Working Together

"We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again..."

Excerpt from "Working Together" © David Whyte
in The House of Belonging

Many Rivers Press

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Job vs Job - What it is REALLY Like Being on Unemployment

You may be struggling.  Perhaps you lost your job.  Perhaps you've been working the better part of your life doing one thing or another to maintain being gainfully employed so you could pay your taxes and make a family and maybe recreate a little.  You may have never even picked up a dollar off the ground that you didn't try to find who dropped it.  You may think since you lost your job by no fault of your own that there would be in place a safety net so you could get your bearings and carry on as a functioning part of the community.  People talk about it.  It's called Unemployment Insurance.

Unemployment Insurance implies that it will support you as you re-establish yourself after a disenfranchisement.  Don't believe it.  The system is set up so that a beneficiary must report weekly what they are doing to find a new employment situation.  This on the onset does not seem like an unrealistic expectation until you put it into practice.  Sometimes, especially if you are a homeowner in a small community, it is not possible to get back into one's same work and an entirely new foundation to make an income must be laid. There is no "grey" area with this institution to support this kind of need.  It is still required that at least three job searches must be done.  No matter there is nothing even closely resembling the kind of work you are skilled in. You must apply for jobs - any jobs. UI has no interest in people finding new and creative ways to reinvent themselves either.  What is really mean in all of this is that they SAY they are into all of that (and I sincerely think the people who are working directly with clients on a local level have that intention) but Unemployment Insurance has no policy and/or law to support the popular notion that one can loose their job and come back stronger.  You can perhaps, slip into a training program if you have always secretly desired to become a pastry chef or an auto mechanic or a welder...then you are IN!  All the policies are intent towards pressing the unemployed into taking the first job that comes along - even if it is a ditch digger and you are a technical expert in something or you have chronic sciatica, by law, you must take that ditch digging job if it is offered to you.  If you do not, you face an accusatory appeals process and must go to court.   If you lie about it to avoid the messiness and are caught, you go to jail. The temptation to "fib" is overwhelming in this scenario and in there lies the rub.

Unemployment is set up to put you - a number - into the nearest job - a number - so that their numbers that go into their reports reflect that they are doing an effective job so they can keep their jobs.  There are well intended people assigned to help on the local level who have pressure to get their clients hooked up into a job - any job - as soon as possible so THEIR numbers look good.

I refuse to lie on principle.  I've had one hearing over a computer glitch and even the judge couldn't get it right.  The judgment almost cost me my house as I don't receive much from my benefit and I fell short on my mortgage.  Fortunately I had a mortgage payment socked away.  The computer now glitches every time the University where I used to work has a break between quarters and it appears that I have to appeal and go to court again over each. They decided against me and because I worked on call as an operator that one week (no matter that I worked on call all the other weeks too), they charged me 228.00 of my benefit as a penalty.   The judge evidently could not see the irony in the fact that had I not worked 5 hours that week I would not have been fined and, in fact UI would have had to pay me for a full weeks wages,"...well, policy is policy.  You were on call so you had reason to believe you would be called back to work after the break.  Pay up.  Next!"

It gets better: UI then set up a mandatory meeting for people to attend 2 days after a long weekend Holiday and did not mail the notices out until 7 days prior to the meeting.  It is timed almost as if this is a net to catch ne're do wells who are taking a Holiday on the State's dime.  That would be me.  I had a trip planned to attend my family reunion if I was not employed by then.  I thought it would be a good time to go as there is a dip in hiring generally around the Holidays and I could still do my work searches if I crunched it, which I did.  I even got an interview from one of the inquiries I made that week which I went to the following week.  I got the notice to attend the meeting the Wednesday before the Holiday.  I was to be on the train the following day and I was to return on the day of the meeting but I wouldn't get in until 9pm that night.

Unemployment evidently frowns upon people bonding with their families annually as it interferes with that person getting the job they want them to take a MacDonalds.  Now I am accused of being missing for that week "because I was not available to work as I was travelling".  I am charged $212.00 for telling the truth.  What no one will say out loud: I could have lied and stated I had a Doctor's  appointment and had to pay nothing.  I don't lie. I am free to appeal but you know what?  I'd rather pay them what they say I owe them and write in this blog and warn people of the reality of what they are getting into with Unemployment Insurance.  This is time that I should be focusing on getting myself stabilized, trained and gainfully employed.  Instead, my time is eaten up appealing these allegations that obviously, as I said, have nothing to do with the reality of the situation.  Then there's court time and taking time off my part time job to do that. It is only costing me money as they constantly fine me for being honest.  It costs them much more than that. It is as if to resist and appeal is to sink deeper into their dysfunction.  There is no justice to be gained with such an organization.

This whole experience reminds me of how the IRS used to deal with taxpayers before they finally "reformed" and became user friendly.  For years EVERYONE feared the IRS for just the exact same reasons that I cite here with unemployment.  There was a time when every line you answered on the tax forms was a loaded question designed to be muddled on purpose to keep the shifty taxpayer nervous and full of fear.  The entire structure of Unemployment Insurance is designed to taunt people into a lie and then pitted into catching them at it.  It is rapacious and disgusting.

As for this post, it is a warning...Unemployment Insurance: That money is not  there to help you.  That money is there for you to receive after you are lured into being a liar by trying to comply with outrageous requests and then to be bitch slapped as a cheat.  If you are thinking you may loose your job, start looking for something new now while you are working because you will be shamed, my friend, with what this organization requires of you to receive benefits.  I have had the patience of Job during all of this appeal, hearings and denials business. I'm not a religious woman but, by God, if I ever find myself toying with the notion of working again for a large organization or a government agency I hope I am struck dead on the spot before I can follow through with it.  I feel sorry for the people I have had to deal with who work in these departments and agencies.  I would not want to be one of them ever again.  I guess I have finally gotten my gut full of being bullied.

I'm sure I will be better for all of this when I'm re-established in my community.  But today I am extremely frustrated in being identified as negligent and constantly having to take up my time trying to explain the situation and defend myself because I won't cower to idiocy.  No.  I'm not going to appeal. What really torches my shorts is that is exactly what they want  people to do:  Give up so they don't have to do what they are supposed to be doing and what they are failing miserably at...lending a hand.


Peck's Bad Boy said...

Cile, So sorry to hear about your troubles with the system. I hope things get better for you. Joe

marciamayo said...

Cile, as usual, you speak so well on your topic. You need to put this out there, on any blog or site you can. People need to see this. You speak for others who aren't so eloquent.

marciamayo said...

Cile, I just posted your link on the Time Goes By site today. Ronni had written about unemployment issues and I thought her readers should also read what you posted. I hope that's okay.

cile said...

Thanks, Joe and Marcia. For those of you following along in your workbooks, the excellent post on this subject from "Time Goes By" that Marcia is referring to is located here:

Wisewebwoman said...

I feel your pain, Cile, it is not much better in Canada where they sanctified the benefits by calling them "Employment Insurance" can you believe?!
I hope you have a silver lining along the way, it is so awful to be demeaned by those who are meant to help and are riding on your tax dollars.

cile said...

Thank you, WWW. If there's a silver lining, I will find it!

Lin said...

Having been on unemployment since last October, due to my job being replaced by a computer, I thoroughly enjoyed your comments. It is a demoralizing position to be in, especially after having been a productive member of the work force for over 30 years and now not being able to find a job because of my age and the fact that I had a very specialized "career," which is no longer in demand. Frustration.

Molly said...

Cile, I am so sorry. I feel so bad for you. My mother was on unemployment for a long time and I remember how frustrated she would get for these same reasons. It's a horrible system that needs reform like a dirty kid needs a bath.

cile said...

3-23-12 Here is an update regarding Unemployment Insurance for those following along. Because of having to estimate one's gross income based on what you expect to get come payday, UI goes back after you have finally found a part time job and audits your submissions with what they solicit from your new employer as your income at that time. While I would be that last person to say I never make a math error, when I submitted my time I always rounded up (worked 4 1/2 hours - I'd put down 5 hours [there is no option BTW]). The UI office still found over 300.00 in errors for my 6 months of partial employment. This makes my repaid amounts to UI to date to over $800.00 in the time I was involved with that program.

The lesson is this: Because UI does not have a system where you can make a copy of your weekly submissions to them, it behooves you to keep a manual documentation of what you submitted (how many hrs that week for how much an hour you were told you were to be paid) because when they audit, you have no recourse or record but what THEY said you one ever suggests that people keep records or that they are likely to be audited and billed for the difference or arrested for fraud, should they suspect that was the case. There are DIRE warnings about being honest but little about errors or what to expect from UI if one is made and you are picking up part-time job. The fine print:

(I would worry about their parameters for suspected fraud considering my experience with them).

The bottom line is: Do not trust UI to care about you or your situation. It is a wild, bureaucratic beast and should be treated with caution and with self-preservation in mind at all times!