Personal Testimony: John in Seattle, WA

Mar 22 2012

John in Seattle, WA writes to us:

I am an attorney with over fifteen years of experience. Until 2008, I was working as in-house counsel for a publicly traded corporation. Since that position was eliminated in the second half of 2008, I have not been an FTE anywhere, although that would have been my preference, but rather worked as a full-time, on-site consultant/contractor for one large, prominent corporation in Seattle for well over two years, without any benefits. That position was ended over a year ago. So I've been unemployed for over a year, and arguably underemployed for well over three years.

It has not been a positive experience. For most of the time, my spouse (also a professional) was not working either, and our circumstances became difficult, as we also have young children. Fortunately, my spouse recently got a full-time position with good benefits, which has reduced our stress somewhat.

This experience has shown us how things work in our country when you are not a full-time employee (or close to it) somewhere: the premiums for health insurance on a non-group basis are exorbitant and the coverage is poor. Once you get a job with benefits, you then get access to much better health coverage for a small fraction of the cost, even though you now have income with which you could actually pay for premiums. It's crazy.

I ultimately have been able to get unemployment benefits (through the Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits programs, by virtue of my job that ended in 2008), but they are scheduled to run out very soon. I've had to fight for what I've gotten, including having had to file two successive appeals to establish my eligibility for one certain period of time, with regard to which I ultimately prevailed.

Indeed, the system is not simple for those in it, both because it is time-consuming and can be difficult to navigate, and the benefits paid are small. But more important is the fact that SO MANY people in today's economy are not and will not be eligible for unemployment compensation, because it's so prevalent for employers to only hire people as contractors and to pay them by the hour and without benefits, hence without any corresponding payments into the UI system.

Some months ago, I chatted with the letter carrier bringing the mail to my house one day. She had been working for over five years as a "temp" letter carrier for the US Postal Service, paid by the hour, six days per week, with no sick days, no paid days off, and no benefits whatsoever. She does not have any health insurance (she's "flying solo," as she put it). And she says there are lots more people like her with the USPS. In other words, even though she has been working six days per week for over five years straight for the same employer -- a quasi-government employer, no less -- when that job is taken away from her my understanding is that she will not be eligible for any unemployment benefits.

I know scores of people in and around Seattle today who have advanced graduate and professional degrees (PhD's, JD's, MBA's, and other master's degrees of all stripes) and are unable to find work, let alone satisfactory and meaningful work. But I feel an unhappy distinction in being a long-term-unemployed person who holds undergraduate and professional degrees from perhaps our nation's top two universities (one West Coast, one Ivy League, both names that everyone in the world knows). This is not what I went to those schools for.

I am prepared to work hard; indeed, I have been working hard at trying to find and land that next opportunity, and will continue to do so until that happens. I do my best to avoid discouragement, but it is a challenging experience, as I think I have long been doing all the things one is supposed to do in this situation, including constant networking and frequent resumes and job applications, and even participating in expensive career programs that are supposed to help you get that right next position. But none of it has worked yet.

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