You hear the numbers everyday: unemployment hovers over ten percent. Millions of Americans are out of work. We all get the scope and the magnitude of the situation, but we need to understand the impact on the individual. In the twenty-first century, what does it mean to be unemployed for over a year? What does it take to walk away from a job in this economy? How do you survive the crushing competition or navigate complicated procedures?
The Brian Lehrer Show is very pleased to introduce five job seekers who will help us explore the job market in this tough economy. These five have pledged to share with all of us the good and the bad moments on their journey to a new job. Their introductions are below. Their stories, as well as discussions, advice and helpful links, will remain on a new page in Facebook dedicated to this project. It's called Help Wanted. You can follow along and respond to the authors there.
Commercial, landlord/tenant, and matrimonial litigation
I was born in Wisconsin and grew up in Vancouver, Canada. My parents, refugees from Germany and Poland, had first landed in New York and attended college here. I moved to the city on my own when I was nineteen, but spent long stints away before I settled down and became an attorney. I worked for an American exhibit traveling in the former Soviet Union (Moscow, Tashkent, Irkutsk, and Tbilisi), as a Russian-speaking resettlement counselor in Boston, and for the U.S. State Department program that admitted refugees from the USSR. My most recent position was as recoupment counsel for Fidelity National Title Group, a fortune 500 company. The carrier issues policies on property titles when there is a sale, so we were very hard hit by the recession. In January, 2009, the company announced that it was closing its claims offices in midtown Manhattan, Buffalo, Chicago, and New Jersey. I was laid off along with almost all the other counsel in those offices. Prior to Fidelity, I practiced motor vehicle accident litigation, mainly writing and arguing motions and appeals.
One good thing that has come out of my layoff is that I have been able to spend more time with my three daughters. Also, I have had the opportunity to work as a volunteer attorney for the city and the state. I did research and writing in the chambers of a Manhattan Supreme Court judge who handles international commercial litigation, represented low-income New Yorkers in court, sat as a volunteer arbitrator in small claims court, and did research for a city agency. Even though I don't have a paying job, on good days, I still get a thrill out of being at the heart of life in New York.
I am a 25 year old assistant fashion designer for a vendor in New York City. Disappointed with my employment, I am currently seeking a new job or possibly a new career. When I lived in Ohio, I had very high aspirations to move to New York City and work for major designer labels. When I was laid off from a large corporate brand in Ohio, it pushed me to move to the city earlier than I had planned. Employment opportunities in the fashion industry were already sluggish when I graduated college in 2007. Determined to remain in the fashion industry, I have worked for two less than satisfactory companies.
I started actively seeking employment five months ago and have not yet received one reply or interview. Quitting is not an option in this economy, so I remain employed. In the past year, I have attended resume and portfolio workshops to create something that will attract employers. Disappointed with the industry, I am starting to consider disregarding my lifelong dreams and to pursue another career. I may even go to grad school and hope that the job situation improves by the time I graduate. This experience has made me realize I have other talents that I always took for granted. I am grateful for that.
Environmental Education & Urban Planning
I was raised in Detroit and went to a small, liberal arts college in rural Michigan. I majored in Political Science with the expectation that I would go to law school. After one pass at the LSATs, I got involved in canvassing for an environmental non-profit. It was a fulfilling means of employment that didn't cause my brain to atrophy, which was more than I could say for my part-time retail job or any of the desk jobs I applied for.
After a year of working, I moved to New York and joined a non-profit similar to the one in Michigan. While I was there, the organization built up enough resources to open a new office in Connecticut. I was chosen to build the office up from scratch, which was very rewarding. I liked the progress I made within the organization, but still felt that my work with them would be temporary. The pay was not enough to sustain my lifestyle, and I was getting tired of canvassing. I quit last year, rationalizing that looking for work in a horrible economy would be preferable to staying on that job path. I was wrong.
Fortunately I kept a good relationship with my old employer, and when they got a Connecticut local city contract to run an environmental campaign, they called me. I managed a staff of youth from the city who educated residents on what they could do in their own homes to reduce their impact on the environment. The program was funded by stimulus money, and was only set to run for a few months. It was so successful, however, that they renewed my contract through December. The mayor and other city employees expressed interest in starting the project up again in March of this year, but I have not heard from the city since December. I know that if they want to continue, they cannot rely on federal stimulus money as they did in the past. Because of this, and the occasional frustration of working for City Hall, I have started a new job hunt. The hunt is slow, though, so I have enjoyed writing my blog, catching up on current events, and revamping my apartment. I am also considering going back to school -- a notion that I never gave up on, even after I decided not to pursue law school. I’m interested in Urban Planning because I think it would be a good fit and will help me progress towards my long-term goals.
I live in Hell's Kitchen just a nudge off of Times Square. I've been in New York for almost three years and most of that time I had been living the glamorous, arduous and mostly ridiculous life of an operations and executive assistant for a small investment bank. I left to work as the business manager for a software startup firm in April (my age and naiveté is showing); by August they could no longer pay me, and by mid-September I was officially back on the market with my tail between my legs and my confidence shot to hell.
I am looking to get back into finance as an assistant in any capacity, though at this point am ready and willing to accept the filing and reception challenges offered to me by literally any firm in any sector. Although I'm terrified that my search may turn into a 'wasted year,' the best thing that's happened is that I've learned a tremendous amount about myself and how much I tie my self esteem and self worth into my job. I have been beyond humbled. As much as I hated to think so--I crave and miss structure, stress, office politics, long nights, stress, early mornings, asinine errands and, you guessed it--stress.
However, if you asked any of my friends they might say the best thing to come of this is my cooking has improved tremendously in scope and flavor: I often siphon my job-hunt anxiety into foods like hand riced and fried tater tots or beer and bacon chili on an average Wednesday afternoon. I've been justifying my existence in the short term and it is delicious.
I can give you my take on the employment situation today: it is not getting better, contrary to what the news organizations say. I am 54 years old, and until 2 years ago I ran a very successful internet media company which I created with very little help from the banks.
In the mid ‘90’s I worked at a succession of startup interactive companies. Typically, my bosses were 21 years old, some who still lived at home. In 1998 I started my own business in Missouri, selling national online advertising for local online newspapers. My sales grew on average of 200 percent a year, and lack of capital was the only thing holding our company back. When I started there was almost no market, today this market is worth over $70 billion or 30 percent of all newspapers’ ad sales.
In spite of my consistent success, I was unable to get a line of credit from any bank to continue my company. This was in spite of paying back 2 SBA loans, having excellent credit, Fortune 500 clients and being in business for 8 years. Without a credit line, my company could not grow anymore. What’s worse, once you ask for, and are denied a loan or a line, your credit rating goes down. The banks begin to treat you as a bad risk. Unfortunately, the companies I dealt with also see these denials from their daily credit reports. This denial caused my vendors to pull back on orders and lines of credit. Within a year, I was out of business, even though I had over $10 million in orders.
In 2007, there was no venture capital available to restart my business or any business. In fact, the stock market had the fewest initial public offerings (IPO) ever counted. This was one year before the so-called crash. To me the indicators of bad times to come were evident: no new businesses, no capital for new businesses and now as we all know, a highly leveraged financial community.
As of this writing, I have sent out over 5000 resumes, with dismal results. I have several theories about this; one is that many of these anonymous jobs do not really exist. These jobs are listed headhunters or HR departments attempting to get a read on the market place.