Wednesday, March 18, 2009

75% unemployment

Local all politics is local: John, that’s not his real name, is embarrassed to be unemployed. At 57 he hasn’t collected unemployment since 1978 when his first job out of college was outsourced to Ireland. John is a software engineer whose career spans IBM Mainframes through the birth of the Internet. Most of his career has been spent working for startups. He’s worked for Apolo Computers, Sun, DEC, Compaq and HP as well as a legion of dot bombs. He’s never been unemployed for more than a few weeks and hasn’t collect unemployment in decades.

"I managed a data center for yet another Internet startup," says John with enthusiasm, "but I had prostate surgery and was out for a month and a half. When I got back I learned that my job had been outsourced again, this time to an Indian company. Makes sense, I was the only non-H1B type in the building." John sits with a grin shaking his head, "You have to love the H1B visa system. Speaking Hindi is quickly becoming a prerequisite in my old industry."

Since being laid off John has applied for nearly 300 jobs. He’s received four polite rejections and has had one interview. "I didn’t get the job," he said laughing," they were obviously looking for someone very young, someone they could pay zilch to and I wasn’t inexperienced enough for that."

John’s two adult daughters, we’ll call them Melissa and Mary are also unemployed and that has worried John more than his own predicament. Melissa, a Grad School student working on her Masters in Architecture, had a well paying job as a draftsman but as the economy sank she was the first to be laid off. "I’m spending more time looking for a job as a bartender than I am looking for drafting jobs," she laughed, "Even those are becoming hard to find. I guess bagging groceries is next." Melissa has sold almost everything she owns, including her art and her car, to stay in school and remain independent and has downsized to a very small apartment that she shares with two others. The prospect of having to move home frightens everyone.

Mary, the older of the two sisters, was a mid career pharmaceutical advertising copywriter in New York City with a six figure income. She decided to move back to Boston with the promise of a job and to be closer to her family. She moved to an ocean view penthouse condominium in South Boston just in time for her promised job to disappear. Mary isn’t worried … yet and spends her time working on her version of the great American novel and doing pro-bono marketing and PR for a collection of non-profit organizations.

John’s wife Sally, that's not her real name either, is the only one working. She’s a unionized nurse with nearly 30 year’s seniority at the same hospital. "I’m the only security blanket we have," said Sally, "I’ll never be laid off but on the other we can’t move without losing all my benefits and seniority. About ten years ago John was offered an incredible job in Cleveland but when we looked at what we would have to give up it wasn’t worth the move."

"We are stuck no matter what we do," said John, "Our mortgage us underwater by $50,000 and so is my car which is only worth $4,000 although I still owe $7,000. We owe $30,000 in credit cards (which we mostly used to get the kids out of college) and almost $100,000 in student loans that we couldn’t get rid of even if we went through bankruptcy, which we can’t do anyway because Sally’s income puts us above the threshold." John says he’s missed several payments on his life insurance so that was cancelled and has cashed in his 401k retirement plan to keep the mortgage current. John is not sure what will happen but remains optimistic. "This too shall pass," he says with a smile, "In the mean time I look forward to coming out of retirement." John, when not scouring the Internet for jobs spends his time writing poetry and shooting photographs while Sally is at work.

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