Monday, February 09, 2009

How To Deal With Unemployed People

Jewboy has a fantastic post about unemployment and the assumptions people make about those who have graduated law school. First, let me excerpt a bit:
First example of people being out of touch with reality: "Oh, is your wife going to stop working now that you finished law school?" Well, number one, I don't have a full time job. Number two, do you know what kind of costs a frum family faces? I have bills to pay that I don't even want to talk about, and I haven't even hit the big tuitions yet. G-d help me when that happens. So no, even when I get a full time job, my wife will not be retiring from the workplace. I'd give anything if she could, but that is simply not a reality, not if my family wants to be self sufficient.

Secondly, it's rather annoying when I tell people I'm applying for a certain job, and they respond by saying things like, "Oh, but doesn't pay very well." People seem to assume that because you went to law school you can automatically make a lot of money. Yes, some lawyers can make a good living right out of school. But especially in the worst economy since the Depression, several of my colleagues and I are struggling just to find hourly pay that pays more than a grocery clerk.
While there are a couple of caveats to what he's pointed out, all in all he's right on point. There is a very common, unrealistic idea of what different jobs make, what things cost, and how much people need to live within the Orthodox community. (Easy survey plug!) Far too often, the assumptions people make include but are not limited to:
  • People are always able to pay their bills... and often, someone else helps pay those bills.
  • Even if a family pays their own bills, if they couldn't for some reason, someone else will help them do so.
  • Certain jobs are immune from economic downturns.
  • That a person is better off taking a lower-paying job than remaining unemployed.
  • That a person is better off remaining unemployed than taking a lower-paying job.
There seems to be an all too often lack of sensitivity in the Orthodox community to any number of people: Singles; childless couples; people who are depressed; people who are sick; poor people; etc. etc. Add unemployed people to the list. I am certainly not saying that we should all go walking around on eggshells around everyone to avoid being insensitive - in fact, please don't, it's far more annoying. Just use your brain. Much like all the other examples, being unemployed is not a badge of shame to the person, and they'd rather not be treated as such.

Certainly, everyone is different in their approach. I'm of the more "open" type; I'll openly discuss certain aspects of our situation with friends and family, if not others. Many people are less open, and that's obviously understandable. Perhaps one of the reasons I've actually not faced most of what I described above, and have not heard many insensitive comments, is because I've given people a better understanding of our situation; this does not mean that others should do the same, but it does mean that if you are going to comment on someone's unemployment or job search, you should know whether or not what you're about to say makes any sense. As an easy example, before you say something like "is your wife going to quit her job now that you've finished law school", think if that makes sense. Perhaps ask if she is going to be able to stop working once the lawyer finds a job. Before you comment on a job not paying so well, perhaps it's worthwhile to ask if the person has the luxury of waiting it out for a better job - not to mention gauging what they think of the job in the first place.

I will be quick to admit that I've probably messed up the above on occasion. We all make assumptions, and sometimes those assumptions are wrong. Nevertheless, this is something I need to improve upon, and something to think about.


  1. "is your wife going to quit her job now that you've finished law school"

    I find that a rather bad question, no matter how tactfully it's worded. It's worthwhile to realize that not everyone works because they are hard-pressed for money. People often work even if they don't necessarily need to because it gives them a sense of accomplishment, something to do every day, makes them feel like they are contributing to society, they enjoy what they do, etc. etc. etc.

    Money is important but it is not the only reason people do things. The world does not revolve around making money. Rather, you make money so you can live, not so you can sit around being rich and doing nothing (though I suppose that's a bit off the subject). Or, in this case, people don't work only so they can pay the bills. Paying bills is not the end goal of life. It's just something you've got to do. But once you can pay them, you might still wish to continue working for many other reasons.

  2. There seems to be an all too often lack of sensitivity in the Orthodox community to any number of people..

    Is there some community out there where people are more sensitive?

    I think the problem is hypersensitivity of those who are in difficult straights due to the way they believe others should be behaving. Instead of saying things like “Why did he say that to me?” a good exercise would be to think “I wonder why he said that to me?” Almost everyone has their own difficulties but we have a hard time focusing outside our own little box. We are not absolved from being “don es kol….” Because our life got tough.

    Picture this. The guy who said, “Is your wife going to stop working …” maybe the guy who asked it is pained by the fact that he’s manning a cash register because he couldn’t go to school at all for any reason (and there are so many and some may be so painful) so you see EVERYONE has their own bushel to deal with and it’s somewhat sickening to constantly read this refrain about how insensitive everyone ELSE is to our hardships, it’s not true!

    Why did the guy ask if his wife would stop working doesn’t he have to be sensitive as well? Yes, but the guy only asked because he felt pained by the fact that the law school grad was rubbing in the fact that he’s graduated from law school.

  3. I've posted similar posts on my blog in relations to unemployment.

    I have 'recently' as of November 1st...I guess not so recently become unemployed. I am open to this fact for a number of reasons. Primarily because we live in a community and as a whole the community tries to help. If someone hears there is an opening for a job that they know I am qualified for they might let me know once they know I'm looking.

    Yet, on the other hand you cannot believe the amount of people that ask: "Do you really need to work?". Or things like "are you looking for a job, or are you done with that?".

    Mainly I get these comments in my opinion because I am a woman. It seems that the orthodox society feels that women work only for fun, or until they have children. So, since I am married and no children yet (we can discuss that stigma at a later time if you'd like) then I must be just killing time till I have a baby.

    I am not suggesting that all women like to work. Nor am I demeaning stay at home mom's. In fact if you can afford to stay at home with your children that is optimal and incredible for you, because let's face it nobody is going to raise your children as well as you can.
    Yet, while I hold only the highest opinion for other people and other situations I find that my opinion and my situation get no respect at all.

    I work because I like it. I work because while being home is fun for the first three days its terribly depressing to not have a place to go to in the mornings where people are waiting for you. Although I would like to say that I work only because I want to, that would be a very false assumption. I work because my income is needed in my family.

    Yet, when I say that my income is needed in my family then people actually question me. I have people asking:"what you can't survive only on your husbands income. What kind of expenses do you guys have, you have no children." And on and on and on.

    So, Good posting and yes. Not only does your friend face people of all sorts...others do to.

  4. CJG: people actually ask you why what your husband makes is not enough for you? I guess, you should carry your monthly budget around, and when people ask you that question, you should tell them: "I can show you the budget, but only if you'll pick up the deficit"

  5. Erachet - Well put. It's why I liked the Q in the wording I said; it lets the response be "Well, we might be able to, but the truth is she enjoys her work and wishes to remain working."

    Jerk - Firstly, I do think there are communities where people are more sensitive. And I agree that there is a hypersensitivity in reverse, and that the judgment should not always be "wow, what a dumb comment". (See my comment on the post linked to for example.)

    That said, I think that people are often very insensitive by not thinking about what they are saying or implying and in the assumptions they make.

    ConcernedJewGirl - Nov. 1st... yeah, I was laid off in July. It doesn't seem that long ago, but I think now it's been a while...

    Good point on the community. Certainly countless people have offered help whether with contacts or advice, and in that regard the community is fantastic.

    I'm sure that many of those comments are because you're female; and amen on those who stay at home.

    Beautifully said comment. Thank you - and I hope that you find something you'd like soon.

    COJ - Heh. Good idea.

  6. Yes, you are hypersentive. So much so that you don't realize how crazy it is.

    ConcernedJewGirl. I honestly can't imagine how frustrating and hard it is to be out a job but from the way Ezzie posted you are very insensitive for comparing yourself to Ezzie. See, you might not be in as bad straights in fact you MAY not have to go into debt b/c of your unemployment. Ezzie's got two kids who knows how much hardship this is costing him. How could you be so insensitive???

  7. Jerk - ??

    Firstly, I'll reiterate from the post: I am certainly not saying that we should all go walking around on eggshells around everyone to avoid being insensitive - in fact, please don't, it's far more annoying. Just use your brain.

    Second, huh? While you're obviously trying to be sarcastic, what is your point? Clearly CJG didn't "compare" herself to me, and in no way implies doing so. (Unless you count writing "similar posts", though I somehow don't think that's an isue.)

    What is the problem with pointing out that people should use their heads a little bit?

  8. People's verbal responses to a lot of situations (their own and others') are often to a formula that was not really thought out. It would help if we thought first about how our words would be taken by the other person.

  9. Sadly, I find that since my husband was laid off in December, so many have joined our ranks of unemployment. In all our years of being gainfully employed we have never heard of so many friends being in the situation at the same time--one or two people here and there, and those people usually found jobs within a couple of months. And we have plenty of friends working who are very nervous about being laid off as well.

    So i guess people will learn fast what to say and not to say. they'll be getting lots of experience.

    this to shall pass...

  10. Baila - Sad but true, and amen...

  11. Oh you should just hear some of the inane questions and comments I've been getting on this subject.

    My favorite so far:

    "Fordham is a really good school... the only problem with that is that no one can get a job afterwards" (from someone NOT within the legal profession or anywhere near it).