Unemployment: An odyssey in two years

For the past two years, 4 in 5 people receiving assistance at The Salvation Army in Durham have been people who have never previously requested aid. This is their story.

Until you got laid off, you were in the habit of feeling capable.

* Capable of solving problems.

* Capable of making good decisions

* Capable of obtaining positive outcomes.

* Capable of succeeding.

And through the first several months of unemployment, you kept practicing your proactive habits of success.

You made good budget decisions. You switched off cable TV and the land line. You told the kids they would have to give up music lessons and soccer but they could still do anything free. You saved on energy: You told everyone to wear sweats during the winter and, as temperatures rose, you told them that sweating a little was good for them.

You kept going to professional meetings. You set a personal quota of 150 applications a month; you remained in contact with all your old buddies and lots of new ones as you tried to position yourself as the person everyone would want to hire when that new job finally came open.

Through eight … 10 … 11 months of unemployment, you practiced being proactive.

In month 12, you found yourself proactively looking ahead two months at the first Christmas your kids would go without presents. You wept.

But you were still a great problem solver. And you were proactive. You found a charity, you applied, you listed your kids’ dream gifts, and in month 14 of unemployment, you had something to put under the tree and a holiday grocery card to boot.

Again, you wept.

And you gave yourself a month off from applying. You sent just enough letters to qualify for your benefits.

In month 14, it was hard to get back into the routine. Months 15 and 16 you were starting to feel like one of those hard-core unemployables. Sure, you could volunteer somewhere to “keep your resume fresh,” as the unemployment office says — but who needs a volunteer who programs in Python?

Month 17, you were looking proactively at the size of even your seriously reduced “nut” and the odds (bad) of another unemployment extension. You started calling charities. One accepted calls the second Thursday of the month. Another took the first 35 in line the first Wednesday. This one can give you an appointment in three weeks — but can’t guarantee they will still have funds. Another will schedule an appointment tomorrow … but you need to have an eviction notice.

You’re proactive. You don’t want to wait until you’re threatened with eviction. You try to explain that. It doesn’t help.

Months 20, 21, 22. The Senate votes down any extension of benefits. You could get the eviction notice you need any day now.

You will finally have been turned out from everything you have ever depended on: your job, your home, your proactive habits, your problem-solving skills, your professional expertise, your confidence in your capability to manage your life.

Who will you rely on now?

Over the past year, The Salvation Army has turned away, on average, 614 people per month in Durham, Orange and Person counties who need more help with rent, utilities or food than we can provide. Many come to our doors because they have already sought help from our partner agencies and found that they, too, are out of funds.

Almost half a million North Carolinians are jobless. Nationwide, nearly half of all unemployed have been without work for six months or longer. North Carolina’s jobless have a longer median job search than residents of any state except Michigan or Florida.

Please, support the agencies in your community that care for your neighbors in need.

First published in The Herald-Sun, Durham, North Carolina. Copyright (c) Carlene H. Byron, 2010.

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