Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Situation (Day 118)

So. Day 118 of unemployment. Almost four months. It's getting hard to stay positive and keep anxiety at bay. Here's what's going on.

It might sound hopelessly naive, but I didn't think it would be this hard to find another job. I know I've been quite fortunate in some ways with respect to my career -- being very into, and good at, computer programming through the '90s and 2000s was a good place to be. I've been out of work, briefly, a few times before, when the small business or startups I worked for shrunk or imploded. but I've never had much difficulty finding my next job, and the job changes have generally been "upgrades" to higher pay, or at least bigger projects and more responsibility.

The job market is certainly bad right now, and especially bad locally. I am trying to both be realistic and optimistic at the same time -- realistically, it seems to be absolutely useless, for the most part, to apply for publicly-posted jobs. I've applied for dozens -- it would have been more, if there were more posted, but while there are a lot of job listings, it doesn't make any sense for me to apply for jobs that will not pay enough to cover our mortgage; if I got one, we'd still have to move. And we are still trying to figure out how to avoid that, so that we don't lose everything we've put into our house.

Working with recruiters has been an overwhelmingly negative experience as well, although there have been a few bright spots that have led to good leads and interviews. I'm really fed up with applying for a job listing for Saginaw or Flint only to find out that I'm actually contacting a recruiter about a position in Alabama or Mississippi or Florida. I've talked to recruiters at length who, it turned out, didn't even know the company they were recruiting for, because they were actually working for another recruiter. Is there even an actual job posting at the end of that chain of recruiters, or am I putting effort into some kind of scam? I don't know. I've also put a considerable amount of time interviewing for contract positions, making the case that I am a strong candidate, only to be completely low-balled on hourly rate, to the point where it would make no economic sense whatsoever for me to take that job (for example, a six-month C++ programming contract out of state, in Manhattan, for a major bank, where I'm expected to be pleased to accept $50 an hour and no per diem or travel expenses).

My wife suggests that in the market right now, it will basically be impossible to find a job without having a job, except through personal contacts. That's discouraging, but she is probably right. And one difficulty is that I just don't have a lot of personal contacts in the area, since we've only been here three years. I have a few, and they've been trying to help me, but in general the leads (even with referrals from people who already work in the companies) have not yielded much that is promising -- usually a series of web forms where I upload a resume, then describe my work experience again in detail, write and upload a cover letter, fill out an elaborate series of questions -- this can and often does take two or three hours -- and then hear nothing whatsoever about the job again. For most of these, there is no person to contact -- no name, no phone number, no e-mail address. I'm faceless to the company, and they are faceless to me. That's just not a good prospect.

Still, I have a generalized feeling that the right thing will come along, at least for the short term. Essentially, I have to keep believing that. I keep feeling optimistic about particular jobs. But hearing nothing back over and over again for months is starting to wear me down.

The money situation is getting to be difficult. We still have a small positive bank balance, and I've been able to continue to pay for everything we need. Fortunately our consumer debt is very low -- far lower than a lot of American families like ours. But our savings is gone, so from here on out it's either income or selling off things. We are eligible for cash assistance from the state as well, to cover things like diapers -- we will look into that this week.

Unemployment continues to cover our mortgage and taxes, and food benefits are doing quite a good job at covering our food needs. But tomorrow, I will certify for my 17th week of unemployment. I have either 3 or 6 weeks left to collect out of Michigan's maximum of 20. I'm not sure, because the state refused to pay me for 3 weeks, and I'm not sure if those weeks are just lost or if I am still eligible to collect them. I'm hoping so. We've got a situation with some other bills -- things like energy, water, life insurance, and things not covered by our food benefits. Fortunately energy bills were low during the spring and early summer, but we've had to turn on the air conditioning. We use window ventilation fans strategically. We have the AC on, set low, and the furnace fan running continually, and a separate portable AC unit here in my office where it gets too hot to run computers without it. Our next bill is going to be high. I'm guessing the next bill will be $600. I may be able to get that reduced by starting up a budget plan with Consumers Energy.

The dehumidifier in the basement has stopped working, which is a potential mold problem with our things stored down there. We've got to go through some of the remaining boxes. The older of our two furnaces seems to be out of commission again. I had plans to put money into our insulation and HVAC this summer, as well as exterior repainting and a whole lot of minor repair items, but that doesn't really work without income. Fortunately the roof is holding up, as is the new set of gutters we put on last fall.

Oh -- the lead situation. We had the lead inspection -- a very thorough, all-day inspection of our home, inside and outside, and grounds. The inspector did not find anything really hazardous -- there is some old lead paint in baseboards and woodwork in a couple of rooms, but it is under layers of later paint, and it is not peeling. Our dining table, which was an old ping-pong table, had lead paint on it. It's now gone, as are all the kitchen towels we used to use to wipe it. That was about two months ago, and we have still not gotten the written report which is supposed to include the results of the soil samples. Another follow-up phone call is needed. In another month or so we will be getting the children's blood levels tested again, so we should then have a read on whether there is still any kind of daily exposure going on.

Even though we have been making payments via COBRA to continue our dental coverage, several dental bills have been refused, and so we have to straighten that out. Basically, as I'm sure you are aware, health insurance companies are slimy pig-fuckers, and I don't mean that in an affectionate way. We've got some big residual bills -- our four-year-old's dental work cost a lot, even after insurance. We are trying to get the refused bills re-submitted and get whatever issue there is with our dental coverage straightened out. I'm very concerned that something is going to hit my credit rating. So far, we have not failed to meet any of our obligations, but one of these medical providers could decide to sell a debt to a collection agency at any time and that will be a black mark against us. I'm going to pull my reports and try to make sure that hasn't already happened "silently" when an insurance payment was improperly refused.

I've raised a little cash by selling off some of my home studio gear. The Apogee Ensemble audio interface I've used for the last five years to record songs and podcasts is gone. I've sold a number of my guitars, including my Steinberger fretless bass and my Adamas 12-string acoustic guitar. There isn't much left to sell that is worth the effort -- for example, I could only get $75 for a made-in-Japan Jagmaster that I paid $400 for. No one wants to buy a 20" Sony tube TV from 1994 or an electric guitar that needs rewiring work before it can be played. I could start selling our library -- I've had to gut my book collection in the past. I'm really resisting this, though, in part because the return compared to the time and effort put in to do it would be very low -- there are no decent local used book stores that might send a buyer out, so I'd be carting boxes of books down to Ann Arbor -- and in part because I just don't think I can bear giving up a collection of books I've gradually built and shaped and cultivated over the years, in some cases books I've carried around with me since I was a child. Grace and I will do a pass through our possessions trying to find some things that might be easy to turn into cash, but in general we have always lived a very bohemian lifestyle -- furniture from the Goodwill, silverware collected from rummage sales, bookshelves from Ikea; my desk is a door on plastic sawhorses. I'm not going to sell my computers; that would be eating our "seed corn."

I've been reading the recent novels by Alex Hughes about the adventures of an ex-junkie telepath. In them, he has to meet with his Narcotics Anonymous buddy, who asks him each time to list three things he's grateful for. I'm grateful for many things. I'm grateful that there is a safety net, even if unemployment may not last until I get my first paycheck from my next job. I'm grateful for the SNAP program and the WIC program that are pretty much supplying us with all the food we need to feed the family. I'm grateful for our small but supportive group of local friends, and our out-of-town friends. I'm grateful for the anonymous donation of a Meijer gift card sent by a friend of the family. I'm grateful for the handful of decent recruiters who are actually trying to hook me up with a real job for both our benefits. And I'm grateful to my family and especially to my wife who has been very patient with me as I work through this process and all the frustration and anxiety that comes with it. And I'm grateful to you, my online friends, who have been supportive as well.

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