Unhappy anniversary: My first year of joblessness

Recent Johns Hopkins graduate wonders what Congress is doing to help

July 14, 2011|By Amreena Hussain

The July Fourth holiday weekend marked a morbid kind of anniversary I never would have dreamed of observing. I have now been officially unemployed for one full year. I graduated last May from a rather fine local university with a rather fine degree and as the speaker of the class, gave a fine speech on the importance of public service. I then left two prestigious internships — yes, I had two jobs in grad school — and the bubble of academia to find a job.

Over the past year, I have applied to more than 500 jobs, solicited 38 informational interviews, written thousands of emails to people in my professional network, attended five national career fairs and taken the LSAT twice. I have had three first interviews; most recently, one organization that is located a five-hour drive away informed me that it will not be inviting me for a second interview because I am not local. If I average these figures across the number of days in the year, I have applied for more than one job every single day of the past year, including weekends, holidays and my wedding day.

Times are hard, and no one feels the sting of the recession more than the country's unemployed, who are quietly bearing the worst. One strange benefit of my unemployment is an unexpected sort of stardom. I, and millions like me, are constantly in the news. Every hour of every day, some politician or another is expounding on my plight to win a vote or two. And that's quite fine by me! What gets me is when the very public servants whom we put in office work to worsen the grind.

Arizona lawmakers recently let federal unemployment benefits expire for unemployed Arizonans. Their argument: Unemployment checks deter job seeking. I resent that. If I may speak for the unemployed, I can tell you that people who have been collecting unemployment to support their homes and children have been working as hard as me — harder even — to find work. Anybody who thinks that an unemployment check can provide for a family is welcome to try living on one. As a jobless Arizonan, I would like to kindly inform the state legislators that you need not fear. Americans are far more self-respecting than you think; we do not prefer alms to earnings. So, please — since my vote put you in office, tell me what you are doing to help me. What are you doing to increase jobs?

The point is, making life harder for already hard-hit, jobless Americans will not improve the economy. Snipping the safety nets that help us feed and protect our families in a time of crisis does not make you heroes. I am OK being out of a job because I know that if I try long enough and hard enough, I will find something that is rightfully mine. I will have earned it. Until then, I would appreciate it if you — senator, legislator, governor — would not cut costs on my back, not call me lazy and just leave me be.

Being unemployed is a hard, hard thing. It not only wrings you out financially; your self-worth also takes a dreadful beating. One day, you may be an up-and-coming bright star; the next day, you are the sad, unemployed person whom your friends are reluctant to call. In a society like ours, where what we do essentially defines who we are, not "doing" anything is a cardinal sin. It suddenly grants receptionists the clout to slam the phone on you and recruiters to slight you.

Looking for a job while you still have a job is an entirely different thing than looking for a job when you do not have a job. This I have sadly learned. But I refuse to give up, as do 13.9 million others like me. Your precious unemployment checks will not deter us.

Amreena Hussain received her master of public policy degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 2010. Her email is amreena.hussain@gmail.com.

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