Baby It’s Cold Inside: Public Assistance and the Unemployed

Brrrrr!! I'm a chilly kitty!

Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011: Given what seems to me to be unusually high heating bills in the winter, you would think I live in a cavernous, old house, rather than a relatively modest apartment. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s not as if I have the thermostat set at 80 degrees or even remotely close. Last winter I had it set in the mid-60s. However, increasingly shrinking finances have forced me to chill things down even further. Since colder fall-like weather settled in a few weeks ago, I’ve been keeping the thermostat around a coolish 58 degrees. I do have a lovely, brick wood-burning fireplace, but can’t afford to buy wood to burn in it. For the most part, I can live with these somewhat chilly conditions by wearing lots of layers and sweaters and socks and slippers. Furry cat Jenni doesn’t seem to mind, however, Queen Jenni, who has a reputation for being rather standoffish, does become more of a lap kitty in the winter! Every once in a while I do get a little chilly and crank the heat up a few degrees, at least for a little while! The other night while I was watching to see who got the boot on Dancing with the Stars, and who would boogie on to the semi-finals (I’m rooting for JR!) a chill came over me that I just couldn’t shake. Now I suppose I could have warmed up by jiving along with the dancers, however, it was much easier to just flip a switch!

I’ve heard about a Colorado energy assistance program called LEAP http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/CDHS-SelfSuff/CBON/1251580884665 that provides energy assistance for down on their luck folks like me, otherwise known as low-income people. It’s just one of many programs, both on a state and national level, that provides assistance to those in need. Of course there are food stamps (are they still called that?), food banks, a Colorado medical assistance program called CICP http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/HCPF/HCPF/1214299805914 (which helped pay for my recent trip to the ER) and many more. I have mixed feelings about me personally taking advantage of these programs. Maybe part of it is denial. After all for most of my career I’ve had well-paying jobs with benefits like health insurance, retirement programs, life insurance, etc. I think part of my brain still thinks my current poverty is just a blip in the road, and I’ll be back in my game very soon. However, two plus years of unemployment in my field is probably a bit more than a “blip!” And with savings long gone, along my retirement accounts depleted, I have to look at the hard, cold reality of my situation.

Part of it is also pride and embarrassment and shame. Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think badly or less of anyone who seeks assistance from those programs, regardless of the unemployment rate or the state of our economy. Those programs are there for good reason and for the good folks who need them! But I would be less than truthful if I didn’t confess to these emotions. In fact, it’s a bit embarrassing to even admit I might need them and write about it for all the world to see (ok I don’t think the whole world is reading my blog!)

Emotions such as shame and embarrassment can go hand in hand with job hunting. My fellow job hunting blogger across the pond said it so eloquently in her recent post “Why I Write” http://unemployedhack.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/why-i-write/, in which she writes about these very emotions as they relate to unemployment. It’s difficult when you’ve been out of work for so very long and repeatedly get rejected by potential employers and feel palpable disdain from some – such as unemployment insurance workers and others – and disbelief from your friends that you can’t find a job to not – to put it bluntly – at times feel like a big fat loser!

When I got laid off from my last full-time public relations jobs my employer said “it’s a business decision.” And business they meant. While I was getting the bad news in another office, a worker yanked my company laptop and cell phone out of my office, and I was told to pack up my office and be out in 15 minutes. This scenario is not unusual. I’ve heard other similar layoff stories from friends, and the shared sentiment is that you feel like you’re being treated like a criminal rather than a valued departing worker. Employers laying off workers also often say “don’t take it personally.” Well it’s hard not to! Many career-driven people have a huge part of their identity and self-worth (maybe too much) wrapped up in their work. In addition, we often spend more time at our workplace and with our co-workers than at our homes and with our family and friends, making such an abrupt yank out of your job difficult to not take at least a little bit personally.

Being laid off, especially in this manner, is humiliating to say the least! And so begins – for many – the very long journey down the path of unemployment and job hunting. A path that is riddled with obstacles and frustrations, with expectations and high hopes, and disappointments and letdowns. Some people give up and settle for less than expected or take another path, and others, like myself, keep plodding along this difficult path in hopes of ultimately landing a good job.

So as my blogging friend in the UK said, it’s why I write too. I write about job hunting and unemployment in hopes that others in my shoes will perhaps read it and feel they can relate and not feel so alone. I write to help alleviate shame and embarrassment and other negative emotions that job seekers might feel at times. Emotions that can only hold us back in our journey to employment.

Lisa, Talented and Professional Job Seeker

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4 Responses to Baby It’s Cold Inside: Public Assistance and the Unemployed

  1. I hear you loud and clear Lisa. Thanks for sharing. We should connect on LinkedIN.

  2. I enjoy your blog. And I know what it’s like to wrestle with the decision of when to ask for help and how hard it is to do it. Best of luck in your job hunt.

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