To my recently laid off tech friends, I feel your pain. I even wrote about it.
Below is an excerpt from my memoir, Joey Somebody, The Life and Times of a Recovering Douchebag. These were my raw thoughts after I was laid off from my tech job in 2003.
Unemployed. Downgraded. Downsized. Circumcised. A plug ripped out from the wall by its cord. In a culture that congratulated long hours of hard work and classified sloth as a deadly sin, involuntary unemployment felt cruel and unusual, solitary and confining, lethal even in small doses. Status demoted from preferred to unauthorized. From insider to trespasser. Dumped to the curb, coveting the secret codes and card keys employed by the good morning coffee people pouring warm into office buildings. I necessarily stopped spending money on nonessentials and discovered this consumer cleansing ritual to be surprisingly calming and therapeutic. A late lesson for a man in his mid-thirties. My spirit continued to learn from my temporary employment challenges, but my ego ached to be back in the active position of protecting and loving, producing and contributing, inspiring and succeeding. To do whatever it was I was supposed to do. To be big again.
For the first time in my life, I qualified for unemployment benefits: $1,500 per month for up to twelve months based on my employment history. Enough to cover rent, utilities, and my castration wound each month until I got back to work. Seemed like a windfall at the time, and I was grateful every time the envelope arrived in the mail. Unemployment claims offices are pit stops for hard workers, those only recently out of the race and likely to reenter within the benefits period with the help of a committed crew. Unemployment benefits are not handouts, aid, welfare, dole, “on the county,” or any other shit-smeared label intended to denigrate. Rather, California’s unemployment compensation system works like any other form of insurance coverage by pooling “premiums,” in this case withheld from wages earned within the state to pay inevitable valid claims. One hundred percent of these subsistence payments transfuse immediately back into the local economy when the beneficiary pays forward their monthly rent, food, and healthcare insurance expenses, allowing the capital to continue running downstream. Everybody benefitted. I had legally and ethically earned this compensation. So why did I feel so emasculated about filing a claim?
I walked down to the EDD for the City and County of San Francisco housed on the corner of Turk and Franklin, a nondescript yellow cake-batter building with four layers of blueberry windows, the only adornment on the exterior being a small metal state seal. Feeling small, I tugged open the thick-paned glass door, changing the air pressure and temperature of the room. Some of the other displaced workers looked up or over a shoulder before losing interest. Everyone settled in for a long morning. Not like we had jobs to get to. When thrown into circumstances of misery or embarrassment, most of us take comfort in the company of others similarly situated—the more the merrier—implying a psychological benefit to recognizing there are other people as screwed as you are. For some, it is the beginning of empathy.
I waited in chairs with an array of people: electricians, carpenters, drivers, and machinists of every race for whom the union had no assignments that week, many wearing lumbar braces, broken down by the continuous repetitive physicality required in their industries, hard labor ground into their clothing; restaurant and retail store associates, male and female, decades of work history reliving the same seasons, laid off or no longer able to keep up with better-looking employees half their age; pairs of brown-skinned women wearing safe shoes; panicked middle class white guys, some like me from the tech industry, others gray-haired and enfeebled, presenting as aggrieved, wallet lifted; middle-aged white women wearing accessories of former status. We checked in with staff and completed intake forms. Authenticated identity with driver’s licenses, social security cards, and passports. Waited some more. Stood in line at the window. Eventually completed the application procedures and mandatory filing forms before being patted on the head and excused. By the time I got home, I felt I had worked a full day. I was exhausted.
I woke up the next morning feeling invisible. Snoozed until shrilled out of bed by teapot anxiety. Checked messages for huge job offers. Wasted time on the internet. Stood sadly in shower. Filled the remaining seven hours of everyone else’s workday with distractions, new humiliations, and cramps and acid triggered by corrupted ruminations of inner-space exploration. I played a lot of golf. Decreased my PlayStation Tiger Woods golf handicap to subzero and captured a string of major tournament championships by virtue of my four hundred-yard drives, my GPS short game, and a regimen of smoking top-shelf medical marijuana. But video games were not as fun when you had too much time to play them. Finally, it was bedtime: my thoughts adrift for hours on a catastrophizing ocean, my ego clinging to wreckage of my remembered life. Anyway. How was your day?
For those of you in the throes of recent unemployment, I see you. And if you want to reach out and communicate with someone who understands, please email me. I will respond.
A civilized society should have state benefits, and there should be no stigma around claiming them when you need help and you qualify. I am sure this piece will help anyone facing this and the post script is so kind.