How Far Would You Go to Seek Employment?

Did anyone catch 60 Minutes this past weekend? They ran the following story called The 99ers:

This particular story focused on San Jose, California. While watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder why these people don’t leave the area. I’m not trying to be judgmental because I definitely would not want to go through what they are going through. But, at the same time, the question still lingered. Some of them have been taking unemployment for 99 weeks (over two years!). What would have happened to these people had the government not extended unemployment benefits?

Is the economy so bad across the nation that there aren’t other places people can go to find work? I don’t know…I’m asking. I’m sure if unemployment is concentrated in one area, it might be tough to sell a home. I’m sure people feel trapped. There’s nothing worse than a feeling of helplessness.


17 thoughts on “How Far Would You Go to Seek Employment?”

  1. I moved to a po-dunk state for a better position. My salary went up a little then, but considering the cost of living, and the raises/bonuses I’ve received over the last 8 years, I now make literally three times what I made previously. Moving was worth it from that standpoint.

    From the other standpoint, the social/familial/cultural standpoint, it’s been tough. The locals here are in no hurry for anything and are stuck 40 years behind the times. I jokingly say that bell bottom jeans are coming into style … for the FIRST time. The people are nice, but it just isn’t “home.” Given the opportunity, we would move back, but opportunities have been few and far between. The biggest downer is that my kids have grown up sans grandparents and holidays always involve a lot of travel. Of course, if I want to see a symphony, or go out to a really nice restaurant (a la Ruth’s Chris or Texas de Brazil), that means a 90 minute drive one way.

    Moving has had its positives and its negatives. I just wish I could pick up my job and move it back home.

  2. For many of these people, they take unemployment for a period of months with the belief that they’ll find some form of work in the near future. However, in the process, they exhaust ALL of their monetary assets. (You have to consider that the savings rates in this country haven’t been good, so many people/households weren’t prepared for a loss of income.) As a result, they simply don’t have money to move. They take advantage of their housing for as long as they can before being kicked out. Many of these people may not have money for gas to drive to a new location, let alone have a dime when they arrive at their new destination.

    I’ve seen this in my local area recently, so I’m guessing it’s like that in other areas, also. Bottom line: many people didn’t prepare for unemployment. They didn’t have savings to cover basic living expenses, let alone extra for “starting over.”

  3. Tough decisions indeed. My two children are just completing their college careers and entering the working world. I have lived in California all of my life – and so by default have they – and in the Bay Area since college. The area is beautiful with so much to do as long as you can handle the traffic! However, the cost of living – aka housing – is out of this world. Although I would prefer to have the kids close at hand to visit and keep up with their lives, I would not try to talk them out of moving to another state to get a start in their lives. There are many beautiful locations outside of California, more affordable, good places to raise a family. The reality is even with dual incomes, affording to live in some areas is challenging. And how much of your heart and soul do you want to commit each day just to pay the bills? Good luck to us all.

  4. One problem, too, is “how much” work can you get? I know for my sister and her husband, when her husband started working, they made “too much” to qualify for welfare benefits, but not enough to actually live on. So if you’re not actually qualified for anything higher-paying, it doesn’t “pay” to get a job.

    That’s, of course, speaking ONLY of a financial situation and doesn’t account for excess spending (junk food, cigarettes, XBox) or for the non-financial benefits of not being on welfare: self-respect, etc.

  5. I agree with Beth above – often people can’t afford to move after a lengthy unemployment, especially without a job offer in hand. And moving just because you heard there are more jobs in, say, Indianapolis would be unwise – what if there weren’t, and now you’ve spent more savings and left your support network, such as it was, behind?

  6. If you give 12 weeks of unemployment, people start looking seriously after two weeks of moping around.

    If you give 24 weeks of unemployment, people start getting serious after about 12 weeks.

    If you give 99 weeks of unemployment…

    well, you get the picture. Extending unemployment only extends the amount of time before someone seriously starts looking for employment.

    For those unemployed…are you putting at least 40-60 hours in each week in your serious job search?

    I thought not. I agree that it’s time to move if there is not employment in your region.

  7. What Brad says might well be considered to be
    mean words from someone who IS working. BUT, upon
    careful consideration, it’s just the truth. I’VE
    been pretty lucky with employment during this
    downturn, but I’m also the laziest person in the
    world, and I’d be inclined to accept the dole
    for as long as it was practical. The government is
    just not doing anyone any favor with extended
    unemployment benefits

  8. There are several financial and social barriers which discourage people from moving.

    First: moving is financially expensive. As other comments have pointed out, many of the current unemployed have mortgage debt greater than the worth of their homes meaning that moving would have an immediate and very large monetary cost. The act of moving itself can often be expensive as well, especially when moving to a new city. New living arrangement must be made ahead of time, imposing a substantial up front cost in terms of travel and lodging.

    Second: moving is socially expensive. By moving far away, most people are leaving their friends, family, old coworkers and schoolmates etc. These are often the most valuable leads in finding new employment in addition to being the most valued parts of people’s lives.

    Third: moving is financially risky. Moving without a job ahead of time is an enormous gamble, because if you burn through your savings in a new town where you don’t know anybody and you still don’t have a job you’re totally screwed.

    Fourth: finding a new job somewhere else is hard. There is no particular reason to expect to be able to find a new job in a new location anyways, since the economy is poor everywhere. In the few states where unemployment hasn’t ballooned the reason has typically been specialized industries (natural gas in the mountain west, for example) which probably won’t hire some guy who just moved to town and doesn’t know anything about the work. Finding a job in a different city before moving is particularly difficult because with the high unemployment rate employers generally do not have to recruit from outside the local market in order to find talent. My (admittedly anecdotal) impression is that most employers just trash resumes with out of state addresses at this point.

    I’m sure there are more barriers to labor mobility but that’s what I can think of off the top of my head.

  9. I thought a bit about Brad’s comments and finally decided to comment with regard to his assertion that 40-60 hours a week is required for a serious job search. The implication is that if someone is unemployed, that person is not searching diligently enough if he/she is not spending most of their waking moments in search of employment.

    Last year, I was unemployed. For about the first three weeks of unemployment, I spent about 50 hours each week setting things up. I updated my resume and reference list. I called all those in my network to notify them of my situation. I contacted numerous headhunters and supplied them my information. I posted my data on a multitude of web sites. I spent time searching for local area (<60 miles) companies in my line of work that I was unaware of and applied for positions that were similar to that which I previously held.

    After three weeks? I spent about an hour or so a day in pusuit of gainful employment by revisiting some of my network contacts, checking the status of my applications, and reviewing fresh position postings. It'a a little like fishing with several poles. Put them all out to start and then check each every so often to see if there is a hit.

    Even with a master's in electrical engineering, getting hired by a former boss who created a position for me, and taking a pay cut of 30%, I still was unemployed for nearly six months.

    In short, please don't assume that a person is not trying hard enough if they are not spending 40-60 hours each week in search of employment. And as for moving, please refer to Dan's comment.

  10. Dan,

    Thanks for your comments.


    I’m glad you found a job. Hopefully, you’ll be earning what you were earning in the past (and more) in the near future.

  11. I completely agree with Jadem – basically went through the same thing last year but to a lesser extent. I finished my PhD right before Christmas 2008 – had been looking for positions while writing my dissertation but nothing materialized before I was done. I wasn’t eligible for unemployment because the state told me I wasn’t technically “unemployed” after finishing a degree, even though I had been receiving a stipend.

    I too put in a lot of work initially to research positions, update my resume, etc etc (I was limited to the DC metro area because a) my husband works here and b) we couldn’t afford to sell our under-water condo – fortunately this still offered me a lot of options). But after the first couple weeks, it tapers off – you check the job boards and company websites to see if there’s anything new, follow up on the applications you have out (I was astounded by how little response I got from HR departments), revise a cover letter if there’s a new opening. An hour a day sounds about right.

    I was unemployed for just over 3 months, applied to about 60 positions, got three interviews (one wasn’t a good fit, one lied to me in the interview that the position was funded when it wasn’t, and the third I was offered). Fortunately I got a pay raise rather than a pay cut.

  12. I can see that it is tough for many out there as many businesses aren’t hiring. If people aren’t spending, business don’t have the demand to expand.

    One question that I would be interested in with the 99ers is how much volunteering they do? I can see how some benefits are set up to make working a disincentive. But, this shouldn’t stop people from giving back and finding new people for their network by hooking up with the local United Way or other organization. As some say, the first few months are busy trying to get into another organization quickly. But, after some time, how long does it take to scan the paper and fax in a few resumes?

    Plus, why do people who say it is cost inhibited to move? Isn’t it cost destructive not to as you don’t know when the next opening will come? What’s the cost of renting a U-haul and a storage locker and moving to a one bedroom apartment with the basic needs? Have a huge garage sale to get some extra cash and store the rest. It’s hard to do with family, but if you one have you and/or spouse, it can be done relatively cheaply. Once you start a new job, you can always go back for the rest. The extra cash from a job for 3 months should be enough. Plus, to semi-move to a city for a month at an extended stay hotel to inquire about leads may show a HR rep enough initiative to take a chance. You can there to get face-to-face time and check out many leads. If your home town is ice cold with no leads, what do you have to lose? Maybe you have a friend you can bunk with for a few weeks making the cost just food and gas.

    Having a network is more important in my mind than a good resume as a piece of paper barely peeks someone’s interest but having someone to help you can get you in the door.

  13. ‘Having a network is more important in my mind than a good resume’–that my friend is the crux of the book, What Color is Your Parachute? People have less success getting a job doing what we think we should be doing: mailing resumes, looking at ads in the paper, making cold-calls to companies, etc. The real success comes from networking as in asking EVERYONE you know and EVERYONE THEY KNOW; “I want to work at XYZ Company, do you know anyone who works there with whom I could speak and ask some questions?….” Then that can lead to a NAME to which to address your cover letter, etc.

    It comes down to knowing yourself: what you’re good at, what (transferable) skills you have, etc.

    And the point of volunteering at a not-for-profit is an excellent one. It can be a springboard to employment opportunities…

  14. Most Americans have been conditioned to a very high standard-of-living relative to the rest of the planet & human history — they will not move far from what they are used to… unless the U.S. economy gets much worse (which it will).

    Bad economic conditions will drive millions of Americans to other low cost/tax states. Americans haven’t seen anything yet regarding really distressful economic times.

    Remember that America is a nation of immigrants who reluctantly fled their troubled native countries to a very uncertain future here. My middle-class, great-grandparents left everything they knew in Europe…searching for a better life in America– and never went back. A tough transition with no guarantees of even their next meal.

    Americans themselves were always on the move since Colonial times… that’s how the country got settled. Those settlers were mostly driven by economic hardships (and oppressive governments) where they came from.

    People with Get-Up-and-Go made America great — they will do so again when the writing-on-the-wall becomes clear (soon).

  15. My wife fights traffic for nearly 2.5 hours a day to get to work and back. However, she is still working, has a job that pays her very well and treats her fairly.
    There is a trade off though. She is completely exhausted by the time she gets home. The wear and tear on the car is bad and bad weather days or traffic accident days are awful. It is a hard choice.

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