A sense of purpose is as important to one’s work fulfillment as the financial reward that work provides our family. I am reminded of the story where a passerby asks a stone mason who is chipping away at a cornerstone what he is doing, and the mason replies not that I am cutting a block, but that I am creating a cathedral. Here in Florida, I am surrounded by neighbors who have lived in their homes for 30 years only to turn them over to the bank because of hard times. Their share of the “cathedrals” they created for our country was stored in their home. When the banks foreclosed on them, they lost the results of their life’s work.
Losing their home is just one step down the painful road that millions of Americans are enduring during this Great Recession. With the loss of so many millions of jobs, the difficulties of just one jobseeker can get lost in all the noise. How do jobseekers cope when they have become part of the 99ers, those whose extended unemployment has run out?
During this Great Recession, as each month passes, the job seeker begins to realize that somehow this recession is different. In the first days after he recovers from the shock of losing his job, he determines to quickly pursue businesses which best meet his career and geography requirements. As the months go by, he realizes that opportunities are diminishing, and he must now lower expectations if he is to cover expenses and keep the kids in the same schools. As unemployment compensation comes closer to the end, he recognizes he may have to move to open up more job possibilities. He reluctantly lists his home only to find over time that it is competing in a surplus market, and that its value is lower than the mortgage.
Yet he persists, getting up each day to comb opportunities till dusk with a hopeful heart of scheduling a job interview. His efforts pay meagerly because interviews are not plentiful in this stagnated market. Each month, more people transition to the unemployed, and they are being called in before him. He has similar qualifications, but somehow because he has been out longer, employers begin questioning why he has not been hired. Sensing their skepticism on the phone, he shows a lack of self confidence in the few interviews he gets, further lessening his chances for hire. His wife and kids quietly grow anxious with him, and he fears they are wondering what his “failure” will mean to their lives, their friendships, and their futures.
At some point, any job would be better than grieving through this spiraling loss of self worth. Then one surprisingly sunny spring 2011 morning, he turns on the TV to see President Obama, surrounded by leaders of both parties on the White House lawn, announcing the “Job Voucher Plan”. As promised, within weeks, the internet and local papers begin filling with job offers in all areas of employment. His spring is renewed with hope.
After several interviews, he begins working again, and not in some makeshift job, but one with career potential and purpose. The owner of a small business has painted a picture of an innovation in need of an American with the skills to make his dream a reality. Now purpose driven, he sets about to create real value for his employer and his community.
He knows that small business ventures are not always successful and that there are no guarantees this job will turn into something permanent. But the American people have committed for the next two years to give him 25 hours a week to help his employer and product to success. Each morning seems brighter as he gains control through his efforts to build a career in this new small business venture. Not only is his family experiencing this change; he sees a purpose growing in the entire community. There is a belief that we are all working for something larger, for a renewal in America.
While this spot is not where he had hoped he would be in the years leading up to the Great Recession, he now has a sense that things will get better. He is being paid the same wages as before the recession but with fewer hours. He will help this company with hope and loyalty of purpose, and will have done his part to dig America out of its slump. As the economy improves and competition for employees heats up, his small business owner will compete to keep his new, valuable employee. Nonetheless, the job seeker will diligently use his 15 extra hours a week to once again pursue the American dream.
The above chart shows unemployed broken down by time of unemployment. It does show a slowdown in newly unemployed. However, it does not accurately depict all unemployed because many have fallen off the curve and are no longer counted. Unfortunately, it does show that the mean time of staying unemployed is growing.