Unemployment a long, tough road

Published 12:59 pm Friday, July 30, 2010

Ive lost a dream job and a bit of a nightmarish one, but Ive been one of the lucky ones, really.

When I joined the ranks of the unemployed for the second time in the past seven years, I wasnt saddled with a mortgage. I didnt have children depending on me to provide for them. I had friends and family members who gladly extended their hands.

Besides that, I had a laptop and a camera, and I could stay busy and make a few bucks here and there. Editors at the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, people I had previously worked with when I returned to my native Upstate in 2003, welcomed me back, but I soon found that the same budgets that cost me full-time employment were too similar to the freelance budgets that had helped sustain me before. Cuts were drastic on both fronts.

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Even so, there was enough work for me to make it for a while, and there were unemployment benefits and a part-time job at an auto parts store I can communicate and I know a spark plug from a brake shoe to fill in the gaps.

As I stated, I was lucky.

Even so, I had to keep telling that to myself.

When youre unemployed, getting a job becomes your job. I stayed glued to the online job boards to the point of obsession day-in and day-out. I answered ads. I was rejected without so much as a call or a official email for jobs I knew I was more than qualified to do.

Some days I didnt know what employers wanted, and other days I seemed to forget what it was in me that ever made me a good employee.

For 17 months, my emotions and mental state bounced around like a yo-yo, while I marked time, feeling that my future was just out of reach.

But as I worked part-time at OReilly Auto Parts in Spartanburg, I met people in much more dire straits people who had stopped worrying about the future because a present without work and with no job in site was so overwhelming.

There are people sitting in offices and behind microphones who would have you believe that those collecting unemployment benefits for so long are somehow playing the system that they are undeserving despite the fact that most of them paid into the system for those benefits for years prior to the economic collapse.

But those people will never look in the eyes of the jobless and distraught, seeing instead numbers on a balance sheet or percentages in a government report. Those people will never shake a calloused, work-hardened hand after accepting an employment application knowing there is no job waiting.

I was fortunate again to find a full-time job here at the Tryon Daily Bulletin. It had been 17 months 68 weeks. I was most of the way to becoming a 99er someone who has received unemployment benefits for 99 weeks or more and who has been in imminent danger of losing their benefits for good.

The 99ers finally got their extensions when the Senate gathered the votes to stop a GOP filibuster that was holding them in limbo this past week.

I feel for those 99ers and the 89ers and the 79ers that are coming along behind them.

They arent all as lucky as I have been.

Playing the system? Theyre just trying to survive it.