Although Travis Galey knew there was a chance he could become unemployed, he was shocked when he became a victim of companywide layoffs about a month ago.
But as the 35-year-old Annapolis man searches for jobs and contemplates the future, he is also sharing his experience with other people in his city who are going through a similar situation.
"There's been times when you're sitting at home and you're not used to sitting at home," he said. "The panic sets in."
Galey and a handful of other Annapolis residents are part of a new Unemployment Support Group, organized by Ward 7 Alderman Sam Shropshire. The purpose of the group, which held the first of its biweekly meetings earlier this month, is to give unemployed residents a chance to talk about the issues and frustrations they face and to share ideas about ways to search effectively for jobs.
"I'm concerned because a number of my constituents are having unemployment issues. ... But they were afraid to come tonight," Shropshire said at the meeting, adding that about 10 other people contacted him before the meeting to say they needed help, but were ashamed to air their concerns in public. Five unemployed Annapolitans attended the first meeting.
"We need to move beyond this. I think we can make a difference here in the city," Shropshire said.
One of Shropshire's goals - and a discussion topic for the group - is to get rid of the stigma associated with being out of work, so that the unemployed can reach out for help and for available resources, as well as combat emotional problems that often stem from financial troubles.
"There's a stigma about being unemployed, even if it's no fault of your own," said Galey, a former television news producer. "It's what makes it even harder."
Galey and the other members are far from alone, as unemployment has increasingly affected workers across the state and nation. In Maryland, unemployment reached 6.9 percent in March, up from 3.8 percent at the same time last year, according to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
Nationwide, unemployment continues to rise, reaching 8.5 percent in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. During the past year, the rate has risen about 3.4 percentage points, with half of that increase occurring in the past four months.
During the meeting, Shropshire recalled the struggles he faced when he was out of work a couple of years ago.
"I was in the downturn of my life," he said, adding that he sent 300 resumes to no avail.
"It was an effort for me to get out of bed and get up, it was so depressing."
Alli Holstrom, director of recruitment and community outreach for Leadership Anne Arundel, a nonprofit group that provides leadership training and networking for county residents, attended the meeting to share ideas about ways to find jobs and to get feedback from community members about the issues they face in today's market.
Holstrom also shared her unemployment story. She moved from New York to Maryland after the Sept. 11 attacks because she could not find a job in New York. She worked in the World Trade Center.
"It's hard when you're trying to balance your options, and you're dealing with that kind of false hope," Holstrom said.
One group participant, a 40-year-old unemployed saleswoman who did not want her name used in this article, said job-hunting today is different and discussed some of the challenges technology has created when it comes to looking for honest job postings.
"I have found this Internet aspect of looking for a job very difficult because companies look very legitimate over the Internet," she said.
Similarly, the group discussed concerns they have with security, now that many companies require applicants to provide Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers. And they also discussed ideas to explore at future meetings, including the possibility of a bartering system, in which unemployed individuals offer their talents in return for work from others with different abilities.
"I think we need to remember and stress to people that this is a community issue," Holstrom said of unemployment.
Despite the challenges, the group participants talked about the optimism they hold for the future and offered encouragement as they continue their job hunts.
"There's a lot of different fields I could be excited about," Galey said. "There are still jobs there. Somebody's hiring somewhere. It's just a matter of being in the right place at the right time."
Shropshire said he hopes the support group will, if nothing else, give residents a shoulder to lean on during a difficult period in their lives.
"I survived, but it was only with help of friends who listened," he said.
The group will meet at 6 p.m. May 6 in city council chambers, 160 Duke of Gloucester St.