Un­em­ploy­ment

The Covington News - - Local news - Nat Har­well Colum­nist Nat Har­well is a long­time res­i­dent of Newton County. His col­umns ap­pear reg­u­larly on Sun­days.

Af­ter a while, un­em­ploy­ment starts mess­ing with your mind. Akin, per­haps, to a tide en­croach­ing upon one’s solidly built sand cas­tle, it takes you through sev­eral stages. At first the im­pres­sive ed­i­fice seems im­per­vi­ous to wa­tery in­va­sion ; af­ter all, its con­struc­tion ben­e­fited from one’s ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence from build­ing sand cas­tles. An­gu­lar moats sur­round­ing the cas­tle de­flect mo­men­tum of the on­rush­ing waves, dis­si­pat­ing the sea’s de­struc­tive might. The sea­ward wall, bul­warked with evenly spaced tow­ers, with­stands the first few en­coun­ters with surf. In­side the walls, the cas­tle proper seems se­cure and un­fazed by the sea­side as­sault.

But as the tide rolls in, wave af­ter wave fills the pro­tec­tive moats with eroded sand and clears an unim­peded path to the re­in­forced bat­tle­ments. Soon enough, a pow­er­ful surge slams the ex­te­rior and, shaken to the core, the sea­ward wall col­lapses. Wave af­ter un­re­lent­ing wave swamps the cas­tle’s in­te­rior court­yard.

Panic en­sues. Wall af­ter care­fully sculpted wall comes tum­bling down. Fear rises. Ex­pe­ri­ence, the great teacher, fights to calm the con­ster­na­tion. But no amount of ex­pe­ri­ence can with­stand the over­whelm­ing tu­mult.

The waves win. The cas­tle is no more.

As with all things, one’s po­si­tion on the over­all path of life af­fects per­spec­tive. A young per­son ex­pe­ri­enc­ing un­em­ploy­ment for the first time might not be as up­set as an older per­son. Young folks tend to think them­selves’ bul­let­proof; they have their whole life ahead of them and ex­pect to re­bound from tem­po­rary set­backs. An in­di­vid­ual whose life’s work has in­volved mostly man­ual la­bor may be com­forted by be­liev­ing those tasks to be a ne­ces­sity in some form or fashion. A sin­gle per­son might not feel the same ur­gency for a re­turn to gain­ful em­ploy­ment as one with a fam­ily to nur­ture.

Now, those afore­men­tioned state­ments are very gen­eral. I do not pre­sume them to fit each per­son in those cat­e­gories, and make them merely to il­lus­trate how vary­ing lev­els of ex­pe­ri­ence, age, and pos­si­bly ed­u­ca­tion af­fect one’s view of un­em­ploy­ment.

What I can tell you, specif­i­cally, is how un­em­ploy­ment has af­fected me. But please be aware, reader, that just as ev­ery per­son is unique, the ef­fects of un­em­ploy­ment may not re­sound sim­i­larly for ev­ery­one in the cat­e­gory com­prised of 59-year-old, white, male, South­ern, het­ero­sex­ual, col­legee­d­u­cated, mar­ried, jackof-all-trades-mas­ter-ofnone peo­ple.

My sit­u­a­tion be­gan in­no­cently enough, in May, 2008, when I elected to be­come un­em­ployed by ac­cept­ing an “early out” pack­age from my em­ployer. I cashed a small 401 fund be­fore the Wall Street de­ba­cle turned them all into 101 funds, and that along with the ben­e­fits of­fered bought me two years of “early re­tire­ment” which, in ac­tu­al­ity, amounted to vol­un­tary un­em­ploy­ment.

The mon­e­tary funds pro­vided by my em­ployer were chan­neled through Ge­or­gia’s Depart­ment of La­bor, you see, for tech­ni­cally an “early out” means that should the em­ployer have to fur­lough or lay off em­ploy­ees, those close to the bot­tom of the se­nior­ity list would be among the first to be ter­mi­nated.

When my “early out” ben­e­fits ex­pired, how­ever, since I had no job de­spite seek­ing one, I was el­i­gi­ble for Depart­ment of La­bor un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits. But, and this is unique to my sit­u­a­tion, af­ter I be­gan sub­sti­tute teach­ing, the DOL ruled me “em­ployed” al­though the Newton County School Sys­tem holds that I am not an em­ployee since I am not un­der con­tract. Thus, I can re­ceive no ben­e­fits from DOL due to their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of my sta­tus, yet the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion will not al­low me to eas­ily re­new my teach­ing cer­tifi­cate be­cause I am not an em­ployee un­der con­tract.

Thus, I’ve ap­plied to ev­ery Ge­or­gia school sys­tem on­line through www. teach­ge­or­gia.org, to no avail. It’s not tech­ni­cally age dis­crim­i­na­tion, for I’m at the top of the pay scale, and any sys­tem can hire two be­gin­ning teach­ers for the price of one ex­pe­ri­enced teacher.

Be­yond that, I have other mean­ing­ful ex­per­tise. I’ve worked ex­ten­sively in com­mer­cial and char­ter avi­a­tion. I’m a for­mer ra­dio DJ, and a free­lance news­pa­per colum­nist. I’ve held jobs span­ning the gamut from hu­man re­sources to pub­lic re­la­tions to ra­dio dis­patch­ing to min­i­mum wage job ex­pe­ri­ences.

But af­ter more than a year of ap­ply­ing for up­scale po­si­tions and me­nial ones, af­ter dozens of in­ter­views end­ing with “we’ll get back to you in the next cou­ple of weeks,” af­ter be­com­ing an ex­pert house hus­band, un­em­ploy­ment starts mess­ing with your mind.

You start to won­der if you ever re­ally worked. You were a teacher, a coach? You ran ground ops at the world’s busiest air­port? And you start to think it might’ve all been just be a dream.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, at least, un­em­ploy­ment just eats away at your very essence un­til, in the end, you’re left won­der­ing what in the world it ever was in you that led you to think you were spe­cial.

And the waves roll in. And the sand cas­tle crum­bles un­til it is no more.

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