A Note For The Unemployed on Labor Day
Reflecting on the shame of being out of work.
Not that it is breaking news, but today is Labor Day. For some, today is cause to celebrate. A day off from work to kick back, relax and bid farewell to warm weather. For others, Monday is yet another reminder of something that needs no reminder.
For those out of work, today is going to hurt.
Being reminded of unemployment milestones like Labor Day is like applying pressure to a burn. It’s a dull ever-present pain that flares up from time to time and knocks the wind out of you.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the situation, there is shame associated with being out of work. It sits in the back of your throat, taste terrible, and try as you might you just can’t seem to swallow it. Maybe you were the low man on the totem pole when cuts had to be made. Maybe you were in an industry divested by the recession. Maybe you stare at the ceiling every night obsessing over how they could have determined you were expendable. Maybe all three, and more.
There is an expression I run up against on a nearly daily basis. When discussing being unemployed, or the newly coined underemployed, people like to remind me that I am not alone, that there are “a lot of people in the same boat.”
This f#$%ing boat must be biblical in scale. Seriously, Noah himself must be at the helm because as of July Illinois reported an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent. We’re slightly above the national norm for August, holding steady at 9.1 percent.
But everyone in the boat knows those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Folks who have been out of work for over a certain amount of time, or have never sought unemployment benefits, or are self-employed but haven’t had a client/job in months are not represented in those figures.
But they are in the boat.
For those in the boat, days like Labor Day are dark anniversaries. Like storm clouds over troubled waters, Labor Day is just another event that comes and goes and the crew is still unemployed. Am I venting? Sure. Do I have a point? Yeah.
I worked the midday shift at the coffee shop for two years. Meaning everyone I ran into during my shift was either a stay at home parent, worked from home, was employed near by (what up Vern!?), or was in the boat. I know the faces of the crew. I know about the shame, and the anger, and the bitter resentment.
My point is simple; the boat is a cold and dreadful place. So if one of the crew of the U.S.S. Unemployed shows up to your Labor Day BBQ, and we don’t feel much like celebrating, cut us some slack.
We don’t want to piss on your parade. Just give us a wide berth and hope, as we do, that by this time next year everyone’s on solid land and in the mood to celebrate.
To my fellow shipmates, here’s hoping we arrive at our destination sooner rather than later.
To everyone, Happy Labor Day.