Through no fault of your own

Published 3:39 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2009

For the first time in my life I find myself unemployed. It is not by choice. It is “through no fault of your own,” in the official language of the Department of Labor.

On Dec. 2, 2008, I joined the ranks of thousands of other hard-working people from many walks of life, also unemployed through no fault of their own. Endless terms of lay-offs are occurring in all fields, and I find I am in good company.

The downturn in the national economy has caused many of us to file for unemployment compensation.

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Although I was officially laid off by The Post-Searchlight due to “lack of work” early in December, I put off filing for unemployment for over a month.

Oh, I picked up the papers right away, and I took them home and completed them, as best I knew how; but then they sat on the table for several weeks before I finally gathered the courage to return them.

At first I told myself it was because I was busy with the holiday season, but finally I had to admit my hesitancy was because I was uncomfortable with the whole process, which is a totally new adventure for me.

You see, I, like many others, have been independent and hard-working and self-reliant my entire life. I have always been able to find a job. Actually, most of my jobs have found me. I have never really known what it was to have to look for a job. And any time I left a job, it was on my own terms, because I needed or wanted to move on.

Well, in these changing economic times, that is no longer an option.

I must also confess I am guilty of harboring the thought over the years that many people who collected unemployment were just laggards who didn’t really want to work, but would collect the benefits until they ran out before going back to work.

After considerable thought, I went back to the DOL, papers in hand and waited my turn for intake. My initial wait was reasonable, and the intake officer was courteous and helpful, although the procedure as described seemed to me delivered with a definite attitude of routine, which I’m sure it is for those who work there, and probably for many clients as well.

However, for me, it was anything BUT routine.

My questions were answered, and my fears somewhat allayed when I expressed my hesitancy and discomfort at filing. I was told that many persons feel that way. It was further explained that I should not feel any reticence or embarrassment as my employer has paid into the fund for this very purpose, and I was entitled to the weekly benefits and should claim them.

I was given a stack of papers, including the rules pertaining to job-seeking, and instructions on how to claim weekly benefits. This can be done by reporting in person to a Career Center, a computer linked to the Internet or a touch-tone telephone.

The automated phone system called “OLIVOR,” must be an acronym for something, but is a clever name for the male voice that is on the line.

It was explained that I should call Olivor on Sunday or Monday and answer three questions. 1. During the week were you able, available, actively seeking work? 2. Did you refuse work? 3. Did you work or earn any wages? If the answer to No. 3 is “yes,” then you must enter the amount. I learned I am permitted to earn up to $50 per week without losing benefits.

On my first attempt to call on Sunday morning, I repeatedly received a busy signal, not surprising, given the amount of persons unemployed. Thanks to speed redial, I was able to connect to the line and report in.

After keying in my Social Security number and creating a personal four-digit pin number, I proceeded to answer the three key questions by touching either 1 for yes or 9 for no. It was really pretty straight forward and convenient.

I am to keep a log of places where I look for work, and once a month will need to go in to the office to show my records.

That is where the rub comes in, so to speak, as there are very few employers who would offer the type of employment with which I am experienced, and they too are either facing layoffs, hiring freezes or both.

You may wonder just what the point of my writing this column is. It has long been my hobby, and even my livelihood, to write about my personal experiences, and the exercise is somewhat therapeutic, inasmuch as it helps me place things in perspective.

Perhaps others in similar circumstances will relate to my experiences and feelings. As unemployment figures reach unprecedented levels and transcend all walks of life, it matters not whether we are day laborers, managers or college-trained professionals, we all know someone who has been or may soon be laid off and have to file for unemployment compensation.

What we have to gain is a better understanding of ourselves and more compassion for the conditions of others.