Day 3 — Collecting Unemployment

Day 3 -- Collecting Unemployment

Shocked and shaken the day after being turned loose, I sat at home and came to terms with being out of a job like millions of other Americans. We’re all hurting and stressed out about holding our families together. I have an odd situation. I’m living with my ex-husband, not in a big rambling mansion where we don’t bump into each other, but in a modest-sized house that conveniently has a basement apartment that we used to rent out.

We take turns living in the basement—two weeks downstairs and then we regain the privilege of living in the main house. We split costs fifty-fifty. Our children, ages 9 and 11, love having both parents so close by. But it sucks for developing a new relationship, the next logical step after a divorce in normal times.

We are both in survivor mode—my ex is also looking for a job. He lost his the day after Barack Obama was elected president. It is not the change we had hoped for.

But finding love while finding a new job is secondary to figuring out a way to keep the house out of foreclosure and paying the rest of the bills to keep warm and fed. Still, I don’t know how I’ll find a work-life balance if a relationship isn’t part of the equation. Not to mention that saving for retirement is not something I think about now because I have nothing other than the dwindling equity in my house, which, if I can hang onto, may buy me a van rather than a villa in a warm place.

Just thinking about the process of collecting unemployment was demoralizing. The last time a company laid me off was in the 1980s, and I remember having to visit an unpleasant part of town and wait in line to fill out forms to collect unemployment.

I dreaded the thought of doing this again and began to make phone calls to find out where I needed to report. Turns out, I could do it all online through the DC Department of Employment Services—just a click here and there, answer a few multiple-choice questions about the circumstances of my unemployment and then click submit. I also had the option of signing up for direct deposit. It all seemed too easy, and it was. I checked the wrong box for why I was let go. I chose “fired” when I should have clicked “laid off.” The unemployment office won’t release benefits to you if you’re fired.  I didn’t know that until I called to find out why my unemployment compensation wasn’t being deposited into my checking account.

In unemployment lingo, fired means you were let go for misconduct, while layoff refers to eliminating positions because they’re no longer necessary. To me, layoff means the promise of returning to work, something temporary. I didn’t think I was going back to work at the place that let me go, especially after the way they made me feel like a criminal on the day of my departure. I was left feeling bruised, disillusioned and disheartened about keeping the American Dream alive.  And now I couldn’t even undo my self-inflicted status as a bad employee rather than one just caught in what was beyond my control.


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