In the couple of months since my blog about unemployment has been running at AOL Jobs, I’ve heard from many people, both across the U.S. and around the world, who are dealing with the unique and sometimes painful challenges of unemployment.
A lot of us feel very isolated in what we’re experiencing, so there’s some comfort in knowing that we’re not alone. It’s one thing to read the statistic there are 23.5 million un- and under-employed people in the U.S., but another thing to actually read and share each other’s stories. It helps.
It can also be depressing. I’ve had tears in my eyes while reading emails from some who’ve shared their stories with me, who’ve gone through so much more difficult times than I have, whose struggles seem daunting and nearly insurmountable.
One of these readers wrote of her feelings about chronic joblessness. I’ve written here about the stigma that’s frequently associated with unemployment, especially when it becomes long-term, and about the anger that can accompany it; but this woman described these in a way that I haven’t been able to shake from my mind.
“Nobody wants to be like us, so we get ignored or (are) kept at a distance or (are) treated like we are damaged,” she said. “I think it’s part of the caste system that we have in the U.S…(there are) the homeless, then the unemployed, then the underemployed.”
I have this image in my head of scenes from that classic movie, Ben Hur, where it depicted Ben Hur’s family members who suffered from leprosy (known as Hansen’s disease today). No one wanted to be near them for fear of catching what they had.
Are we long-term unemployed contagious, to be feared somehow, as if we’ll bring, not illness, but bad luck to those who come into contact with us? Are we looked down upon, as if we’re inferior to people with full-time jobs?
I wrote back to the reader that I had never thought about it this way, but that it’s undoubtedly true, especially the longer our joblessness drags on.
Maybe potential employers do consider us to be pariahs. This could be why, the longer we’re out of work, the less likely we are to ever be hired.
I don’t want to think this way. I can’t think this way, at least not for too long. It’s just too discouraging. It makes things seem hopeless.
But what if it’s true? Once we’re labeled “long-term unemployed,” are we branded forever, like Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter”? If we are, then what can we do about it?
Nothing. That’s why we can’t let ourselves think this way.
Unlike Hester, we did not bring this upon ourselves. It’s not our fault. It may be our past and present, but it doesn’t have to be our future.