Saturday, December 27, 2008

The real-world experience of collecting unemployment

Because the state unemployment office has ordered me to attend a primer Tuesday on how to job hunt, I’ll have to cancel a business meeting that could’ve led to work. It took me two weeks to schedule the get-together.

The required tutorial is apparently intended to instill the fundamental practices for finding a job, like drafting a resume, coming to appointments when called, or keeping scheduled meetings. Apparently the government doesn't think we residents of an upscale New York suburb might've encountered those obligations on our own. Instead, it acts like we've just crawled out of a cave, with no sense of the employment process. Indeed, the summons and orientation seem to be crafted to give us a taste of this alien experience--a sort of dress rehearsal, where the government is playing would-be employer. With that in mind, I called the unemployment office to reschedule the “appointment,” which the officious letter stressed in boldface was mandatory, not optional. Just like real life.

I was informed, after waiting about 10 rings for the phone to be answered, that reschedulings were not handled over the phone. I’d either have to make the 20-minute drive to the office before the scheduled appointment time to be assigned a new mandatory appointment, or come in after my current assigned time. It wasn't clear because I had trouble following the person who answered. But I did catch a few suggestions that this was the sort of upper-hand I'd encounter in the real job market. And she kept stressing that the appointment was not optional.

“So I’m really not required to be here at the time assigned, is that what you’re saying?” I asked

“What I'm saying is, You can either come in before, or the next available day,” the woman said in the same voice you'd use on a 4-year-old.

“Well, I'm not sure I understand."

Then she'd repeat the chorus: “You’re required to come in at the assigned time. Or on your next available day.”

But at least she did work in some reprises of her other message, the same bold-faced directive that's stressed in seemingly every communication with the state office: It's directives were mandates, not options, and those edicts have to be met if I wanted to continue collecting unemployment. It amounts to $405 a week, or not enough to pay my mortgage.

What really bothers me is that the agency acts as if it’s giving me something, when in fact I’ve been paying into the unemployment fund for 34 years without ever requesting a dime before. Since I was making far more than $405 a week for most of that stretch, I think the total contribution probably adds up to a tidy sum. And my employers ponied up considerably more dough as an unspecified employee benefit.

And I never gave them any attitude the whole time I was paying. Too bad they didn’t assimilate that aspect of the real world.

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