops. I am a Boomer, L, albeit the leading edge -- sorry if I misled you. I was lucky (that word again) enough to be in a position to take advantage of an early retirement package that was unique to the place I worked.
Lezlie, I, too, am 67. Your plight - which is shared by some many others are age - saddens me. I fear that the America which was once applauded as a model of prosperity and upward mobility is no longer.

The answers to our country's travail are not easy and I doubt we have the will - or the ability- to collectively make the structural reforms necessary. However, I am persuaded that, if jobs continue to disappear, wages stagnate, and our standard of living continues to decline, our lives and those of our children and grandchildren will be bleak indeed.

I also know that, if a majority of citizens buy into the kind of "entitlement reform" recommended by the GOP, we will see millions of senior citizens reduced to begging on the streets or wandering about, dazed and confused.

God help us all!
Wait, there's classes?

I don't think I have any class, at least that's what the one lady on the bus told me. :D


A well deserved EP.
Boanerges1: Sorry, I made a bad assumption. I am 67. My sister, who is 2 1/2 years younger is a Boomer who also retired very early by taking a lucrative package that was never, ever repeated.
Paul: I so agree with your prediction that I have stopped wishing that my son would give me a grandchild. I'm worried enough about HIS future.

Tink: There are all kinds of classes. We now need one in how to survive in a greed-based country without an income. Maybe we could teach it together. :D
We had a plan and worked the plan,
did everything right, the way we
were s'posed to and then were robbed... blind.
Came back to see if you got an EP and you did! Hooray. I can't stop thinking about this piece. Lots of wisdom here. And from the comments you got, seems like everyone agrees!~RRRRRRRRRR
Extremely well done post. You capture the disappearance of the middle class perfectly. To be retired and be happy because the lights are on, the heat is on and you can feed and bathe your pet is NOT all that most Americans were taught to expect after "doing it all right" in corporate American for 2/3rds of their lives. I guess maybe the oddity was the prosperous years that encouraged us all to expect more; I hope not.
Well put, and fascinating, and congratulations to you on surviving and on being so strong.
This is too close for comfort, Lezlie, and, wow, that last sentence is a lulu!
I too have been luckier than many but less than others but life is like that. I've been unemployed many times especially in the past decade. You're right, it's a lot easier to stay up than get up once you're knocked down. I think I am now too tired to try again, but it's okay.

Employers are buyers and workers are sellers and, all other things being equal, we always compete for jobs with those who earn less. Since we went to free trade (1991 & 1994) to benefit the markets we've had to compete with lower wage workers elsewhere. The wages trickled down to other countries.

Essentially it's became a constant a buyers market for employers and now there aren't enough people to buy what they're selling here. I'm glad you're safe and that your son isn't one of the ones who spent a lifetime scraping and never got a break. You have been very kind to other children your life touched and I hope you and your son continues to do well his whole life. May we all get lucky again.
I might have to take unemployment soon, and understand your feelings toward it. I too was raised that any type of “handout” is wrong. Believing as long as I was willing there will be work. My friends and family are telling me not to feeling bad. I just can’t help but feel so disappointed. I am too stubborn to give in and this uphill fight is something else.
Although 10 years behind in 'human' years, we are sharing the same horse blanket Lezlie. I'm glad to know you have come out on the other side, resilient. It's an encouragement. We need it.
I went through this at a young age due to disability. WTF did I do all that work for? Now I have discovered that there are other ways to live and I will never go back.
It IS a state of mind. And the power of that is not widely understood. Which is why your message is so important.

And having been in the sales and management training business myself for 20 something years ---do I ever GET your message!
Did you know that the housing market stuff and decline of the middle class is not happening at all in Canada? It's all been created by our owned politicos. I am now on disability. I have been on ui a couple of times in my life, and I thank God it's there. Our Government will probably be eliminating that soon, too. Heavy sigh.
Excellent. So glad to see this is an EP. ~r
tr ig: Yep. “Plan the work and work the plan” was something I learned early in life. Nobody ‘splained the effects of greedy higher ups.

Bamy: Thanks! :D

Laura: The thing is, we didn’t realize the prosperous years were oddities! We thought it was forever. Naïve?

Alysa: Thanks, dear one.

RW: I never thought of it quite that way. The Republicans seem to be trying to squelch the conversation about class, which tells me we really, really need it.

Matt: Sorry, pal. I’m hoping you can find some encouragement in my story.

Bleue: We haven’t adjusted well to globalization, it’s true. Your comment has touched my heart.

kamilleseven: If I may, I encourage you to recognize it as disappointment rather than shame, and go ahead and take the benefits if you need them. Your employers have paid into the UI on your behalf, so you are truly entitled to it.

Gabby Abby: It’s so good to see you here! I hope you are back to stay for awhile.
Lezlie this is such a great story and profound in the last sentence. How very sad for the family and friends left behind. We will be stuck in this economy funk for a while longer I suspect. I am glad to hear that you are getting by!

I have been checking to see if your son had been nominated for any awards. It is so great that he was in a motion picture with so many nominations! I would just love for you to walk on that red carpet someday, taking lots of pictures so we can live vicariously through you!
Congrats on the EP!
Zuma: Sometimes I think I would have had a more fulfilling life if it had happened to me earlier in life. I wasted soooooo much time chasing the wrong carrots.

Chicago Guy: Are things picking up again in the business?

Wren Dancer: I guess I didn’t know that about Canada. I do believe our plight is uniquely American, though.

Joanie: Thanks, kiddo!
Susie: We really weren't thinking about awards for Stephen at this point. He is just thrilled to be associated with such a successful movie. As for red carpets, I think I've done my thing. :D I have to let some of the others have a chance. lol
Oh, man, this is hard and wonderful and horrific at once.
I completely understand this. I am grateful that I only know one person who committed suicide in all this mess, it was a long time friend and mortgage finance guy. Yeah. I am grateful for what I have, but like you, I have lost some too.
Wren Dancer - it's true that things aren't nearly as bad in Canada. For one thing, the health system is independent of employment (and independent of insurance companies). For another, our banks were fairly tightly regulated and the whole mortgage and mortgage-resale thing didn't happen. I don't know to what extent out-sourcing has affected manufacturing and other businesses. According to Statistics Canada, unemployment is at 7.5%.

However, we are affected by what goes on in the U.S. We currently have a conservative government...which is more or less left of your conservatives, even your liberals...but they show some indication of wanting to follow the American conservative example in some respects. Also, whatever happens in the U.S. will affect us over-all in many ways due to our close economic ties...
This was a wonderful post, and your attitude and your friend's attitude about luck are interesting. Once inside the cancer treatment circle, I discovered that there were people whose response was a why oh why me lord thing, while others would say, I'm so lucky that I only have breast cancer, not a brain tumor, while people with brain tumors would say thank goodness I don't have pancreatic cancer. Luck might be mostly about perception. If you think you're lucky, then you are. Congratulations on the EP!
@L ~ such a lovely and uplifting thing to say ~ much appreciated and taken to heart.
Excellent post. Your facing everything that's been thrown at you with grace and class. I hope the writing contracts keep coming.
Jon: Thank you.

Sheila: I’m so sorry for your loss. My neighbor was a friend as well, so I know how utterly helpless you must have felt when it happened.

Myriad: I pray reason prevails and your government does NOT follow the lead of the conservatives in the U.S.

greenheron: I’ll bet the ones with the “I’m lucky” approach were more successful in their fight against cancer than the other were.

eyespye: Good. :D

jlsathre: Thank you! Me, too.
"rich people march on washington every day"
--i.f. stone

"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
--supreme court justice louis brandeis

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
--upton sinclair

"One withstands the invasion of armies; one does not withstand the invasion of ideas."
--victor hugo

"The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid dens of crime that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the offices of a thoroughly nasty business concern. "
--cs lewis

gamechanger-- occupying republicans
Unemployment is just as much a state of mind as it is a fiscal reality.

Absolutely! I know so many people who have been unemployed for various reasons over the last few years, and their circumstances have covered a wide range.

I'm glad that you're doing okay in spite of a few bumps in the road.
No disgrace about unemployment insurance Lezlie. I've had two 15 month bouts of joblessness in the past sixteen years. The first time I spurned unemployment insurance. I knew better the second time. And these days I'm just back to what I was earning in the corporate world of the early 90s.

You're right too about the psychological toll it exacts. Once you're out of a job it comes as a surprise just how much of one's self-worth was bound up in having one.
I've been searching for full-time work for nearly a year and a half, and my unemployment benefits are about to expire. Thankfully, my husband is employed. He has the "hard skills" in the family. So, yes, I get this, too. What really disturbs me about being out of work in middle age is how it seems to speed up the demise of our relevance as productive members of society. Suddenly, the world belongs to the young, the wealthy and the well connected, and the rest of us can just piss off. What are we supposed to do for the next 50 years???
@L in the Southeast
Funny how others can discount your hard work and decide that you just got lucky. Not funny haha of course.
Thanks for this touching piece. But, if I may, don't feel bad about being a renter. In most parts of the country now, single family or condo home ownership is not the investment it would have been in the past. Many smart people who can afford to buy are choosing to rent.
I work hard every day to maintain your good attitude. We are living MUCH lower on the hog these days; from premium pork roast to chitlins in two years. Still, it could be a whole lot worse.

Nice write!
Cranky said what I wanted to say. The last line was very powerful. I see you as a someone who never would deserve pity. Lucky is such a complicated thing. Terrific Piece.
vzn: Thanks for visiting.

bikepsychobabble: Thank you!

Abra: I finally got over my aversion to getting unemployment benefits. Humility eventually set in. :D

Deborah: …”the demise of our relevance…” I understand this completely. It is difficult to swallow.

Anthony: You’ve experienced it, too?

Mary: Actually, Mary, I feel absolutely liberated by being a renter. No more property taxes, no more incessant repairs. It is somebody else’s problem and I love it that way.

babe: That’s the spirit. Thanks for the compliment.
It would do everyone (culturally, politically) some good to remember that unemployment is insurance, not a handout. A contribution is made for every employee, every year. Just like paying your auto insurance premiums. When the car crashes, you call the insurance company and get the benefits. When the job crashes, it is just the same. There is no stigma in getting the car fixed!!!

Lezlie, this was really well done. Others have commented on the "unemployment as a state of mind" phrase, and I'll echo their applause for that.
keri h: Thank you for saying that. That makes it feel altogether different. The reason we forget is because we, the employee, don't pay the premium. You might have changed some minds by taking the time to comment here. Yay, keri!
L.. I am learning to not be ashamed to use government assistance if needed and I qualify. I am currently using unemployment benefits for the second time... It's not something that I am proud to be using, but I had to do so for income... Therefore, I am thankful the assistance is there... And, since I am unemployed I have no health insurance. Today, I scheduled an appointment with this service to see if I qualify for low cost doctor's appointments in order to get my high blood medicine which is running out... I am praying that I will be able to utilize the service to my health in check for the moment.

Of course, it's definitely not the position in life I want to be in but I must to do what I can do within my willpower to take care of my own well-being until life for me improves.... Therefore, I am learning to walk on my pride to take care of me for now...
The "haves" and the "have nots" should read this. Everyone should read this. You have lived, and written, a cautionary tale for our times. Nobody has a better right to complain than you. It's your lifetime of hard work, and generous soul that's providing the means to help others in dire need... not the greedy 1% with their golden parachutes and callus disregard for the pain they caused. Thank you. And bless you.
daisy jane: snow on the leaves of a camellia bush, enhanced with special effects software.

Dawn: I am praying with you that you qualify for the low-cost healthcare. Keep your head way up and do what you have to do with dignity and honor. Thanks for reading.

Sally: I have found that complaining wastes the time I should be using to save my ass. I’ll complain after I’m dead, maybe. :D
I find myself contemplating how to make a chicken last a little longer in the house, how to put in a small vegetable garden in the yard just in case, and have noticed all the "simplify your life" articles in the AARP magazine...Then I think about all the things I read about Thr Great Depression, I think these are harbingers of what it's going to be like to become elderly in the coming times.
Too many comments just don't address reality from my perspective. There is no "government handout", and characterizing it as such gives a bad name to a program that is a necessary part of our economic reality. These programs have been wrongly characterized as "entitlements", "handouts", etc., but in fact are safety net programs for those that have played by the rules, worked hard but through no fault of their own no longer have a job, and little prospect of finding a job.
Hold your head up high and don't let others define you and what is your life. Shame in going in to sign up for UI? That's BS. Get yourself right with reality and understand that what is happening, for us casualties, was not of our making. The programs that are available to help us through this are there to assist in our survival. In the past, when others were the casualties, we didn't complain. Through our taxes we lent a hand, knowing that it's temporary and they'll get back on their feet and contribute once again. In Studs Terkel's book WORKING, there was a quote that I'll paraphrase, when will people realize that were all in the same cotton field. That is reality.
Richard Ponce: Thank you for your wise comments. I have come to the same place you are, finally. I paid into Social Security (which the legislators in Washington don't!) for 50 years straight. Unemployment was paid for by me employers on my behalf. False pride and Catholic upbringing induced guilt played with head for a while there, but I am straight now.
Just to name one-Chevron's first quarter profits in 2010 were four billion, five hundred and fifty million dollars. If I'm not mistaken, they paid zero tax on those profits.

So, anyone who thinks they aren't worth of collecting a weekly unemployment check, just think about all the multimillionaires at Chevron who sit in their comfortable chairs in their nicely decorated offices all day, just watching the money rolling in.

If you're entitled to unemployment checks, for heaven's sake, take them! I did, and I felt very good that finally the government was giving something to me.
oh my God! this
"It sucks. I would tell you to ask my next-door neighbor, if you don’t believe me, but you can’t. He committed suicide a year ago."
is just incredible !...no comment!
You totally have this straight Leslie. We've all got to figure it out till it works.
I am able to get by on a small pension and Social Security, plus the small amount gartenlounge
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