Monday, April 20, 2009

Filing for Unemployment

If you've never filed for unemployment, the thought alone could quicken your pulse. Last year I had visions in my head of long lines, cranky government employees, piles of paperwork, and an entirely bureaucratic, outdated system that I would have to fight tooth and nail to get benefits. Well, I am here write: that could not have been further from the truth.

Compared to getting a passport or drivers license, obtaining unemployment benefits is remarkably easy. Or, at least, that has been my experience in Virginia (last year) and DC (this year). Both have a simple online submission process that requires minimum information and effort on the part of the filer. Once your account is established, your only work (aside from the obvious) is filing a weekly claim. Here's where Virginia and DC vary in their forms, though. Both require you to apply for a minimum of 2 jobs per week, but only Virginia requires you to enter specific information on the jobs in the weekly claim. While the extra step is annoying, I did feel an odd sense of security having my stats on file with the state. This time, I'll have to remember to keep a written account of the jobs I apply for, in case DC wants it. But, in the meantime, filing online takes less than a minute in DC -- and I love that.

Furthermore, once your claim is approved, it can be direct deposited into your bank account. Easy, easy, easy! The flip side is that you don't get very much money. My weekly payment is about what I made in a day at my last job. But, every little bit helps.

Some people don't file for unemployment out of pride. They consider it a benefit for "other people". I think this recession is starting to change that perception though. I mean, look at me, I've got a bachelors and masters degree. My last title was chief operating officer. And, yet, I am on unemployment right now, like millions of others across the country. There's no shame in that. There's no shame in saying, I did my best and now I need help.

When I was younger, I used to think: couldn't these unemployed people find work somewhere, doing something useful? Retail, food service, entry level office work. And while it's true, it might be easier to find something if you look outside your field, it's equally true that taking a job you hate is the quickest trip back to unemployment. It's a vicious cycle. Better to take advantage of the resources available to you, empower your search, and find a job that excites, motivates, and pushes you to the next level. Having a regular, albeit small, unemployment check each week is one such resource.

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