I don’t believe unemployment is as low as statistics say. Why not? Because there are plenty of people looking for work who are not included in the unemployment statistics.
Their faces ought to be remembered. They should not be forgotten.
For instance, my friend Della, after losing her job, had just become eligible to collect unemployment insurance, but saw a help wanted sign outside a storefront one morning, went in, took the job, started that very same day, realized it wasn’t quite what she had in mind (it required more heavy lifting than she had anticipated), and at the day’s end she quit. After that one day, she was just as unemployed as before, but (because she had quit) she was no longer counted as unemployed. And now she was disqualified from collecting unemployment insurance; thus she was penalized for having taken a job that one day. If she hadn’t taken it, she would have been collecting unemployment checks.
As for myself, I once was collecting unemployment but took a job anyway because I wanted to work, not sit back and wait until my unemployment benefits expired. Trouble was, at the new job I was assigned an overnight shift. I had never attempted staying up all night in my life. Thought I could do it. I tried, but failed. In retrospect, I was foolish to try. I kept falling asleep. So I did the only honorable thing and gave two weeks’ notice.
After that, I was just as unemployed as before, but (because this time I had quit) no longer counted as among the unemployed. And now I was disqualified from collecting unemployment benefits. Thus I too was penalized for having taken a job instead of sitting back and waiting for unemployment checks to roll in.
In addition, there are tons of people with part-time positions who would prefer to have full-time positions. They are not counted as unemployed, but many of them are seeking full-time work just as diligently and futilely as folks without any sort of job at all.
There are housewives who after their kids have grown up are trying to enter the work world but can’t find a job. They are not counted among the unemployed.
There are people who have taken time off for their health and are now trying to reenter the work world. They are not counted as unemployed.
There are folks who will consider only those jobs that provide health insurance. If they turn down (or walk away from) a job that doesn’t provide health insurance, then they too are not counted as unemployed.
My gosh, even freshly released inmates, after having served their time in prison, are looking for jobs but are not counted as unemployed.
Plus, there are many young adults fresh out of school looking for their first jobs, but even if their quest takes years and years, they will not be counted as among the unemployed.
Then there are the self-employed, a booming category, which includes many who do the work of full-time employees but somehow are categorized as non-employees. Government statistics don’t count them as unemployed; on the contrary, they are counted as fully employed even if they have no assignments – and no income – for months on end.
Once upon a time, the faces of the unemployed were easy enough to spot. They showed up at the unemployment office, waited in line, and then had a one-on-one chat with a state worker, explaining their job-hunting experiences since the last visit. And then, if the state employee approved, the unemployed person was given another unemployment check.
Nowadays, there’s no need for an unemployed person to leave his or her home.
We’ve gotten so automated that the faces of the unemployed no longer need be looked at. I don’t think that’s good. What we don’t see, we tend to forget.
But I remember them.
I remember in particular a face at an unemployment office (in another state) back in the early 1990s, when an entire batch of us were being processed at once. This one fellow was having a ton of trouble with his paperwork. His command of English was limiting him, and he knew that if he didn’t hand in the paperwork correctly, he would not be counted as unemployed, and would not receive any unemployment checks – regardless of how thoroughly unemployed he was.
But the state workers were content to hand out papers to be filled out, sit back, and steer clear until the forms were turned in. They weren’t looking to help anyone with the paperwork.
So this one struggling guy asked my help to fill out his form.
Me, I was just another down-and-out unemployed chap, albeit more professorial-looking than the others. So I’m the one he kept asking for assistance.
He asked a few questions, but the one that lingers sharpest in my memory after more than a quarter of a century is: “What’s the month?” I told him it was June. “No, no!” he said. “The month! The month!”
I then told him the precise date of the month and repeated that the month was June.
He grew more frustrated, knowing his limited English skills were preventing my understanding him.
Finally, he came up with, “The number, the number!”
Eventually I understood.
“June is the sixth month,” I told him, “so you need to put the number ‘6’ into that box.”
“Much thanks! Much thanks!”
The poor fellow knew it was June, but the form didn’t allow him to write the name of the month; it demanded a number, which he didn’t know.
And he suspected – probably correctly – that if he put down the wrong number (or left it blank) he would be denied his unemployment claim and would not be counted as among the unemployed.
Even though he was unemployed.
The poor chap – and all the rest of us – weren’t allowed to write “June” on the form. But isn’t “June” just as clear, if not clearer, than “6”?
Yes, perhaps to most humans, “June” is clearer than “6,” but nowadays we have to fall into lockstep and do what’s best for the automated processes and computers that sort the paperwork.
Or else we won’t be counted.
We’ll be among the forgotten unemployed.
If you have consumerism questions, send them to Arthur Vidro care of this newspaper, which publishes his column every weekend.