This post was initiated as a result of a recent one by Araminta commenting on the use (or misuse) by Tesco of a “back to work” program in Britain. It reflects only one person’s experience of the system employed here and I make no claim that such system is more effective than those used elsewhere, however it is different.
The Pogey, the Dole, or as my old dad used to say the Parish. “If you don’t watch out son you’ll be on the Parish” that’s how old he was, and back then that’s who supported you, if anyone did, the charity of the parish.
I was on the parish once, in the US, it was 1998, I was 54 and it was the middle of winter. The company I had been working for since 1984 declared bankruptcy, just like that, in February. The whole operation, about two hundred people, was closed down and a trustee brought in to liquidate the assets. There was no severance pay or golden, silver, tin or lead handshakes, no pensions or settlements just pay-to-date and goodbye. I went to the Department of Labor, Unemployment Division, it’s operated by the state here, not the big state (federal) but the little state, as in Delaware where I lived and worked.
Go in, take a number, sit down wait to be called. Julie (not her real name, I’m protecting the innocent) a nice lady of middling years, asked me all the usual questions “What did you do?” I told her “VP in charge of waste baskets” (again protecting the innocent). “How much did I earn?” I told her, her rouged lips contracted to a small puckered ooh! “Big problem” she said “you’re very unlikely to get a job at that salary.” She asked what I intended to do, so I told her “Nobody is going to hire me, I’m opinionated, used to giving orders not taking them, I’m belligerent, set in my archaic ways and worst of all I’m old. I plan to start my own business” “No chance” she said “I get all sorts in here saying that, you’ll have to look for work” “OK, I said, I’ll do that too, tell me the rules” “Well” she said “You fit the profile of someone likely to exhaust their benefits and we have a special program for people like you, each week you have to apply for five jobs and your check will not be mailed until we receive copies of your applications and confirmation from you that you did not work that week.” We agreed I would .pdf her five job applications each Tuesday morning and she would send me a check on Friday. $330 a week, that’s the maximum rate for Delaware, if I had lived in New Jersey just ten minutes across the bridge and worked for the same company in Delaware it would be $550 per week, go figure.
Benefits are paid for a maximum of 26 weeks from the state and if there is a Federal extension in place (there was then) another 13 from the Feds, after that “Bupkus”. To reapply one must have at least three calendar quarters of unemployment Insurance premiums paid (i.e. having worked for at least nine months prior)
Julie was right, I did exhaust my benefits. In those 39 weeks I sent out over three hundred application letters. All of them were for jobs that were relevant to my qualifications and experience and a couple were even jobs I would not have minded doing. I got two replies, I’ll tell you about them later.
As time went along it became something of a game. I would get the local Sunday paper and check a half dozen internet job sites, there were always dozens of jobs there that fit who I was and what I knew. I would fire off my five applications first thing Monday morning and copy Julie by email. From Tuesday through Saturday I focused on my own business. After about three months I got a few days consulting at a company in the Cariolinas so no unemployment check that week. Then a few more days from a German contact and so it went, a few days on and a few days off, so that by the end of 1998 I was almost out of benefits and almost ready to start paying myself a regular paycheck. I set up my payroll as of January 1, 1999 and have been paying myself ever since.
Stranger still, in the summer of 2000 together with my German partner I made an offer for the Intellectual Property Assets (read Patents) of the company that had thrust me into unemployment as result of it’s bankruptcy. The offer was accepted and so now we own the technology that the company developed over the fifteen years they employed me. It’s a nice little business, we have licensees in the US, Europe and Japan who, if watched carefully, pay their royalties almost on time and in amounts that bear some relationship to their sales. We are in the process of licensing a Chinese company to make some products in China and have been advised forcefully by our Chinese contact to “Get a big fee and don’t ask for a royalty, you will never collect”. It sounds good to me, at sixty seven I am not inclined to wait too long for a royalty stream to begin.
I’ve talked to Julie a few times since our professional relationship ended, she calls me if she has someone who she thinks I may be interested in hiring. I told her in about 2008 that I was getting tired of working and as I had been making unemployment premium contributions for ten years I was thinking of closing the company and going back on the Pogey for a while. “No chance” she told me “You’re a company owner and under Delaware law you cannot claim unemployment benefits” “But I’m charged the premium every pay period.” I responded “If the state is not providing me with insurance they are fraudulently converting my premium.” She laughed . “Talk to the Insurance Commissioner” was her only response. My US based partner fought this very decision to the highest state court during the next several years (and won) just to prove the inequity of the whole thing. He declined out of hand the offer of $330 per week unemployment benefits which was his only recompense, and just to score a point the state refused to make his success a precedent so as to discourage others from applying.
The two responses to my many applications? One from a British company wanting to expand into the US by licensing government developed technology, several interviews and profuse apologies when the job was offered to a resident of Swindon (I would not give much for his chances of doing quick business in rural Mississippi). The other was from the State of Delaware who’s primary claim to fame is an active and responsive court of Chancery and as a result being the seat of almost all of the incorporations in the US. Looking to expand their activities and develop new sources of revenue, many interviews much hand wringing and the job offered to a long term state employee with a promise to me of some consulting work in the future (yet to be forthcoming).
A few observations on the system as it is applied here, it is policed, if you do not look for work you do not get your benefits, it is time limited to six months plus any federal extension. It seems to work in encouraging those on the system to get out and find a job. It is a long way from perfect in that it requires participants to comply with the rules even if the rules are counterproductive to the individual’s plans.
A few very personal observations from the employer side.
I do not hire anyone who is unemployed, ever. There will always be applicants who are employed and looking for a better job or more congenial hours and given the choice I will always choose one of them.
I run a very small business. I do not run a charity or a training school. I am in the business of making money not rehabbing the unemployed. If larger companies wish to take a chance on someone with no experience of getting themselves to work every day and working at a job that may not be everything their heart desires, that is their choice and their risk.
New graduates are no exception, give me your work history, I’m not interested in what you did on your “Gap Year” or if your mummy still pays your car insurance. Did you work during your vacations? It’s not so important where, and it certainly does not have to be “relevant” just that you got up and went to work on those days when the novelty had completely worn off.
Apart from that I’m an equal opportunity employer.