Vault's Careers Blog

Career advice and job search strategies for the modern careerist

Are Unemployment Checks Holding Us Back?

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Senators from left, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Sen. Paul Kirk, D-Mass. and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. takes part in news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009, to discuss extending unemployment benefits.

AP Photo/Harry Hamburg

Despite signs that the economy has made slow but significant strides, America still has a rough year ahead in terms of unemployment.  And for those who rely on unemployment benefits, things might be about to get a lot rougher: the latest jobs bill, which included extended unemployment benefits, failed 45-52 in the Senate, with 12 Democrats voting against it.  As a result, by the end of this week, 903,000 long-term unemployed who otherwise would have received benefits will have missed checks.

Depending on your stance, the government is either deciding not to help anymore or taking a tough love approach when it comes to America’s jobless.

“We have 99 weeks of unemployment insurance.  The question comes, how long do you continue before people just don’t want to go back to work at all?” Senator Dianne Feinstein said, explaining her reasoning for voting against the bill.

But is that true?  Has unemployment created a culture where Americans expect a handout in a crisis and are more likely to decrease their search efforts to take what they might feel to be a “Well deserved vacation?”

Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio, a career services expert at Vault.com, feels that there are two types of unemployed people.   “A lot of people who have made a good amount of money in the past and saved a bit may be very happy to take an ‘unemployed vacation’ by getting a check,” she said.  “There are those that might also say, ‘I’m finally getting back a little of what I paid into for all these years.’”

“Of course, those with money pressures will look right away and certainly not consider unemployment to be a respite,” she adds.

Kristy, a New York-based talent agent who was unemployed last year until she started her own company, believes that unemployment is a necessity during these tough economic times, adding that extensions are warranted.  She feels unemployment won’t stop people from looking for full-time jobs, but believes it might be an impediment to search for part-time or freelance work.

“The regulations for unemployment state that you will not get any money for a day where you work, even if you only made $20,” she said.  “If a person is looking to gain experience and wants to take an internship or part-time position to build their resume, they lose unemployment benefits and could end up making less than unemployment provides.  I find that to be ridiculous.”

While Kristy was unhappy accepting money from the government, she realized that the benefits were necessary and believes extensions are a must until the economy corrects itself.  David, a recently unemployed mid-level government worker from Westchester, agrees, calling the extensions a safety net while he searches for work.

A former chief of staff, David is having trouble finding similar work in the political field.  “Translating my skills to the private sector is proving hard since I was a jack of all trades, and many employers don’t see me as having enough specialized experience,” he said.

David is getting his teachers’ certification and is grateful for the unemployment while he transitions to this new line of work.  At the same time, the extensions are helpful as he explores the new and necessary job search tools at his disposal.  “I have since expanded my LinkedIn profile and am soliciting praise from past connections,” he said.

Doris experienced a similar transition.  Having been unemployed in the past, after 9/11 rocked the economic landscape, Doris recently found herself in a similar position during this current fiscal crisis.  “After 9/11, the job market was very tight, especially in New York,” she said, pointing out that she was unemployed or underemployed for over two years.  “I collected unemployment and took on several consulting jobs until I was able to get permanent work again.  When I became unemployed again, I immediately started to look for work.”

But Doris is facing a different job market, just learning about the benefits of LinkedIn and Twitter.  She feels extensions keep people afloat while they muddle through all that there is to a job search.

“I’m being very aggressive,” she said.  “But I know some people who just don’t want to collect unemployment and will take any job.  I’m not really sure that is the way to go either.”

But with time no longer on the side of the unemployed, job seekers must act quickly to find the job they want.  Connie says the key is to execute a successful job search.  She doesn’t feel everyone spends enough time doing so and believes the immediate failure causes many job seekers to give up and just collect unemployment until their economic situation becomes dire.   That may no longer be an option.

“If you are not successful, you get frustrated and bitter, and will feel that the extensions were the only way to go,” she said.  “A lot of time needs to be invested: Networking, which people think is all about asking for a job; following up, which most people hate; and erasing that feeling of entitlement many Gen Y workers feel – that’s the only way to be successful in a job search.”

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