The Growing Indignities of Unemployment

The nine-month contract paid below market rate, but I went for it, under the theory that having some income coming in over time was better than scrambling for work. (I even turned down another shorter gig to make the nine-month contract happen.) Nine months would offer enough time for the pandemic to be theoretically at an end, with both regular life and the economy returning with a giddy vengeance. I offered five references instead of the usual three just to seal the deal. Got the job. Or thought I did. I signed the onboarding papers. I submitted my personal information. I received repeat assurances that the job was on. I looked forward to busting my hump as a content writer.

Then, after heading all the way to Astoria to resolve one part of the background check and just over a week before I was set to start, I got a phone call. In less than twenty-four hours, the agency had moved from texting “What’s the address to send the equipment to?” to a telephone call in which I was told, “The client has decided against hiring people for the position.” As much of a cruel last-minute act of disrespect as this was, I somehow wasn’t upset. Maybe I’ve become dead inside. Maybe it’s adjusting to the brusque reality of living during the apocalypse. Maybe it was an unanticipated side effect from getting the first Pfizer shot the day before.

I do wonder what the point of looking for work is. Because I’ve never had problems like this before in my life. Never. I’m not lazy. I’m a go-getter. And I’ve never been fired from a job. I even landed work during the Great Recession.

Yet I still look for work. Every weekday morning like clockwork. This is easily the most demoralizing job hunt of my life.

In the past year, I’ve applied to more than 700 jobs and can’t seem to catch a break. It doesn’t matter how targeted my cover letter is. There are just too many applicants for every job. You rarely hear back from hiring managers. And even if you go around a hiring manager and talk to people who work directly in the department and get them excited about the possibility of you being a co-worker (as I have done several times), it really comes down to the whims of hiring managers, who seem to thrive on the petty despotism of being a small-time tyrant squeezing wages and breaking the down-and-out when not subjecting candidates to callous indignities. Honestly, I’ve known bill collectors and criminal prosecutors who possessed better manners. Even the automated Phil from ZipRecruiter is far more respectful.

Since I started my quest for work, I have been the victim of an elaborate identity theft scam. I was proud to work at a vaccination center for a week. I enjoyed cheering up numerous nervous people who were getting their first shot in the arm. And, as such, the twelve-hour shifts flew by fast. But then the agency that hired me started playing games. They would text me a shift and, just as I was replying to the text message (a mere three minutes later), they would pull it. There was the audio production company that said that it would send me a job offer after I aced a lengthy Zoom interview. And then the company ghosted me. I came very close to getting an audio producer job at another place. Took the editing tests and everything. But they went with the other candidate. Now I’ve had this nine-month contract dangled in front of me and pulled away. Much in the manner of a sociopath torturing an ant with a searing magnifying glass.

No matter how justifiably confident you are of your professional abilities (and I have more than twenty years of experience to back it up), this all does a number on you. Especially now, as life as we once knew it is locked in amber. I’ve had nights where I’ve cried and imbibed too much scotch. And this too is embarrassing. Because others out there are much worse off than me. I’ve been nimble enough with my finances to pay my rent on time and remain debt-free. The fine freelancing art of cutting costs and living like a grad student. But who knows how long that will last?

When I started venting about my job-hunting woes on TikTok, an unremarkable person in Maine lathered up her peers and led a cyber-bullying campaign against me. An easy target for a garden-variety sociopath who, lacking any real life, lashes out at others with unbridled selfishness. So I know for a fact that anything I have to say here really doesn’t matter. But I’m one of 10.1 million Americans who feel this way. One of many Americans with a hard thumb on his mental health and his emotional wellbeing. But sometimes your grip slips and you reach for the bottle and you can’t leave your bed or call your friends. You certainly can’t tell anybody about the pain you’re fending off or the hell you’re going through. It’s a bit like the bleak joke in Richard Aldington’s Death of a Hero, in which there was no sympathy for returning soldiers. You have shell shock? Who cares? Everyone does.

Being unemployed is only one step above being homeless. You’re something of a leper and a walking slab of shame to those who have lucked out enough to keep their jobs during the last year. And you wake up the next day for more indignities. More automated replies (if you’re lucky to get these) from people you know you could have won over if they had only given you a shot. A stronger sense that, despite your best efforts, there isn’t a future for you. Merely a tenuous present.

Work Ethic

We tell ourselves that there is virtue in hard work. That if we push ourselves beyond our limits, it will somehow pay off. But there’s always some con man out there who can get you: a villian who is willing to punch lower than his colleagues, who knows no bottom level of cruelty, and who defies the baseline of what any decent human being should never do.

It happened to me. And I hate myself for it. I was fleeced. Of my pride. Of my confidence. Of my identity. I fell victim to an identity thief because I wanted to believe that I was worth something. Because I wanted to believe that I was good. Because I try to have faith in people. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a work ethic that rivals a Victorian sweathouse. Well, that work ethic is gone. And I don’t know when I’ll find it again. I feel raped. Listless. Unemployable. My future gone. My potential extinguished.

It wasn’t always like this.

I’d started the year with such promise. I had turned my life around. I was in demand. People were hiring me. Recognizing my talent. Seeing that I was a fun and decent man. And they were employing me at what I was best at doing. What I loved doing. What I’d be doing anyway even if there wasn’t a paycheck attached. Audio production. Writing. What I lived and breathed. What I poured all my heart and soul into.

After six years of toiling without complaint at office jobs, I’d finally summoned the courage to freelance again, stumbling onto the magic formula that allowed me to pay my rent. I was cleaning up copy for a television network. I was serving as a story consultant for a podcast in development. I was writing voiceover scripts. It all happened so fast. February now seems so long ago, but it’s important to remember that, before wearing a mask became part of the social contract, it felt like a time in which you could do anything. The editors I spoke with over the phone loved me. I felt like the luckiest man alive. Not only was I immensely grateful for all of these opportunities, but this work gave me pride. Meaning. Purpose. Hope. Faith. Friends noticed I was so much calmer and more pleasant to be around. I honored the universe’s generosity by working myself to the bone. By being the kindest and most thoughtful man I could be. By being the guy you really wanted to have on your team.

Then the pandemic hit. And all the gigs evaporated.

I had some savings. So I decided to ride my way through the pandemic. It would only last a few months, right? I worked twelve hour days. I didn’t want a pandemic, much less anything, to stop me. I edited and released thirteen episodes of my audio drama, sometimes summoning my then girlfriend (now friend) to record some goofy background characters. She was more of a natural ham than she knew. And I wanted her to be included in my creative life.

A writer friend -– bless her soul for her mischievous machinations –- egged me on to write fiction. So I wrote a 75,000 word draft of a wild comedic novel in three months. I would spring from bed at 5 AM and write, accompanied by my girlfriend’s cat, who would often lay at my feet as I typed. The cat had become one of my biggest fans. When I finished another 1,000 word installment, I would read the latest chapter of my book-in-progress to my girlfriend, often offering a breakfast in bed option, watching her smile and observing the points where she laughed, which was often, for later revision. Then I would edit my audio drama for another eight hours or so before cutting myself off from my creative labor to make dinner and spend quality time with my girlfriend. She was a savvy news junkie who was good enough to fill me in on the latest developments. We looked after each other for weeks. Beta readers – including a number of published authors who are not easy to impress — told me how much my writing had improved and how this novel was going to be the skeleton key for people to finally understand my oddball empathy-driven soul. Beta listeners offered similar feedback on my dramatizations for the ear. So I stayed busy. I worked. I made things. I found peace in making things. There were a few nights in which I drank too much wine. But who didn’t buckle a little bit under the pressure? I kept at it.

But I had a finite amount of savings. I needed a job. I couldn’t keep at this forever.

It turned out that my girlfriend and I worked better as friends than lovers. It was nobody’s fault. I returned to Brooklyn in late April, feeling ashamed for fleeing my beloved neighborhood. This was my city. This was the place that turned me into a workhorse. This was the city that made me. It was also the city that had nearly ruined me. But I found the resilience and the humility to bounce back. And the city rewarded me for my pluck. Because that is the covenant of living in New York. If you work your ass off here, you will make it.

There came a point in early summer in which I knew I would need to look for work. I had once pulled myself out of homelessness and into a marvelous one bedroom apartment through sheer tenacity and indefatigable resilience. My life could be summed up as a historical record of overcoming countless challenges. Surely, I could emerge victorious over this one.

And so I applied to jobs.

330 jobs, according to my spreadsheet.

Mostly nothing back. Sometimes a form rejection letter.

The toughest job hunt of my life.

In October, I came very close to landing a dream job as an audio producer. It was down to me and another person. I busted my ass to show that I was the best. I sent endless show notes and ideas and audio cuts and guest lists. I carried on as if I had the job already. The executive producer – a very kind and talented journalist — was impressed. But he went with the other person. To come so close to something I was so right for and to not get it. Well, it was crushing. But I was greatly honored to have been considered and to have made it as far as I did.

Still, I was demoralized. Back to square one.

Enter the scammer one week after I learned that I didn’t get the producer job. He had enough information for me to corroborate against the company’s website. The COO’s name was Ed Sople. “Ed Sople” was also the name of the scammer. The company was Dellbrook JKS. The address he used matched up. The logo he used matched up. The names he used matched up. It seemed curious to me that he never wanted to talk on the phone. I actually left a voicemail for the real Ed Sople, pleasantly introducing myself as his new data wrangler, but he never called me back. I figured that the guy was just some weird eccentric in Massachusetts who didn’t like to use the phone.

The con man promised me a job. A job that would pay my rent and carry me through 2021. It turned out to be a lie and a scam. I learned later that the guy had bamboozled three other people. He used a Gmail and a Telegram account. I reported the account to both. But, of course, I never received an acknowledgment from either company. And there is, of course, no phone number at either Google or Telegram that I can call. No person I can speak to. That’s how these scammers operate. They find the services in which they can’t be shut down because these libertarian techbros believe they know best and extirpate all customer service options. And the scammers steal from victims with impunity.

The racket was this. You get an offer letter that you sign so that the scammer has your signature. You give out your address and phone number, as well as a copy of your driver’s license – which is natural, because you generally need to submit two forms of identification for a job anyway. You are told that you’re going to get a check in the mail to set up a home office for a remote position. You receive a list of equipment. But the check in the mail doesn’t arrive. The scammer says that the department is going to send along a debit card. That never arrives. You ask about direct deposit. But that somehow isn’t an option. Then the scammer asks if you have a credit card and says that he wants to wire you $5,000 into your account. Could you send the front and the back of the credit card?

I needed the job. But this was a huge red flag. So I sent him the front and back of the card and called my credit card company to cancel it. Once, the scammer had my card, he then asked me for the last four digits of my social security number. I asked if this was something I could give him over the phone.

I called Dellbroook. Heard back from the real Sople and the human resources person. It was a scam. A scam they knew about. A scam that they haven’t reported on their website to help protect other victims.

I was smart enough to catch on to the scammer before he had too many of my details. But I still feel so incredibly stupid to have been suckered along as long as I was. He had enough of my details to do some damage if he wanted to. I’ve spent the last 24 hours cancelling credit cards and talking with the authorities when not drowning myself in Maker’s Mark. Because I’m too hurt, too wounded right now to go through the terrible process of applying to jobs I’m highly overqualified for and hearing nothing back. But I have no other choice. I need a job. But then so does everyone. I can’t get through to the New York unemployment people through the telephone or the website. In a world in which scammers have no shame and a deadly virus is unstoppable because too many maskless yahoos believe they are immune, you’d think that there would be reliable resources to provide for the people. But there isn’t. Because the new way of life is government leaving people in the cold. Letting them starve. Letting them die.

And I’m angry. This scammer stole weeks of my life that I could have spent job hunting. Vital weeks before the holidays. Weeks that count that are now gone.

I am debt-free right now. Next month, I won’t be. I weep knowing that I may be facing a significant financial hole through no fault of my own. I’m a hard worker. I don’t want to owe anyone a thing. When I got a job after a nervous breakdown, the first thing I did was pay back anyone who had ever given any money to me during my tough times. I worked hard to pull myself out of debt over two years after losing everything I had. I lived like a starving grad student. Skimped out on anything really to get the balance to zero as swiftly as possible.

I know others have it much worse off than I do. And I feel ashamed to complain. But if I don’t say anything, I’ll never be able to discover some shred of self-respect. Other people have invented lies about me online, even weaponizing these fictions on social media to strip me of any dignity and to belittle my work. But this scammer went one step beyond the cyberbullies. He made me believe that I was worth something. And now I don’t know if I’m worth anything at all. What’s the point of having a work ethic if the people who hold the purse strings tell you that you have no value? In 2020, a work ethic is no better than an empty whiskey bottle.

The Case for Canceling Thanksgiving

We’re less than a day into November and already the anti-science propaganda has been unspooled like a mildewed floor roller desecrating an immaculate hardwood floor. Resident wingnut Karol Markowicz, the New York Post‘s answer to a Karen for the written word, has urged her readers to celebrate Turkey Day, come hell or high water. “Go and see your family in Thanksgiving,” writes Markowicz. It doesn’t matter if they are out-of-state. It doesn’t matter if they are old or immunocompromised. Markowicz expressed all this, even as she risibly claimed that she had arrived at this conclusion “precisely because I listen to scientists.” Actually, Karol, it’s pretty damned easy to dismantle your ridiculously convenient logic. Her remedy for not passing on the virus is to find some magical place where you can get a rapid COVID test and wait for the results before enjoying the turkey and mashed potatoes.

The problem here is that there aren’t enough rapid tests available — least of all in remote regions that are highly averse to implementing desperately needed testing and tracing. Here in New York, the state that has offered the most ample testing, there have been only 400,000 rapid test kits distributed throughout the entire state. 148,935 tests were reported by Cuomo yesterday. If we replaced all COVID tests with rapid tests, we would burn through the available rapid test supply in less than three days. But that’s not going to happen. Because these rapid tests have been earmarked for schools in COVID hot spots. Markowicz’s math simply doesn’t add up. Does she think that rapid test kits grow on trees much in the manner of L. Frank Baum’s lunchboxes? I can only imagine how poorly she manages the family budget. Moreover, she foolishly believes that COVID tests will take less than 24 hours to process when any of us who have been tested know that a result can take as long as a week to come back or, in a worst case scenario, ten days.

Adding balderdash to batshit, Markowicz also guilts the reader through offensively treacly rhetoric: If you don’t see your family now, you may never see them. This wantonly assumes that the majority of senior family members arranged at the hypothetical dinner table will drop dead in the next eighteen months. Dr. Fauci’s own projections indicate that we’re not going to have anything close to normality until 2022. And, even then, this would be contingent upon a global vaccine that was successfully distributed and applied among the global population.

The reality is that we’re going to be living with masks and social distancing for at least eighteen months.

Markowicz then goes on to defend Kim Kardashian’s deservedly reviled 40th birthday party on a private island. “It was the fact that Kim got a little ‘normal,'” Markowicz writes, “that really seemed to rub people the wrong way.” Actually, it was the obscene narcissism of Kardashian flaunting her wealth and privilege that caused people to get upset — as any cursory review of Twitter swiftly reveals. When an estimated 31 million people are waiting on unemployment benefits as Mitch McConnell holds up a desperately needed second stimulus check until the start of 2021, the last thing that anybody wants to hear is an attention-seeking moron insulated by vast wealth bray on insensitively about the luxury she gets to enjoy while a sizable cluster of America fears eviction. Markowicz even refers to Kardashian’s ploy as a “regular life.” Really? When frolicking on a private island is within the scope of more than 300 million Americans, then we’ll talk. But Kardashian is no more “regular” than a flock of dodo birds somehow transcending extinction to saunter through Midtown.

We then get two obscenely fabulist paragraphs painting a panorama of overeating, drinking too much, and arguing about the election. I’ve counted the family members that Markowicz adds to her sham idyllicism and we have a mother, a father, a great-aunt, plentiful cousins (let’s say four), and at least one aunt and uncle. That’s a super-spreader event of ten and I’m not even counting family friends or significant others. We know that roughly one in ten people have been infected with COVID. Let’s say that the family home is in South Dakota, which presently has a 46% positivity rate. These aren’t the kind of odds you want to mess with — not if you want your family to stay healthy and live.

Last year, 31.6 million people traveled for Thanksgiving. Let’s say that half of those people brave the planes. That’s still about 15 million. Scientists at MIT and the Harvard T. Chan School of Public Health have informed us that HEPA filters in airplanes don’t function nearly as effectively against the virus. If the planes are packed with Thanksgiving travelers, you’re going to see planes turned into superspreader vessels. Your chances of getting COVID increase if you remove your mask to eat food or you are sitting very close to an infected person. Let’s be hopeful and say that only 10% of our estimated 15 million travelers come down with the virus. Well, that’s still 1.5 million cases. And if 1% of those people die, that’s 150,000 deaths to add to the already 230,000 fatalities we have seen since March.

What Markowicz is arguing for here is mass murder. To offer her a historical example she can understand, Operation Reinhard killed over 11,000 victims in Krakow. Even if we reduce our estimate by half, she’s essentially arguing for seven Operation Reinhards to go down in December. And the hell of it is that these needless casualties are so easily preventable.

We recently saw Australia — a vast country of 2.97 million miles (only one million less than the United States) — emerge into some semblance of normalcy. No new cases for five months. And that was only because Australia adopted strict lockdown measures that lasted for 112 days. The United Kingdom is presently attempting a similarly strict lockdown that could last four weeks. Maybe longer. The nation is joined by lockdowns in France, Belgium, Germany, and Greece.

Without a vaccine, the only real way to fight the virus — particularly as it bristles into the central regions of America — is through a national lockdown and significant penalties for failing to wear a mask in public. Failing that, seeing as how our government refuses to enforce a life-saving measure that will result in fewer deaths and potential containment, it seems to me that canceling Thanksgiving this year is merely a modest strategy to eliminate further spread of a virus that is clearly out of control in the great American heartland.

The only reasonable way I can see anyone celebrating Thanksgiving is for a “COVID pod” to agree for all parties to quarantine individually for two weeks before the turkey gets carved. But there’s also the potential exposure risk that comes with air travel. So even that isn’t a foolproof solution for people who aren’t fortunate enough to live in the same city as their family.

Look, nobody loves cooking for sixteen hours and feeding people more than I do. I’ve done the full Thanksgiving cooking marathon — turkey and all — five times now. Nobody loves ensuring that stranded friends have a place at a table during the holidays more than I do. But the rules of existence have changed. The way we live now is not the way we lived in March. If we want to return to that way of life — and we will eventually — then we need to consider some fairly radical ideas about how we can stop COVID. Now is not the time for the kind of foolish misinformation and fake news that is apparently Karol Markowicz’s specialty. But then she works for The New York Post. One would expect no less from a paper that couldn’t even report the professed Hunter Biden scandal right. When Tucker Carlson serves as the voice of reason, you’re hardly in the position to be arguing the wholesome high ground.

Unemployment (Follow Your Ears #7)

The national unemployment rate continues to hover just under 8%. It’s been like this for about a year. That’s higher than the 1991 recession. And the unemployment numbers are starting to match the recession of the early 1980s, just before unemployment hit over 10% in 1982. This program looks into whether or not the jobs are really coming back. Are we avoiding a serious problem that we don’t have the courage to stare in the face? To what degree are we repeating history? We meet a man who motivates the unemployed in library basements, get experts to respond to Chairman Bernanke’s recent claims that unemployment will fall between 5.8 and 6.2% by 2015, discuss the finer points of Beveridge curves with economics professor William Dickens, chat about how the last four decades of labor developments have contributed to the unemployment crisis with Down the Up Escalator author Barbara Garson, discover a company that protected the unemployed against discrimination with the National Employment Law Project’s Mitchell Hirsch, and learn about discrimination and how local labor policy reveals national labor policy with Dr. Michelle Holder of the Community Service Society of New York.


I Really Want This Job

Barry Cohen is a well-dressed man with impressive cheekbones and an indefatigable smile. He reminds me of some 20th century titan who wants you to sign on the dotted line for a set of steak knives. On hot summer nights, he can be found in the basements of public libraries addressing the unemployed on how to find and get the jobs they really want. We talk with Barry and the people who look for confidence and guidance in his words. It turns out that Barry is working from an unexpected vicarious place. (Beginning to 9:40)


Curves and Predictions

Last Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told reporters that we were at the beginning of the end. He predicted that unemployment would fall between 5.8 and 6.2% by 2015. But William Dickens, Distinguished Professor of Economics and Social Policy at Northeastern University, feels that Bernanke is being overly optimistic. He also demystifies Beveridge curves for us and elucidates a policy paper he co-authored with Rand Ghayad that caused at least journalist to freak out in the final moments of 2012. (9:40 to 18:37)


Down the Up Escalator

Barbara Garson, author of Down the Up Escalator, offers a more sociological view of the unemployment problem. She tells us that it’s not so much the recession that reveals the causes of unemployment, but the American worker’s dwindling prospects over the past four decades. We discuss the Pink Slip Club, the “new normal” of unemployment, and consider how the unemployed can contribute to society as they pine for nonexistent jobs. (18:37 to 29:10)



It’s difficult to feel inspired and real when the deck is stacked against you. One little discussed truth about being unemployed is the rampant discrimination against job seekers who are not presently employed. The situation is so bad that New York City was forced to pass Introduction 814, a groundbreaking piece of local legislation that made it illegal under the human rights law for an employer to base a hiring decision on an applicant’s unemployment. We speak with Mitchell Hirsch, the Web and Campaign Associate at the National Employment Law Project, to get a handle on just how bad discrimination against the unemployed remains. It turns out that Introduction 814 doesn’t go far enough. We also meet Dr. Michelle Holder, Senior Labor Market Analyst at the Community Service Society of New York, to determine why New York is a good microcosm for American unemployment. The conversation reveals how local policy reflects national policy and gets into problems with the Georgia Works program and “business-friendly” politicians. (29:10 to end)

Loops for this program were provided by BlackNebula, danke, djmfl, drmistersir, EOS, JorgeDanielRamirez, kristijann, KRP92, MaMaGBeats, Megapaul, morpheusd, and ShortBusMusic. Follow Your Ears Theme (licensed) by Mark Allaway.

Follow Your Ears #7: Unemployment (Download MP3)

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