When I was a teenager, my father got laid off and could not find a job for 3 years straight. It was an extremely trying time for our family. Over the course of a few years, I saw a kind of depression and hopelessness overtake my father. Our family sank from the lower-middle class into a state of dire poverty. My parents’ marriage nearly collapsed because of this ordeal, and ultimately, it took an enormous amount of courage and determination on my dad’s part to get us back on track.
This experience left a sharp impression in my mind of exactly what happens to a man who is abandoned by our economic system. Long periods of joblessness can take an absolutely tragic toll on the human spirit. It can seem as if a man’s very self worth is stripped from him! And it is absolutely shameful that more than 5 MILLION Americans are in such dire straits right now.
But my blog isn’t a place to whine about the injustices of the world. The long term unemployed need to take ACTION TODAY. Anyone who is in such a situation can take steps right now to dig himself out of this hole. After conversations with my father and several other people who managed to escape long term unemployment, I’ve compiled a huge list of actual strategies that they took to stabilize their financial situations and eventually rejoin society. My hope is that these strategies can be used to help some of these 5 million people. So here goes:
1. Maintain positive attitude and normal daily structure
The single most immediate thing that a long term unemployed person needs to do is to achieve and maintain a positive attitude. If you become depressed or withdrawn from society, it quickly shows in your behavior and body language. If you feel that you are not good enough, then potential employers will also pick up on that vibe. Ultimately negativity impacts your health and your chances of getting a job, so make it a priority to become positive. I was unemployed for 5 months once, and while that is not nearly as long as some people, it did give me this sense of alienation and restlessness. The key to dropping negativity is to focus on things that you can actually control. Stop reading the doom and gloom articles about how the economy is going to collapse or how there will be world wide food shortages. You have no ability to change the outcomes of big trends in society. Constantly exposing yourself to such bad news breeds a form of learned helplessness, and that is NOT what you are.
You DO have the ability to affect your own daily life. One of the things that you need to do ASAP is to maintain a regular schedule. Wake up at the same time as you would when you had a job. Dress for work, and create a space in your home where you can get down to the business of looking for work. Set a fixed time to work out every day. Set a fixed schedule to socialize with other people through meetup groups or volunteering…etc. By creating a regular 9-5 schedule, you can basically train your mind to go back into the “working” mode, thus staving off depression.
2. Apply to every possible job
Use every angle and every tool available to find a job in your field. Resources like classifieds, online job boards, job fairs, social networks, meetup groups, church groups, family relationships, past business relationships, past romantic relationships…etc. Basically every relevant job opportunity that you can possibly get access to needs to be tapped. Don’t be ashamed to ask friends or family. Don’t be too proud to take a huge pay cut or work at a lower rung on the totem pole.
If there are simply no jobs in your field, look into other kinds of jobs, menial jobs, basically any job that pays. Not working has a terrible effect upon the human condition. The lack of daily social interactions changes people for the worse. So even a job washing dishes is better for your sanity than doing nothing for long periods of time. And there is absolutely nothing shameful about working at McDonald’s to support yourself and/or your family. Moreover, just getting a job will give you a semi-stable source of income and some breathing room to plan your next steps.
3. Be willing to re-locate to where work can be found
During the Great Depression, men followed the jobs. If there are no jobs near you, seriously consider moving to another part of the country. If you have a family to support, and the far-off job pays enough, you can move there yourself initially, live super frugally to save money, and then bring the rest of your family over. If the distant job does not pay enough to relocate your family, at the very least you would be able to send some money home to your loved ones.
While building a life in a new place can be physically and emotionally stressful, it can also be a second shot at prosperity for you and your loved ones. Thus any man who respects himself and loves his family should be willing to make these sacrifices to become gainfully employed.
4. Learn new tricks….cheaply
People are multi-talented and highly adaptable, yet our society tries to shape us into worker bees with just one or two highly refined skills. If these skills become unprofitable, the poor worker gets booted out of the hive! Well specialization is for Insects, and unemployed human beings can and should learn new skills. Even in our recession-mired economy there are still pockets of job openings. The issue here is that most unemployed people do not have the skills to compete for these jobs. A guy who wants to get a job needs to research the skills that are in demand right now and acquire those skills through the most economical means possible.
If you have been unemployed for a long time, chances are that you don’t have much money. You or your family probably needs an infusion of money NOW and not several years down the line. Thus an unemployed person should not spend long periods of time (while racking up huge amounts of educational debt) to transition into a different job field. The point is to learn just enough new skills to get your foot into the door. Instead of retraining to be dentist, try studying to be a dental assistant. Instead of applying for a Master’s in Computer Science, try getting an IT help desk certification. Once you get employed in the field, you can then learn on the job and move up while you’re getting paid.
5. Drastically reduce your cost of living
The one thing that all the people I’ve talked to have done is to drastically reduce their cost of living. We are not talking about just eating out less and cutting cable here! This is an entire lifestyle transformation! The bottom line is that if you’ve been unemployed for years, then you likely have little to no savings left. Chances are high that you also have substantial debts. In such a situation, living like the way you did when employed would likely land you into some form of homelessness sooner rather than later!
So the only feasible way to stabilize your situation is to cut your living expenses to the absolute bone. Lower expenses can stretch your limited resources for that much longer, giving you time to figure out your next move. Now there are small incremental cuts that you can apply to your monthly budget, but ultimately you need to substantially reduce major expenses such as housing and transportation.
The thing that you should ABSOLUTELY NOT DO is to drain your savings by continuing to make payments on an underwater mortgage. Instead, housing costs can be drastically reduced by walking away from that underwater mortgage if you have one. If you are single then it’s possible to move into an apartment with several other people and share the costs. If you have a family then the logical thing to do is to move in with extended family(or close friends) to share the cost of housing. The point here is that sharing housing allows people to pool their limited resources and keep a roof over their heads for less money.
Transportation costs can be cut in a number of ways. If you live near public transportation, consider dropping your car insurance, mothballing the car, and using a bus, train, or bicycle. If you find a job, you can quickly re-commission your car. If not, then at least you are not paying insurance, gas, and maintenance every month! Now if you live in an area where cars are the only way to move around, then a car-pooling strategy should be used. When I was a child, my parents did that with 2 other couples. They all pitched in for the insurance and gas money, and took turns using the car. Of course auto-travel should be limited to essential errands like picking up groceries or going to a job interview.
6. Tap into all available local resources and safety nets
If you have been on unemployment insurance for 2 years, chances are that the checks are going to stop coming soon. Perhaps, the money has already stopped flowing for you. In such circumstances, it is absolutely critical to take advantage of any and all local resources that can be obtained for free or at low cost. To put food on the table, don’t be ashamed to reach out to food banks or to get an EBT card. If you have children, then your little ones need to eat. If you have access to any land at all, consider growing a large vegetable garden, that’s some free and healthy food right there.
Your health is your greatest asset. Being healthy allows you to look for work and plan your next steps. So if at all possible, try to get onto Medicaid. There are usually income eligibility requirements that must be met to get Medicaid, but if you have been unemployed for a long time, it is usually easier for you to get accepted.
The point here is once again to buy yourself more time. You may have little or no money, but at least you have shelter, food, transportation, and your health. With these 4 key assets intact, you can take the time to search for work or do other activities that will allow you to lift yourself out of the unemployment trap.
7. Get as many side-hustles as possible
Sometimes, there are simply no jobs to be found anywhere locally, and no jobs that you can relocate to. Under such dire conditions, your situation is truly precarious. Housing, energy, transportation all cost money(no matter how much you cut your expenses). You NEED some income coming in to prevent further deterioration. The answer to this is the fine art of the side hustle. You can do side gigs of all sorts, from yard work, to replacing siding, to fixing computers, to basically anything.
There are a lot of online resources out there with listings of side-gigs that can be done for some money. My favorites are Craigslist, Fivver, and ODesk. The idea behind working these side gigs is to bring in enough income to sustain your basic living situation (shelter, food, heating…etc). Sometimes, side-gigs can be used as a form of barter. You might do some house repair work for your landlord in exchange for free rent for example.
Often times, these side-gigs might even generate a surplus. The surplus(cash or goods or favors) can be used to buy yourself time and breathing room to plan out next steps. There are many fine uses that any surplus money can be applied towards. You can pay for some training/education that will allow you to get a higher paying, higher demand job for example. You can spend the money to relocate yourself and your family to a place with better economic prospects. And even if there are no better jobs to retrain for and no better places to relocate to, that surplus can still be plowed into a small business that you can run yourself.
8. Start your own small business
In a situation where you have limited to no opportunities to find a job of any kind, the logical thing is to create a job for yourself. You can do this by starting your own small business. A small business is no easy thing, it takes careful planning and solid execution to get a profitable business off the ground. Still, many small businesses can be created with very little starting capital and such businesses form the very heart of the American private sector economy.
The point of the small business is to create a job for yourself. Initially your business might make no money or very little money. But assuming you’ve lowered your monthly expenses to an absolute minimum and are doing whatever side-gigs are available, you might be able to give your small business enough time to grow into something significant. If your business becomes successful , then you will have transformed yourself from being unemployed to self-employed! And self-employed people have some of the highest job satisfaction rates in the country.
Moreover, by being self-employed you get to learn the skills necessary to run a business from top to bottom. These skills would, over the long run, give you a huge competitive advantage over people who are employees of other business owners. In fact this is one of the primary reasons that small business owners account for a higher percentage of millionaires in this country than any other demographic group.
The Bottom Line
If you are part of the long term unemployed in this country, then the world may seem like a piece of crap. However, you must not give up hope. You don’t need a major government change, or a revolution, or a total collapse to begin digging yourself out of this hole. The tangible steps that I listed above can be done by anyone TODAY. And as a very wise man once said, opportunities multiple when they are seized! So if you respect yourself, you must go forth and pull yourself out of this bad situation! As always, comments are welcomed and appreciated!