I hopped atop my trusty Facebook steed a few weeks ago and began (another) Paul Revere-style ride, making my latest proclamation.
It seems like the number of folks who still follow me is in single digits at this point.
Between gun violence, racial injustice, people not following best public health safety practices and many other issues I champion, my “friend list” dwindles with each election cycle.
While my tone has morphed over the years, from a very fiery ALL CAPS 2016 to efforts of humility and pleading, my heart is the same. It’s breaking.
I’m not sure social media ever changes anyone’s mind, but I also don’t feel right letting bigotry and hate go unchecked. So, giddyap.
After seeing a slew of posts, memes and gifs disparaging unemployed people, I knew it was time.
Some seem to believe almost every problem in our society today could be directly linked to the extra dollars unemployed people are receiving.
“People on unemployment are parasites. Let’s drug test ‘em!”
“They can sit at home and draw more money than actually working. Blame the government.”
“My local taco shop closed 45 minutes early because NOBODY HAS TO WORK TO MAKE A LIVING IN THIS COUNTRY! #ThanksObama”
Endless pictures of “Help Wanted” signs and frustrated taco-needers abounded.
But what about the people, families and stories behind the unemployment numbers?
I thoughtfully typed out the following Facebook post:
“No matter what side of the unemployment benefit debate you feel aligned, there are people in your friend group who are unemployed and too nervous to say anything.
“I know this because our vulnerability on the jobless journey last March brought so many scared voices to my DM and inbox. I walked the road alongside these friends and acquaintances who felt absolutely lost and in shock from the situation.
“Many of them have been trying to find work but fields have shifted. Fast food work isn’t going to cover their family expenses and childcare.
“So please be careful and kind with your words. I pinky promise that being cruel isn’t going to motivate someone to work. But it may have a less desirable effect.
“Shame is a scary card to play when folks are already down. Please, please consider that the faceless ‘other’ you’re bemoaning may be the mom or dad of your child’s best friend, holding onto a very thin ray of hope. Don’t stomp their fingers.”
I didn’t even use my caps lock. When you tell true stories about your own life, you don’t have to shout.
My husband has Master of Theological Studies and Juris Doctor degrees. He was on the dean’s list and law review. He graduated seminary and law school and has been an attorney for over a decade.
He earned the top grade in classes. He wins arguments – in court, that is, not against me. He is one of the most meticulous researchers and critical thinkers I know.
When COVID-19 hit and industries changed, he was let go. The “last person in, first person out” rule doesn’t care if you have four kids and a labradoodle.
On the same day our children were sent home from school for what we thought was going to be a two-week spring break, he lost his job.
We were elbow deep in medical tests for our son with epilepsy. I had just transitioned out of my lengthy career in higher ed. We were terrified.
Navigating unemployment benefits was a nightmare. He spent weeks on hold, submitting paperwork and proof.
We found a life pattern that allowed me to work while he cared for our kiddos and continued the process of attempting to set up unemployment. It was not simple.
No “freeloader” could have successfully completed this gauntlet of misery. It took months. We cried, cussed and didn’t sleep much.
When the funds finally arrived, there was a complicated weekly requirement to continue receiving benefits; many weeks it didn’t work. Sometimes, there were extended gaps in payments.
We commented over and over again about how much more hopeless the situation would have been if we didn’t have multiple backup plans for taking care of our family.
Were we a parasite? We’ve both paid into the unemployment system since we were 15. Isn’t this what unemployment benefits were designed to do?
While I understand the temporary nature of unemployment benefits, the pandemic changed the landscape.
Child care outside the home was not a safe option for us, so we used the benefits to ensure our children were isolated and safe from COVID-19 exposure.
This extra layer of calculus made finding a new job even more difficult. How could we put a price on our children’s safety?
While we continued to evaluate our family situation each week, friends and acquaintances began to reach out to me about their own struggles with unemployment.
I was shocked at how many were also suddenly fired from careers they loved. Their jobs ranged from all sectors.
We live in an oil-centered state, so some were more accustomed to the boom-bust nature of their employment, but their usual alternative positions weren’t available either. Others were close to retirement and saw entire careers vanish in an instant.
I listened to their stories, passed along tips we learned as we navigated unemployment with them, sent funny memes, prayed and forwarded job postings along when I saw one that might fit.
About half of the people who began the jobless journey with us in March 2020 are now employed. My husband is one of them! He found a great position that allowed him to set a start date after our children returned to school in August.
Around half of the handful of unemployed friends I knew about are still seeking full-time employment. They may have found some odd jobs to piece together and eke out a living, but many are still relying on unemployment benefits to stay afloat.
Without arguing about minimum wage, child care assistance, maternity and paternity support, or any other political angle, my hope is simply to introduce “The Other” to those who were (and are) casting shade.
People who have lost their jobs are woebegone. No one delights in being fired or laid off. Times are hard.
We should all consider the faces of these unemployed people, and the families staring back at them, completely dependent upon them finding a new path forward.
What may seem like a funny forward on Facebook to some could be an absolutely devastating blow to a friend who is trudging ahead on a very scary journey.