Jobless in America | The Nation


Jobless in America

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About the Author

Nicholas von Hoffman
Nicholas von Hoffman, a veteran newspaper, radio and TV reporter and columnist, is the author, most recently, of...
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'I received no severance, no unemployment'


For more than fifteen years I worked as a proofreader of textbooks, from college chemistry on down. The company was at first family-owned, then it was bought by a national firm, and then that was bought by an international corporation based in New Delhi. Can you guess where this is going? The Los Angeles office was closed in December.

Because I was an independent contractor, I received no severance, will get no unemployment compensation and forget about COBRA health insurance, which is not affordable anyway to the unemployed. I have little hope of finding such specialized work at all, much less at the hourly rate I was paid. Here in California, the official unemployment rate is now 9.3 percent, but that doesn't include people like me, and there are a lot of us.


W.K. Grady

Los Angeles



'There will be a revolution'


I was a successful senior writer/instructional designer with more than twenty years of hard-earned experience, and I lost my job on November 19. I worked for BBDO, an advertising agency whose primary customer in the Detroit area is Chrysler. I had a good salary, good healthcare for my family, benefits like a 401(k) and paid time off. That's all gone now, and my family and I are struggling with the realities of this new situation we find ourselves in.

The managers and politicians are only focused on their next quarterly earnings or their next re-election bid and don't seem to understand that the loss of my job doesn't only affect me and the ones I love--it affects every business my family and I come into contact with. How and where will I and millions of others find jobs like the ones that have been lost? With no job, how can I afford to buy a new American vehicle or TV or shoes for my son or food for our next meal?

The people that we've elected, and those entrusted with this nation's corporate and financial assets, better get it together fast because soon those questions will be resonating a million times over, and the noise from the masses may well topple the walls surrounding their gated communities and country clubs and rattle their gilded cages. We were told, Work hard, play by the rules, and pay your taxes and you will get ahead--you will have the so-called American Dream. That's a damn lie, and I for one am mad as hell about it. God help those in charge should I and the millions of other people like me (our numbers seem to be growing exponentially by the day) reach a point of desperation and no return. There will be a revolution and no redemption for the people who caused this mess.


Joris B. Rapelje

Clinton Township, Mich.



'I save seeds'


Because of a couple of chronic illnesses, I've ended up cleaning houses to get by. As my customers lose their jobs or have salaries slashed, my income is also being whittled away. Because my husband has a job that still has health insurance, I am not a good candidate for disability. Because my husband is a well-skilled carpenter, his employer is able to get him jobs a couple of days a week if we're lucky. This week, there is no work.

Because my husband has work at all, he can't qualify for unemployment. The unemployment office doesn't even take calls every day. The answering machine at the local office said to call back in a few days just to get information. So we both look for work, hoping to find something that will get us over the next hump, something that will enable us to pay our household expenses.

I have been putting off treatments for my health conditions that could possibly make me more functional--even with health insurance, the treatments are too expensive for me at this time. We also have four pets acquired during better times, and I am terrified whenever their health needs attending to; I'm sad to say that I am often forced to take care of their health problems myself.

I've organized a documentary movie night so my friends have something cheap that they can do on the weekend and a place where we can gather together as a progressive community. Next movie night, I'm showing a film on the healthcare crisis. At this time in history, we all have to strive to be one another's teachers and be there to support one another. Even though I've never been a churchgoer, I know what it is like to pray every day for the simple necessities. I have a victory garden now. I save seeds. I hope that our struggles will soon pay off.


Paulette Kenyon

Pleasanton, Calif.



'Embarrassed to be a foolish American'


A year and a half ago, I was working as a carpenter in Boston making over $30/hour plus a reasonable benefits package. Now I am laid off; so is almost everyone I used to work with. I can't even find a job for $15/hour without benefits. I have exhausted my unemployment insurance and will probably end up landscaping for $12/hour in the spring. I thank all the politicians in Washington who were looking out for my best interests and all the Wall Street lobbyists who also had my best interests in mind when they paid (read, bribed) the aforementioned politicians to deregulate banks so that they could swindle the workers of America. Let the markets run free until there is no money left. Then the government can step in and pick up the tab. No regulation when there is a profit, but socialism when it all falls down. Unless there is a revolution soon, I am moving to Europe. There won't be a revolution, though--all the sheep will just keep investing in 401(k)s and taking it in the you-know-what. I'm embarrassed to be a foolish American.


James M. Rich

Peabody, Mass.



'Is it pride--or shame?'


I am an Ivy League graduate with a master's in architecture who has been self-employed for nineteen years. I am in an increasingly precarious position without any safety net. Architecture work has dried up since September, and there is no government help for the self-employed. At 58 years old, I cannot find affordable health insurance. I am a renter with no family and, because of a health problem four years ago, no savings. I can possibly keep this up for eight more weeks. After that, I have no idea what is going to happen. (Actually, I do, but it's unthinkable.) I have a beautiful 2-year-old pup that I dearly love. I know I should make plans to rehome her, but I just can't bring myself to do it yet. I could stay in my current circumstances on only $2,200 a month, yet there is nothing coming in.

Where are other people's stories? I have been looking online and, beyond this forum, they are nowhere to be found. Perhaps without an Internet connection, the worst stories will never be heard. Is that the reason for the silence? Is it pride--or shame? I despise the greedy bastards who got us here, and they are still being rewarded for their malfeasance. It's sickening beyond belief.





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