I lost my job in January of 2009, when economic collapse began to leak jobs nearly as badly as the well in the Gulf has been leaking oil.
According to current Republican wisdom, the closing of that door gave me a wonderful opportunity to live off the government on a very fixed and limited income while catching up on soap operas, planning and taking month-long vacations, and lounging around in my underwear while consuming illicit drugs. Of course, I did all of the above, while simultaneously supporting three children, paying necessary bills (electric, gas, phone, 3D plasma TV), and subsidizing the cost of the nanny while my wife and I dined and danced away expensive weekly nights out on the town, whichever town happened to suit our fancy. Paris? New York? Berlin? Now that my unemployment extension is no longer being funded, how will I charter the private jet? What recourse do I have to help pay for ballet lessons for my six month old or to finance a new objet d'art for my private collection? It looks like, along with possibly 35 million Americans this year, I'll have to start looking for work. Ugh.
Okay, you got me. I'm kidding, of course. There is no nanny, no jet, no plasma TV, no illicit drugs, no vacations. The Republicans are not right -- unemployment benefits have never been an incentive to prevent me from looking for work. The amount of unemployment I received since my benefits began until the day it unexpectedly stopped was barely enough to cover the cost of food for my family of five, and maybe a luxury or two like diapers or unscented diaper wipes. If I hadn't had a little money saved, coupled with very fortunate financial help from extended family, I would never have met costs for other basic necessities such as a modest rent and utilities. The weekly stipend has been a buffer, an excruciatingly necessary one, which our family has used while pursuing more permanent streams of revenue. When I was still receiving unemployment, there was never a time when I would have turned down a regular paycheck and permanent job in preference for an unemployment stipend due to end in the near future.
On the unfortunate side, however, not only has that buffer been rescinded, and the bill to fund or extend benefits been blocked by Republicans who apparently want a poor economy in November, but support from my extended family reduced as well, since they also lost their jobs. So I am now in the same position as millions of Americans who do not have a rich aunt, a benevolent dad, or a well-to-do brother into whom they might lean during difficult times. Everyone, excluding the exorbitantly rich and apparently Republicans in Congress, is suffering. We are, as they say, all in this together -- and the this to which the cliche refers is a downward spiral that ends in personal destitution, a despair more harmful to my kids now than any future deficit due solely to paying benefits might be to their kids in the future. So to stave away poverty and shake off lingering bouts of depression, I am still looking for work, filling out the online forms, hitting the pavement -- both virtual and literal.
I take to heart Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul's advice to accept a reduction in pay, take a job below my capacity and ability, and in hard times not to insist upon the dream job that is rightfully mine. In fact, I took his advice before he ever gave it. As a writer, my dream job is to be Stephen King, and has been since I was a child, but since he is still occupying that space, and my own ventures into marketing my own fiction, poetry and non-fiction haven't been met with either acclaim or multimillion dollar contracts, I have been taking the less lucrative jobs my entire adult life.
The position I lost in early 2009 was not the job of a lifetime -- it was, like many others I have had to help make ends meet, providing administrative and clerical support in an office environment. I don't think my situation is unique. This was the latest in a collage of working jobs to make money, a parade of personal sacrifices that never quite equals the expectations of a career. So, my apologies, Rand Paul, but I have already, like millions of working Americans, been accepting the reduced wage, doing something for money rather than personal passion, something beneath my abilities and potential, in order to support myself and my family. Hasn't everybody, excluding the exorbitantly rich and Republicans in Congress, at some time or another, or even in some cases always, done the same? Doesn't Paul know that millions have already taken his advice, which is why even "reduced-wage" jobs are themselves sparse?
As of this writing, like millions of Americans, I am penniless. I can empathize with those who are not sure how last month's bills, or next month's mortgage, is going to be paid, and like many, I'm living on big faith and small hope. I think that being on unemployment for two years is a ridiculous amount of time. It's a long time! But it's a necessary buffer, and for me the eighteen months I benefited from it provided a real help as I sought work in hard times. Those hard times haven't let up yet for unemployed Americans. Now is not the time to abandon us.
Eric Simpson is a freelance writer and poet, and an associate editor of the international publication In Communion: The Journal of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship. His books include a collection of short stories titled, Destination.