The Crushing Shame of Applying for Unemployment

Applying for unemployment is weird. You have to fill out a bunch of forms online first. The questions that you have to answer to get some money so you can pay your bills make you feel like a loser. Maybe you are a loser, says a voice in your head. What the government wants to know is, “what is wrong with you that you don’t have a job?” So you explain to the computer that you don’t have a job because there are no jobs. You explain to the computer that you have been sending out resumés, but it feels like you are tossing them into a black hole. No one has called yet to hire you to do things for money. The computer also wants to know what jobs you have had in the last 18 months. You explain that one recent official job was as an adjunct teacher, but you quit because adjuncting is awful. The computer is not happy with this response. You get a phone number to call. (Orwellian twist: there are people whose job it is to field calls from people who can’t find jobs!) When you call the number, a person who oozes resignation and cold efficiency asks, “you had a teaching job last year, so why did you quit?” You are expected to have a really good reason for why you quit your adjunct gig that didn’t pay well to take a part-time gig that paid a little more (which has since kind of dried up). It is hard to explain this because you are talking to a person who probably thinks “college teaching” sounds like the best thing ever. You can tell the person on the other end of the phone is judging you. She thinks you are an idiot for giving up a perfectly good “college teacher” job, even if it was part-time for not a lot of money. She thinks you’d rather suck on the public teat than work for a living. You really want to launch into a speech explaining about how the neoliberal economic forces destroying the economy also ensure that most college teachers are low-paid adjuncts who live in caves and suck just enough water to survive off of damp surfaces. You also want to explain that surviving grad school and writing a dissertation means you are many things, but lazy isn’t one of them. But the person answering the phone at the unemployment office is unlikely to be interested in this information. Finally, after dissecting your financial life, the woman agrees to give you some money. But she tells you that you must look for a job everyday. She emphasizes the everyday part. Of course, you agree. But, honestly, you don’t know what to do besides continue to fling resumés haplessly into the void. You remember about thirteen years ago when you first came to New York and there were temp jobs galore. Your phone kept ringing. Now all you hear is crickets. You hang up the phone feeling kind of dirty. You think, isn’t it funny how people with money never have to call up some anonymous bureaucrat and explain their financial situation? Only poor people and the unemployed have to do that. If you’re making a million bucks a year by selling sub-prime mortgages to poor people, you don’t have to answer any questions or pee in a cup. But if you’re on welfare, you have to pee in a cup. That is logic!

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4 Responses to The Crushing Shame of Applying for Unemployment

  1. Pingback: Best Non Academic Blogs |

  2. I have two questions:
    1) You have to pee in a cup for unemployment benefits?
    and 2) there are crickets in New York?

    Umemployment sucks.

  3. post-ac says:

    HA! No, they don’t have crickets here. But I still hear them. Isn’t that weird? No, a person applying for unemployment does not have to pee in a cup – yet! Love your blog.

  4. Pingback: Silence | A Post-Academic in NYC

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