The Underbelly of Unemployment

Soaking in the aloha spirit of Kauai—our peace place. I knew it was a sign when I lost the second draft of this post, after hours of research and soulful analysis on the impact of unemployment on families. Frustration gave way to vulnerability, as my husband pressed me to share what I had been writing about. You mean like talk about this, for real?


Rewind two years ago, when my position as a fundraiser for a high tech research institute was eliminated. I had pretty much forced myself out of the position anyway, so I picked myself up and acknowledged that a career in development was not my dream. I returned to my first love, advertising, through a freak opportunity from a friend. This came with a pay cut, loss of benefits and a fair amount risk. It also gave me flexibility, control and creativity. We survived this detour without much stress, and gave thanks that we had another income that could float this type of change.

Shortly thereafter, it became clear my husband’s company would be sold and though nothing was publicly acknowledged it seemed best for everyone to sit tight and wait for the bonus, vacation payout, and severance. Only “soon” turned into 13 months of stalled work and demoralization. By the time the official announcement came, their egos and confidence were destroyed. It was also the holidays, which is the worst time to begin a  job search but the perfect time to regroup and revive. Bike! Breathe! Brew some beer, and get ready for the next great adventure. Who wouldn’t want that?


That was seven months ago. And now this charming R+D engineer has become Mr. Mom—hard-boiled-egg-making-champ, soccer carpooler and team manager, grocery getter and dinner salad aficionado. I love this, and embrace it. I’m forever a sunshine seeking optimist, reciting my mantra “have faith in the universe” when the going gets tough. “It’s not within my control—let it go…” And I really, really do. On paper, and in practice. But underneath it all, something has to give. Eternal optimism doesn’t change the fact that this is fucking stressful. It just is.

In the past six months my car died, the dryer crapped out, our water heater broke and a pipe burst. Truth. Who prepares for that? We chose to go to Hawaii over fixing the dryer, because we’d put it off for so long and honestly believed it would be our last chance for a family vacation before the hubs went back to work. Family first! Well, that was three months ago. We’ve got lots of time, and lots of wet laundry.


The stress of it? Aside from the obviously financial crush, we’ve watched our friends’ marriage destruct over the loss of a job. Research (and common sense) shows that unemployment brings on substance abuse, eating disorders, depression and anxiety. At its worst, that leads to divorce and even suicide. One study reveals that in families with married parents the risk of divorce more than doubles when a parent loses his or her job. A survey done by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, a research and policy center at Rutgers University, portrays “a shaken, traumatized people coping with serious financial and psychological effects from an economic downturn of epic proportion.” This study was done six years ago, but I’d argue that we are still feeling the ripples of this financial crisis, and that the emotional impact is the same.

I’ve visualized our gorgeous future, and also one without this house and our belongings. I’ve “let it go” but also put on about 20 pounds (!). When I told my husband what I was writing about and he asked me if I was worried, I said yes. Yes, I’m worried, but hopeful. And even though he feels it’s his cross to bear, we really are in this together.