Yesterday I received something that gave me a small yet welcome break from the past five plus years of unemployment. And it’s not that I haven’t been actively looking for a job during this entire time (should I attach to this blog post the 40-page list I’ve created that shows each and every job I’ve applied for in the past five plus years–I stopped counting at 500 in 2011).
While I’m not a fan of the current administration (I’m very much a conservative and have never believed in giving away the kitchen sink to just anyone who asks), what happened yesterday (July 23, 2014) was something that was greatly needed yet I hated to have to take it because I can’t find a job (after 5+ years) in the greatest and most prosperous country on the face of the planet (e.g., the United States of America). Some say it has to do with my age. I say that’s bull. I was 56 at the time I was hired by the company that fired me seven months later and left me unemployed for these many years now. And I had a successful career for over twenty years in my profession before I landed in that ill-fated job.
What I received yesterday was a check deposited into my checking account in the amount of what I earned in one week at that ill-fated job in Houston. One week. What I received yesterday was my first monthly Social Security check which I have been forced to take at the age of 62 because I can’t find a job in the most prosperous country in the entire world after 5-plus years. Did I mentioned I am a U.S. citizen, a veteran of the U.S. Army, a college grad with two degrees (B.A. and M.S., both from Iowa State University), and I was a dissertation away from receiving a doctorate (Ed.D.) in adult education at Nova Southeastern University back in the mid-late 90’s.
It’s been three years and two months since I have had any type of income since my 99 weeks of unemployment checks ran out at the end of May 2011. Once that money was gone I went through my savings in about eight months. At that time, fortunately, I hit the magic age of 59 1/2 which is the age required to access any “accessible” funds from a very small retirement fund without paying an additional 10% penalty for accessing it early–and only half of it was/is accessible at that/this time. And I have been living on those funds for the past two and a half years. To say that I have significantly hemorrhaged that retirement account is an understatement of major proportions.
This past January (2014) I knew that any attempts at finding work now that I was well into my fifth year of searching was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. In the back of my mind I knew by the end of 2014 I would be close to financial devastation if I couldn’t find some way to make an income. At that time I talked with a friend who is now 65 and was forced to take Social Security at the age of 62, and she told me that if I was considering taking Social Security at 62 (the age I turned at the end of May 2014) that I needed to apply three months before I turned 62. With a very heavy heart and knowing I would lose approximately $350/mo. by taking it at 62 instead of waiting until my normal retirement age of 66+, I applied for Social Security at the beginning of March 2014. Within ten days I had received a notice that my application had been accepted and even though my 62nd birthday was on May 31st, the notification said I would not receive my first Social Security check until July 23, 2014, two months after I turned 62. And yesterday, I received my first monthly check.
You have no idea how incredibly grateful I was to receive that check yesterday, even if it is in an amount that is 1/4th of what I was making on a monthly basis when I lost that job in Houston. In my wildest imagination I never dreamed that when I lost my job on April 21, 2009, that I would still be unemployed over five years later. FIVE YEARS!!! Only others who have worn (and are still wearing) these same shoes have a clue what it’s been like. I won’t go into any of the details of the rejection I have encounter over these past five years, and not just from potential employers but from the public at large. You’d think leprosy has become fashionable among the outcasts of society (e.g., the long-term unemployed and others and especially the homeless in our society that we shun so easily and on a regular basis).
I printed the email last night that stated the amount that was deposited into my checking account as a reminder of just how very long I have had to wait for any kind of income since my unemployment checks ($275/wk before taxes) ran out in May 2011. Ironically, the check came on my father’s 91st birthday (he was on the other side of the country visiting family as he does every summer). So I called and wished him a happy birthday and let him know I was now officially “old” as I had received my first Social Security check that same day. We laughed. My family in Oregon had celebrated his birthday this past weekend but I told my brother to make sure to let him blow out a candle on his actual birthday as it isn’t often anymore that someone lives to be 91 and is in as good of health as our father is still to this day. We’ve been blessed with his longevity. Our mother wasn’t so lucky in the health department and passed away 31 years ago, and my stepmother passed away at 86 in April 2011.
As the day was ending yesterday, I felt a huge sense of relief–finally after all of this time–at having any amount of income again to slow down the severe hemorrhaging of my significantly depleted retirement account. I am enormously grateful that Social Security is still around to help me in my time of need, and while I have not been a huge fan of the current administration occupying The White House in Washington DC, I wanted to write an email to express my gratitude. I went to the official website of The White House (www.whitehouse.gov) to find an email address but I only found a “contact page” that had a form to fill out. There was an address where I could write and mail an actual letter but I didn’t want to do that as letters can get lost in the mail or lost in the shuffle once they arrive. There was a phone contact number, but I didn’t want to express my gratitude over the phone to a White House operator. I wanted to send an email but no email address was available that I could find except for the comment form. So I filled it out and left a comment that I wanted to express my gratitude for something that had happened to me today and would like an email address where to send it. I expect that it might take a while for me to hear from someone regarding my query since The White House is a very busy place.
So this morning I decided to write this blog post since I had no other avenue online to express my gratitude. These past five plus years have been, without a doubt, the greatest challenge of my life, and to think it had to happen at an age when life should seem more secure has been a shock. Yet I am not alone in this struggle as there are millions of others, in all age and ethic groups, still encountering this same situation (e.g., long term unemployment). And even though the media spews forth the latest monthly “jobs creation” and “unemployment” stats supposedly showing a positive improvement in our economy, I’m still 100% unemployed, along with all of the others in my same boat (at this point an ark might be more appropriate).
Yet I realize as I look back on these past five plus years (which hasn’t been easy but I have survived them right on up through receiving my first Social Security check yesterday) that I have much more to be grateful for than receiving my first Social Security check from the current Administration occupying The White House. I am also enormously grateful for the 99 weeks of unemployment benefits that I received from 2009-2011 due to President Obama’s insistence that during the worst part of the recession those benefits should not be taken away from folks who are long term unemployed (many through no fault of their own) and who are genuinely searching for work on a regular basis and can’t find it. Had I not been able to receive all 99 weeks of unemployment benefits I have no idea where I’d be financially today.
Working folks have no idea what it’s like to go through long-term unemployment. The path I have been forced to take these past five plus years is not a path I ever would have chosen or wanted to take, yet I have learned so much that I would not have otherwise learned had I been employed all this time, and many times my blog posts reflect what I have been learning all along the way. However, I can’t begin to tell you how discouraging it can be to receive so many “disdaining” looks from others over the course of this time for whatever reasons those looks have been given, and I’m sure other long-term unemployed folks have experienced the same thing. And the lack of any kind of genuine empathy or support, even from the church crowd, has been disconcerting to say the least especially from the employed folks. And receiving feeble statements like “I’m sure you’ll find a job soon” or “I know someone who has been unemployed longer than you” or the classic one, “I’m praying for you,” while walking away are a slap in the face to folks who genuinely want and need to work not to mention to receive some genuine compassion from others.
We live in the greatest country on the face of the earth. The Declaration of Independence in the U.S. Constitution clearly states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That is no longer the case for some of us who were born in the United States of America and are U.S. citizens. For the past five plus years “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” have been unreachable and unattainable to me no matter how hard I’ve been trying to attain them, and that has been the same situation for millions of other unemployed folks, too. We have managed to survive by the sheer grace of God while much of society has turned a blind eye and/or ignored the plight of those less fortunate. So much for all men being created equal in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Some of the bravest among us, besides, first and foremost, our military personnel, are the people who have weathered the worst of the economic crisis in our society and who oftentimes end up homeless and/or without much in the way of economic resources, and who would give anything to have a paying job again yet have survived despite the odds set against them.
It is with a fair amount of ambivalence that I end this post. I am enormously grateful for the financial resources I have received during these past five plus years that I have been unemployed that have been substantial in keeping me financially afloat–the 99 weeks of unemployment benefits that ended in May 2011 and now receiving my first Social Security check–and that thanks goes directly to President Barack Obama and the current administration. But there is still much to do in reviving this country to what it once was . . . a country founded on the principal that all men are created equal and should have equal opportunities again.
And we are far from that ideal at this present time . . . .
YouTube Video: “Made in America” by Toby Keith: