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.