10 years ago I was unemployed

I had a sudden realization that it was 10 years ago this week when I got laid off for the first (and knock on wood, the last time.) My period of unemployment was unnerving, and if I didn’t have the support of my girlfriend, friends, and unemployment checks, I would not have survived. It lasted only three months, but when you don’t know how you’ll get back on your feet, or when, it was not a pleasant time.

January 31st, 2002. The economy was slowing down, and my company had gone through two series of layoffs, and some of the people I had started with in September 1999 were already gone. I got a call earlier that week from our dept’s HR specialist that I had to come in for a mandatory meeting. Actually, her assistant called, not her, and there were no details. That’s when I knew something was up. She would have called me directly, even for a suspicious mandatory meeting with no defined agenda. The thought of impending unemployment unnerved me, but after surviving two rounds, I was pretty calm, and the PwC partner was very kind during the meeting.

So less than 3 years after graduating with my degree, there I was out of work, living in Jersey City with my roommate Doug. I signed up for unemployment, and lived off the graciousness of people. My girlfriend covered some meals, as did Doug. My parents made food for me. Unemployment helped me get by in the interim, and whatever else I couldn’t afford, I used credit cards. During this period, my girlfriend and I did go on one trip to California to see the sights in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Great trip, btw.

How did I afford it on limited income? The flights were free courtesy of Northwest Airlines, resulting from an earlier settlement with them stemming from that whole ugly incident in Detroit the week of 9/11. The hotel rooms? I emptied out my accumulated Marriott Rewards points after over two years of travel.

I had no idea what I was going to do with my career. All of the consulting companies were having layoffs, so I couldn’t switch over to another Big 5. Heck, even Arthur Andersen would be brought low in 2002 after many scandals. I used my network to ask around for career options, and with the help of my former manager Molly (from when I interned at Reader’s Digest Assn.), she put me in touch with an audit manager over at Aegon. He introduced me internal audit, talked to me about the Certifies Information Systems Auditor certification offered by ISACA. I signed up for the June 2002 exam, bought the exam book, and studied. I even studied during the California trip.

I started interviewing in April 2002, and ultimately secured an excellent position at New York Life Insurance working for a great manager named Jack. I reinvented my career, now an internal IT auditor for the past 10 years. Three organizations later (NY Life, Citigroup, Prudential), it’s been a rewarding change, with much to learn over the years.

I still remember how unsure I was during those three months. It may not seem very traumatic if you haven’t gone through it yourself. My father lost his job in 1992 after his firm moved to upstate Cornell, NY, and apart from some Y2K consulting work, he never really worked again. It was rough for us as a family, and here I was 10 years since that initial incident (1992 -> 2002), and I was now the one out of work.

I know there are many people out there who libel and slander against people who are unemployed, and collect benefits from the government. Well, for a time, that was me too. I didn’t want unemployment, but I needed it temporarily needed it to survive. We’re not lazy. We’re in a (hopefully) momentary bad stretch, but trying to get back on our feet.

These people who feel the need to criticize other people who are down? They need to stop, and cut them some slack.

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3 Responses to 10 years ago I was unemployed

  1. Jim says:

    I have no problem supporting those that actually are trying to get back on their feet. Everyone goes through a hard time at some point in their career, and they need help getting back on their feet.

    However, there are people who blatantly abuse the system. I remember talking to my mom about some Indian aunty she talked to in NY or NJ who basically didn’t want to go back to work because she got 60% of her pay to stay home. She didn’t want to drive in the snow or go through the hassle of driving in traffic to go to work. That is f’ed up (don’t want to curse on your blog). I’m sure she’s not the only one out there with that mentality. And that’s what pisses me off.

    I think extending the unemployment benefits to 99 weeks was a big mistake. Again, if you are actively searching for work and making an actual effort to find work, then you should benefit from it. But that in itself is a problem. How do you actually verify that? There has to be a way.

    The bad ones ruin it for everyone.

  2. Joel says:

    Jim, now that you mention it, 99 weeks is an awfully long time to receive unemployment. I think it is reasonable for maybe up to 6 months with the current situation where the economy is slowly recovering. I think there are plenty of people who would love to take advantage of the situation, and get “free money” but I would hope they would want the personal satisfaction of working, making a career, etc.

    Unfortunately, that’s naive. They should limit it to up six months. I think that’s enough time to figure things out, and get a new job. I don’t understand the people who want a free ride. That’s just lazy.

  3. Joel says:

    You know, my post wasn’t even meant to be a discourse on public policy. I was studying for the CISSP (you know, 8th time is the charm) and realized that I bought this particular textbook in 2002 while I was out of work, trying to figure out my options.

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