What is Unemployment?
Unemployment is officially defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as the percentage of the population consisting of persons who do not have a job, who have been actively seeking work for the most recent four-week period, and are able and available to work.
Persons who are not working nor looking for outside work, such as students who are not seeking or available for work, stay-at-home parents (Yes! We agree! Stay-at-home parenting IS a job, but you usually get paid in kisses and construction paper cards, and the Government has refused The Band's requests to have these recognized as legal tender. Sorry), permanently disabled persons, or retirees, are considered as neither employed nor unemployed, and are not counted in unemployment statistics.
Additionally, prisoners, those under 16 years old, those confined to institutions such as nursing homes, and Active Duty military service members are not considered as part of the general labor force.
Who is Unemployed?
According to the BLS, 8.9% of the civilian, non-institutional labor force was unemployed as of year end 2011. While 7.9% of White Americans were unemployed, African-Americans experienced a significantly higher rate of unemployment at 15.8% for the same period. Hispanic and Latino Americans also had higher than average unemployment at a rate of 11.5%. Furthermore, as of December 2011, around 5 million Americans had been unemployed for a year or more.
However, there are signs of economic recovery, and in a newly competitive job market, those who are unemployed or underemployed can take steps to help themselves get back to work, as well as ensuring that they and their families are able to maintain their basic needs during the period of unemployment.
If You Are Unemployed:
If your company provides notice of a layoff, get all the information you can from your employer prior to your last day. Most larger companies provide detailed packages including notice of separation date, how to continue your insurance coverage under COBRA, any severance or other compensation you will be paid upon your separation, and how to roll over or cash in your retirement plan funds.
Also ensure that you have copies of all of your most recent pay stubs, as you will need these to prove income and employment for many assistance programs. A good rule of thumb is to have at least three months' worth of pay statements on hand. If you are laid off without notice, still make sure you have as much documentation of your employment as possible.
Take advantage of any resume writing or job skills workshops your former employer may be offering as part of your separation package.
Review and update your resume right away. If you are unfamiliar with resume writing, or it has been ten years or more since you actually had to even think about a resume, you may want to consider a resume writing service to help you make your document as professional and polished as it can be.
Whether you tackle your resume yourself or use a service, you'll want to keep the following in mind:
- Proofread everything carefully. Then have someone else check it. A single typo or misuse of a word form (such as the improper use of there, they're, or their ) can put your resume directly into the "reject" pile, regardless of your skills and experience.
- Use bullet points and concise sentences. Most employers simply don't have time to read 5 pages of life history from an individual applicant; a good rule of thumb is to keep your resume to 1 to 2 pages.
- Give specific examples of your achievements, rather than merely listing duties or using vague statements. "Exceeded department productivity standards by at least 20% over six consecutive quarters" stands out to potential employers far better than "Consistent high performer".
- Avoid trendy buzzwords, technical jargon, slang, and unfamiliar acronyms. For example, "I leveraged the human synergies to get granular on the issues and maximize engagement" means nothing. "I managed a team of 12 employees and brought productivity above standard within 3 months" is clear and meaningful.
- Don't use fancy fonts, overly complex formatting, ornate borders or bullets, pictures, different colors, or hyperlinks in your resume. Choose an easy to read font like Arial or Times, 11 to 12 point size, in black type only.
- If you're printing a hard copy, use neutral paper of the best quality you can afford. Life is not like "Legally Blonde". You are not going to land your dream job if you use pink sparkly stationery for your resume.
- If you're e-mailing or uploading your resume, send a test to yourself to make sure the formatting does not turn into a hot mess for the recipient.
- Never, never lie about or exaggerate your experience or skills. If your last job was as a data entry operator, for instance, don't call yourself the "Data Processing Technical Lead." Companies regularly run background checks, ask for professional references, and verify employment. Even if the last company you worked for has gone the way of the dinosaurs, lying on your resume is almost guaranteed to come back and haunt you.
- Make sure your contact information is correct and complete. Also, if your regular e-mail address is something like "firstname.lastname@example.org", you might want to sign up for another e-mail account specifically for job search purposes, and choose a more professional handle.
Post your resume on reputable job search sites and with local temporary agencies. Many employers post for "temp to permanent" jobs with temp agencies, giving them a built-in probationary period for new hires. Set up search alerts on employment sites so that you get an e-mail when jobs that match your qualifications are posted.
Even if you feel discouraged because you don't hear back from anyone at first, keep applying for positions you are qualified for. Sometimes it can be a week or more before employers finish collecting resumes and begin calling candidates for interviews.
Apply for Unemployment Compensation as soon as you are eligible. It can take several weeks to get approved and start your benefit payments. Don't wait until you're completely desperate and your lights are about to get turned off. You can find state by state information on Unemployment Compensation here.
Your local Department of Labor or Workforce Services (usually the same agency who administers your unemployment benefits) can also be a valuable tool in your job search. They will generally have their own job listings and will attempt to match you with appropriate employment.
Once you land an interview, be prompt and professionally dressed. That means a suit or similar business attire. Yes, even if you're applying for a low-level position. Bring a copy of your resume and a copy of the cover letter you sent to the company, if applicable. Take the time prior to your interview to do a little research on the company and its industry. Never trash talk former employers or ask inappropriate questions like, "So, how soon can I take two weeks off after I start?"
If you are not able to receive healthcare benefits through COBRA at your former employer, or if you are unable to afford COBRA coverage, apply for Medicaid for yourself and your family. Again, do this right away. The last thing you want while you're unemployed is to have something catastrophic happen, and then you have to figure out how to pay that hefty ER bill with no insurance. Apply EVEN IF you think you will NOT be eligible. In many cases, even if the healthy adults in the house are turned down, children, disabled persons, and pregnant women will be covered.
Depending on your family size and the amount of Unemployment you're receiving, you may also qualify for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also called welfare), SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called food stamps), housing assistance, childcare assistance, or other programs. Do not let misguided pride prevent you from applying for these types of help. Your goal here is to keep yourself and your family secure and stable while you seek work. If you're turned down because of your Unemployment Compensation, re-apply once your UC benefits run out, if needed.
Keep yourself busy. In addition to your job search, consider doing some volunteer work or other community activities. It gets you away from the house, keeps your mind active, and might even give you some networking contacts.
Additional Unemployment Resources:
Career OneStop - A national job search database and information on training, education and worker assistance .
America's Service Locator - (affiliated with Career OneStop) Provides information on Unemployment Compensation, state services, job skills training.
Benefits.gov - A one-stop guide to applying for a wide variety of government assistance programs.
Medicaid.gov - Information on how to apply for Medicaid and medical assistance.