Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Do You Feel? Do You Know How You Feel?

In one of my many free hours spent looking for jobs on Craigslist, I came across this post in the ETC section. It linked me to a survey on recent job loss hosted by the New School for Social Research. The survey was for people falling on the spectrum from unemployed to employed part-time. That's me! Feeling uncharacteristically optimistic about my chances of winning the lottery for a $200 gift check, I set to answer the survey's questions as honestly as I could. I'm not sure I learned anything new from the survey- but it certainly did throw a few things into relief.

There were some expected prompts- how long had you been employed, how long did it take you to find another job if you have one, how satisfied are you at work- that sort of thing. But there were some weird curve balls. Would I be upset if someone thought I was gay? Am I concerned that other people might think I'm gay? If someone thought I was gay would I get angry- you get the drift. Another curve ball was the violence line. How often do I want to hit people I disagree with? How often do I hit people? Would I describe my temper as like a powder keg about to burst? Some of the questions were disturbing, but so is not having anything to do day after day when you need to make money.

A series of questions about depression, anxiety and chronic pain got me thinking about the difference between the six months I spent without steady work and the stretches of unemployment experienced by people who actually had a real career to begin with. I can't imagine losing a career I was working on for 10, let alone 30, years. Not for lack of trying, but I honestly can't empathize with having a well-grounded career. I just don't know what that really means.

My economically challenged peers from the Class of '08 and I don't know the Job Market as anything other than an extremely exclusive club. The kind that takes connections to penetrate, that grants access to only a few lucky new members every year. Many of us left college unable to get entry level jobs in our field of choice. The economy was deceptively strong at that point, but all the sexy careers we were pursuing required we do some time interning for significantly less pay than we'd make actually working for the same employers.

In the fall of '08, the economy came crashing down, and those of us who were fully employed didn't stay that way for long and those of us interning knew we weren't going to get hired at the end of our contracts. For the interners, we had already accepted instability when we took positions that were limited engagements. For those of who were fully employed, the feeling was like icing the kicker. We were out of the game before we got a good shot.

There was a string of prompts related to shame, asking for help and abilities to see the silver lining. Regarding my 6 months of unemployment, I didn't have deep-seated feelings of shame and I wasn't shy about asking for help. I just assumed that because living at home for a while has been the norm for my classmates I had nothing to be ashamed of. The economy crashing- not my fault. And my difficult entry into the work force- par for the course.

Since getting my job at the restaurant, I've always had the attitude that I'm lucky to be employed at all. And I know that a lot of luck and a not necessarily admirable, albeit total, willingness to do unfulfilling work is all that distinguishes my statistical self from my still unemployed peers.


  1. Did you end up submitting your answers to the survey? I wonder how all the "curve ball" questions add up? What data were the testers looking for? I wonder.

  2. Hello Deborah,

    I did send my answers. It was the kind of online survey where it stores your answers as you go- I wouldn't have been able to see the prompts without participating.

    My guess, judging by the questions...maybe it was trying to get data about recently unemployed men...job loss = immasculating kind of thing?

    I really have no idea. I found the curve balls very curvy.

  3. A follow up:

    Having never heard back from them I have deduced that I did not win the lottery for the $200 gift check.

    Bummer dudes.