Maria Stuart

Maria Stuart
Howell, Michigan, USA
February 17
Maria Stuart is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, their teenage son, and Ted, the hyper labradoodle who keeps her from sitting at the computer too long. You can check out her website at or Follow @mariastuart on Twitter.


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SEPTEMBER 20, 2010 1:48PM

Where do all the jobless people go?

Rate: 41 Flag

There was a time in my life when I got every job I wanted, every single one. From scooping ice cream to waitressing to office work to writing, if I wanted the job, I got it.

I thought myself kind of special, talented for sure. It felt like there was this magical, “if you want it, it will come” force that surrounded me.

That was then.

Today, I am part of a group of people who’ve lost their jobs and hang out at the coffee shop just to get out of the house, an incentive to shower and dress, if you will. Some of us work on our laptops, writing or sending out resumes and checking classifieds. We all know each other to varying degree, and we are part of an exclusive club: Those who will likely never work again.

There’s a story in today’s New York Times about us.

For my little coffee shop club, we also have the added distinction of living in the Metro Detroit area, ground zero for the employment implosion, or the greatest recession since the Great Depression as I’ve heard it called.

Great optimist that I am, I keep trying. There are no newspapers for me to edit, so I design websites, do some freelance writing, and keep growing the hyper-local website I started with a former co-worker who lost his job the same day as me. After a few bumps and a few weeks offline after a dispute with our former developers, I built a new site from scratch, a site that is now mine alone and one I love with all my heart.

When I have time, I write.

It’s a scrappy, challenging environment. There are so many of us out there who do the same kinds of work, trolling for the same jobs and the same dollars, crossing our fingers that we get paid. We compete on one level and prop each other up on another, sharing leads and contacts.

It hasn’t been enough.

Now I am part of a group of nearly 30 people just like me who are taking a small business class, learning about characteristics of entrepreneurs and business plans, letting terms like “elevator pitch” roll off our tongues. While everyone pushes “entrepreneurship” as an exciting new concept, in reality, the spoils go to large, established businesses, for which many of my coffee shop friends and I used to work.

We wait. We cross our fingers. We wish and hope.

In the meantime, we drink coffee.



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My fingers are crossed for you too. I was just talking to a friend about this idea that the recession is going to breed a new type of workforce: one that is creative and entrepreneural. I hope this is true, for people like you.
You are such an impressive writer - thank you for this view into your life. Here's wishing you all the best in opportunity and pioneering . . . and keep us posted when you have time. Pieces like this give a face to what's really going on . . .
If I lost my editing job I'd be right with you in that boat. Too bad the economy doesn't let people flip houses anymore. I'd like doing that.
im 44 and have been unemployed for 18mos with no job prospects in sight.. r
You are an obvious talent. We were all put here for a reason. Any system that does not allow for that will fail. Seems we're going to learn that the hard way.
Have you seen Displaced They have special webinars, are growing all the time, and are a great gathering place for those of us who used to work in the newspaper bidness. My heart goes out to you, as it does to so many. I gave up and started babysitting my grandchild. Lets me play all day. Money's no worse really, because I don't have nearly as many expenses. No work clothes, dry cleaning, no car payment, no gas, no insurance, no pantyhose, no lunches to pack or buy. Silver linings. Silver linings. Silver linings. Bullshit. I wanna another newspaper job. I'll even fill up the boxes and sort the change, just let me hang around a newsroom one hour before deadline again.
I am sixty and have had trouble even getting an interview. I dropped by first degree from my resume so my oldest college credits are from 2001. I applied for a job that closed the 10th. I just called today (wanting to kill the hopeless hoping) and they said it takes them three weeks to decide who to interview. They did say that they will contact everyone who applied which is not the case with all employers who just let you guess.
Good luck!
I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you and for the creative economy.
I feel you pain, baby. Out since January after running a company for 18 years. Blah.
That NYTimes story spooked me. Maybe the only way to go is to dream up some kind of freelance work or your own business. If I'm ever in a position to hire someone again, I'm going to hire the oldest candidate and let the wet-behind-the-ears applicants languish.
I'm 56, and gave up on full-time regular employment two or three years ago: now I freelance edit and write, market my own books (and write new ones!), partner in a tiny local subsidy publishing house, also build websites for our clients, do secretarial work erratically for a local realtor who specializes in ranch real estate ... maybe I'm ahead of the curve, in piecing together a living out of odds and ends. I did work for a ginormous establishment once - the Air Force. I grew not so fond of it, eventually. I've tempted at other ginormous civilian establishments. Still not very fond of it, although pay is always nice.
Work that business class and the entrepreneur angle as hard as you can, after a certain point, it's your skills and experience that are valuable to an employer, but it seems only on an intermittent basis. Wave of the future, I'm afraid.
All the best Maria. I enjoyed reading you and contemplating your story, but it's hard to know what to say.

All the best Maria. I enjoyed reading you and contemplating your story, but it's hard to know what to say.

As a write this, I am taking a break from some new (yeah!!!!) client work that came my way last week. I have been out of work for nine months. At 41, I feel what you're feeling, too.

I also hate how the world treats the unemployed like a bunch of lazy nothings to spit on. I have been in hustle mode. God knows my unemployment checks don't even really cover the basics. Right now, I'm three days late on my car insurance and a half a payment behind on my car payment. I need the car. It will be paid off next summer.

I want a job, but not just any job. I want something that makes me want to get up in the morning. I want something the uses my creative force. I want something that pays my bills. I will accept other jobs until I can find that, but I want that good-fit of a job. Maybe I'm wrong to feel that way.

I am now putting myself into entrepreneur mode. It doesn't offer health insurance nor will it cover my costs of returning to school. But it does pay for my dignity. And it gets me up and dressed in the morning. (R)
Great post Maria, your writing talent is obvious. I can completely relate to your situation. I was a semiconductor process engineer and nearly all of those jobs are overseas now. It doesn't help that I'm nearly 60 and no rational employer wants to invest in retraining me. To deal with this difficult time I helped start a job search group that meets weekly in a local coffee shop to swap leads, practice interviewing, critique resumes, etc. We even get recruiters to come by and talk with us. The group size expands and contracts as some people find work and newly laid-off people join us. One thing that all of us have learned is that networking is critical. The internet makes applying easy, but it also means that every job posting is flooded with resumes. Knowing someone on the inside is the key to being heard above the noise.

I didn't realize how much emotional support I lost when my job went away, having this group of similar people was a god-send. And I say was, because after 17 months I got rehired by a former employer but in a completely different role. They even gave me back my seniority and all that went with it. Most mornings I wake up feeling like I won the lotterey.

Good luck.
Consider yourself lucky. I live under a bridge.
you'd do better to study mao's little red book, for nothing short of revolution is likely to get you back to work.

not all bad, if you have a source of groceries and a roof, but a civilized society would put everyone to work. that's not america.
Here's some hope for ya, I haven't lost mine yet, most of it though!! :)

There you go, creative and entrepreurial, because it is nonsense to throw away people who can work, and I cannot believe this country will do that.
HR needs to think more creatively too, or they will destroy the United States over time, because demographically, we need people who are older to keep working a good bit.
You said it yourself.
Print Journalism.

I dunno. But some stuff isn't coming back.
P.S. We, the jobless, all go down to the barber shop!!! :D
It would be nice to see small business grow. corporate

america has gotten too fat and there too many monopolies. that is not free enterprise, everyone should have a shot at something good!!!
Like Anna said, I too am part of the new type of workforce: creative and entrepreneurial. I relate to what you're saying and we are the first or second wave. Think about all of the others who are about to follow our "lead"? It is craziness, nerve-wracking and all of those things. Sometimes I feel like Sarah Connor who, when told "there's a storm coming", nodded sagely and said: I know.
When I saw the title of your post, my initial response was, "OS". Unfortunately, I believe there's more truth to that than humor. Congrats on your new venture, Maria. It's nice to see you around!
i'm sooo sorry that you are in this place. i'm impressed that you have built a website from scratch. perhaps you could help others (for money) build or enhance their own websites if that's something that you enjoy...good luck. i hope something opens up for you soon!
My last job was at a newspaper, 2005-2006. I gave up applying for journalism jobs and have been freelancing and finishing my book and hoping to do some consulting/speaking in the retail industry when my book -- about working retail at $11/hr, no commission -- comes out. We'll see.

I am very curious to see what effect -- if any -- the millions of 50+ yr old unemployed will have at the voting booth. I find it bizarre there is not some voting bloc, I mean it.
I understand. I'm also going through a similar situation. Early 50's, out of work over a year, partly due to medical needs. Now I'm trying to get back into the workforce, although situations dictate I move into a totally new field with no official work experience.

I can only hope I don't follow the path some others have been forced down. Example - my older brother, a skilled electrician (commercial) since leaving the Air Force in the mid-70's. Currently, he's only a handful of years short of retirement, has gone through at least six jobs in as many years, and currently works through a day-labor place (when they have work) for slightly less that half of what he was making 6 months ago.

And the "experts" say the recession ended in June 2009?

I was in my early 50s during the economic downturn of the late 80s/early 90s. From 89-91 I did manged to get hired 3 times -- but in short time two of those businesses closed their doors and one went through bankruptcy (many businesses ended the 80s carrying too much debt -- managing to fail even as demand for their products was growing). After that I spent 2 years freelancing -- along with everyone else I knew. Like you, I felt that I had lost the magic that had made my economic life up to that point so easy and satisfying. At the same time, technology was radically changing my husband's field -- commercial illustration. Deadlines got shorter and the pay got smaller. The worst year was one in which he took on a huge assignment that involved a dozen drawings, 6 oil paintings and 15 watercolors for one client. He worked on it for most of a year -- but the company went under and never paid.

I too thought it likely I would never work again. And, in fact, I have never worked for anyone else again. But, by 1994, my husband and I had used our writing, design and marketing experience to start a new business. A decade later we were earning more money than we ever had in our, by most measures, pretty successful past. And having much more fun doing it. Our assumption now is that we have skills and experience that will allow us to continue to adapt to new economic circumstances.

I am hopeful that the same will prove true for many of those who are now suffering what we suffered through almost two decades ago.

Even if you can't see the shape of your economic future now, you will, of course, have one. It won't be what it was, but there's a good chance it could be something better.
I read that article this morning and thought how unfair it all is. Good luck and keep that old confidence--sometimes doors open unexpectedly.
Yep, there was a time when I changed jobs every three months because the computer programming I did was in demand, and I could get a pay bump every time I did. Then the economy got bad and along came a wave of new people who'd work cheaper than me, and I couldn't find work. So I learned computer graphics, and for a while I could name my own price. Then the economy got bad and along came a wave of new people who'd work cheaper than me, and I couldn't find work. So I learned web design, and for a while I could name my own price. Then the economy got bad and along came a wave of new people who'd work cheaper than me, and I couldn't find work. So I learned IT management, and for a while I worked steadily. Then the economy got bad and along came a wave of new people in India who worked cheaper than me, and I got bounced in the cost cutting. And now, I'm 65, but I'm not ready to retire, and I can't find anyone who will even talk to me about a job. Any job.

So I'm practicing my ukulele skills, and starting to scope out which street corners look the most promising.
You have to be careful about starting your own business. When you start to make something of you sweat and investment somebody, here, will claim they are not getting enough of the wealth that they are making for you.

Other than that, I love self employment. I've gone back to working for others for periods of time, but I like working for myself so much that I keep going back to it.

The best part of self employment is not the money. There are times where I could have made more working for others. It's the if it works, I did it, and if it fails, I did it that makes you want to get up and go get it done.
Thank you, and to the many too who are responding here. I don't feel so alone.
Thanks to all of you for your wonderfully supportive comments. The scariest thing about being unemployed is how many more people there are out there scraping by after losing their jobs, just like me (and plenty of you). I think it's time we consider stopping the reference to "great recession" and start considering the dreaded "D" word.
once upon a time, the large corporations did not vacuum up *all* the nickels and dimes, and entrepreneurs had a chance. now, even the nickels and dimes are vacuumed up.
it's a crappy subject to write about (and state to be in), but you write *about * it as well as you always did. nice to see you back around, maria. hope something breaks your way. it's really a bitch of a time, isn't it?
There's a key word in your post Maria - "over 50." IF the job shortage ever corrects itself, they will go to those younger. Corporate America is very good at weeding out the older generations. At one time, I had people literally graveling over me in the health care arena. I’m nothing terribly special, but I had years upon years of experience in large corporate health care companies. Now, I’d be lucky to get a newspaper route at 58.

I wish you luck.
The thing about entrepreneurship is that 80-90% of new businesses fail. The successes do wonders for the economy, but it doesn't mean the average entrepreneur is going to make it.

I also suspect there is quite a difference between someone who has a great idea and thinks it is worth giving up their job and investing their life savings in and someone who doesn't.

However, business skills are valuable and learning them may help you make your websites more profitable.
Our great Government in all its wisdom has now told us that the recession was over in2009.
Why aren't we working ?
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And I had so much hope for your hyper-local website, Maria. Maybe I still do. I'm glad it's all yours now. Rated.
I understand wholeheartedly. The irony is that many of us at this stage in life have more to give to an employer because we have fewer claims on our time from family and we have lots of great experience. Like you, I'm an optimist. What choice is there? R
Intense. It's all said here. The hope. The concern. The care. The fear. You've put a face behind the cup.
Know EXACTLY what you mean, Maria, in the same boat, so appreciate how you feel. It's even worse when there are people around who just don't get it, and think it's an easy life on benefits (welfare), constantly battling to raise one's hopes only to have them dashed again and again. Thanks for sharing your experience and articulating it better than I can...
Know EXACTLY what you mean, Maria, in the same boat, so appreciate how you feel. It's even worse when there are people around who just don't get it, and think it's an easy life on benefits (welfare), constantly battling to raise one's hopes only to have them dashed again and again. Thanks for sharing your experience and articulating it better than I can...
How grateful am I to have an editing position? This is beautifully written...clinking my coffee cup with yours...because I've been there, done that, got the mug....xox
Looked at your website - VERY nicely put together. (You should be OS editor...)
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I think we can lower the number from 50 to 40- seriously. My last job in the US ended after the tech bubble imploded and telecom in particular (we closed our doors in 2002). Worked freelance out of my home, went back to school for yet another degree and...the Iraq War was coming up and no one was hiring. I was nearly 40. Got a job in Tokyo in 2003, left in 2009 when their economy was badly tanking and now work in Hong Kong, but things are not rosy here either (umm, 1.3 billion people across the river willing to work for less in places with lower overhead than Hong Kong). Seeing the great behemoth across the way makes me realize that there is always going to be someone younger and cheaper who will gladly do your job- maybe (probably) not as well as you but then no one cares about quality or customer service anymore, do they? Now in my 8th year abroad, I did have an interview in the US in July (flew to the US at my own expense, they picked up the tab to their location) and, well, nothing but the sound of crickets chirping. At 46, well, let's just say I guess I will be overseas until I retire. By then it will be too expensive to retire in the US anyway... can try outsourcing yourself like I did, but you'll never make your way back home (I like to listen to the Beatles song that begins "Once there was a way to get back home..." Yeah, once. Not any more).

I wish I could be more upbeat for you but I think that the shift is permanent- look for young, disposable workers, work them until they burn out entirely, replace with new young workers at lower pay, lather, rinse, repeat.
Wonderful post and trail of comments. I am 63. Tiny retirement and my bf just got laid off last week at 59. We are looking at a trailor in a 55 and up park. Most are going at half price. What to do? What to do? I like your idea that we are all going to get more creative. When you go to a third world country it is amazing to see all the ways people are hustling. We are heading in that direction. America. Wow.
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This is really sobering, and so was the NYT article. I'm fast approaching that magic age, and I realize that I would be totally unemployable should I lose the job I have now.

I hope that you keep writing about this subject, because you do it very well.
I so know what you're feeling. Our difference is that I voluntarily left my very stressful position with a surgeon. When my doctor wrote the prescription for Prozac that was enough for me and I left -without a position to move into. Because of that I feel like I really can't bitch but so much. I saw that article about the possibility of not working again and I do agree that this is going to breed a new workforce. I've looked for positions in and out of my field and now I'm working on developing my blog.

A second difference is that I'm in a very rural area without any sort of hangout spot within 15 miles. I like it here - a lot. It may be limiting in many ways but it's also forced me think in a different way. It's not really sexy in the country but there are things to write about. I sold my first piece ever writing about my boyfriend's family's dedication to the Deere - John Deere tractors for the non-rural. Local media tend to ignore areas like this so I'm exploring ways to use that.

Good luck!
It's a difficult time. I'm underemployed and desperately hanging on to my job, which could go away at any minute. I don't know what I'd do if I lost it. Best of luck to you.
I'm in exactly the same position as you - except I was never a journalist. I was an office manager; now, no offices to manage. As for the people who want HR to fix the problem, a word: HR caused the problem. Don't you know how expensive it is to give health care to us 50-somethings?
Since you are already a professional editor, if you learned medical terminology, anatomy and physiology you could do medical editing, which is what I do. The pay stinks and it's boring, but--well I think learning to be an enterpreneur sounds better. It's just a suggestion. I think this recession is going to breed a lot of self-reliance and determination. Here's hoping you get something soon. You sound brave and smart. I love my coffee too.
I wish you the best of luck. However, you sort of lost me when you said you live in Detroit; if it's really that bad, you have to move. Our economic system is quite dependent on getting people (human capital) to match itself up with industrial and economic capacity where it's needed. An unfortunate economic reality.