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Monday, March 16, 2009

Ten Things To Do If You're Unemployed

Meters swum today: 1300
Playing in the background: The "Spa" Channel on DirecTV

As I may have mentioned, I'm a regular whiz at this being laid off thing. This is like the fourth time, and the second time in three years. So here's my generic advice to people being laid off (I think in Europe they call this being "made redundant") anywhere and everywhere. Pay attention, kids. You may need to know this.

The Practical:

1. Apply for unemployment insurance benefits right away. Don't wait; the day you're laid off is the best time. Even if you think you may not be eligible, apply for it anyway; you may be surprised and any amount of income helps. In most states, you get unemployment benefits unless you've been terminated for gross misconduct, and while I can't define "gross misconduct" (not being an attorney and all that), you probably haven't done it. Some states even let you get unemployment if you quit for certain reasons, such as having your health benefits cut or your hours reduced. Many states also offer retraining, such as sending you back to school to train for a new skill. Ask your friendly unemployment agent about this.

2. Don't cash out your 401k, especially now. The market's near a historic low and you won't get much for your trouble. Besides jeopardizing your future, they take a whopping 20% off for taxes. Your best bet is to either leave it where it is, or roll it over into an IRA or new retirement account when you get the new dream job that you'll be finding soon.

3. Keep your health insurance if you had it. One car accident, throat infection or food poisoning incident could wipe out your savings or worse. Ask about that COBRA and feed it every month. What with the new stimulus plan paying part of the cost, there's no reason not to hang on to those benefits.

4. If you're paying on a student loan, ask for a forbearance or temporary suspension of payments. Even if your loan payments aren't that large, having one bill off your mind can help a lot. Remember that interest accrues even when you're not making payments, though, so start making them again as soon as you can.

5. If you need help, get it now. If you had issues with drugs or alcohol that were causing you to not work at your best, go to AA or NA or some other A right away. If you need inpatient treatment, get in there. Even if you think you're just run of the mill depressed because you lost your job, ask your doc to send you to a therapist if you can't seem to shake it. You're going to be home a lot more and that's a great place for, say, a little alcohol problem to grow up into a great big alcohol problem. Don't go there. It's the last thing you need right now.

The Not So Practical Things That You Should Still Do Anyway:

1. Get up. Yeah, you can sleep till noon, it's not like you have to be anywhere, but get up anyway. Sleeping till noon leads to lounging around in your jammies watching "The Dog Whisperer" marathon on NatGeo instead of looking for work. Besides, your spouse, kids, cats and other critters with whom you live will find it reassuring if you stick to your regular routine.

2. Work out. Don't have anything to do when you get up? Go for a run or hit the gym. The least-crowded time to be at the gym is between 8 and 10 in the morning, or so the nice folks at Bally's tell me. Exercise reduces stress and makes you feel better in a general sense. Even a short walk is better than nothing.

3. Hang out with people. This is the time to go to networking events, take continuing-ed classes you've been thinking about, have lunch with friends and do volunteer work. Tell everybody you meet that you've been laid off and what kind of work you do. Keep a few copies of your resume handy. Most people get jobs through people they know, not by answering ads (though you should do that, too.) But more important than that, not having a job can make you feel disconnected and isolated. Don't let it. You're still part of the world - go out there and be in it.

4. Clean your house. I mean this in the literal sense - you have more time, why not vaccuum off those heat registers and knock out those cobwebs in the far corners? Take on more than your share of the domestic chores for a while. You'll feel better and having a tidy house will reassure the kids, critters and spouses.

I also mean it in the metaphorical sense of course. If there's some bad work habit you have (like, say, being 10 minutes late a lot or taking long coffee breaks) that might have helped to put you on the layoff list, now is the time to nip it in the bud.

5. Don't indulge in wild fantasies about having revenge, messing things up for your former company, or causing trouble for their clients. Even if you'd never actually do this in a million years, you're still letting ideas into your brain that have no place there. To a large degree we are what we think. Don't think about hurting others. Think about how you're going to get a new position that's much better than the old one and, if you must, how your former co-workers will be jealous and admire you because you're so magnanimous about the whole thing. In short, think smug, not Smaug. (Sorry. Obligatory Tolkien reference there.)

Okay, I gotta get back to sending out resumes. Cheers!


Joan said...

Re #3: The economic stimulus dough may or may not be available to help, depending on if you live in one of those states whose governor isn't gonna let nobody in no White House dictate how (s)he's gonna run his/her state, no sirree bob! Which, alas, we do. Thanks a bunch, Gov. Perry. I'll see what I can do come election time to make sure you're out of work, too. I'm just sayin'.

Jen said...

Good news, sort of: indicates that the COBRA subsidy is federal, not dependent on state funds:

COBRA Insurance subsidies

As part of this stimulus bill, the government will subsidize 65% of the COBRA premiums for workers who were laid off between Sept. 1, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2009.

Who is eligible for the COBRA subsidy? The subsidy is limited to tax payers whose income is less than $125,000 for individuals or $250,000 for couples, and is good for up to 9 months of coverage. The bill will also extend the window of opportunity to sign up for COBRA coverage by 60 days for workers who were laid off between Sept. 1, 2008, and the day the stimulus law goes into effect.

How do you receive the COBRA subsidy? Employers pay for the subsidy out of their operating expenses, then file for reimbursement from the government. You will need to contact your former HR department for more information. Be patient with them if they do not have all the information readily handy - this is new for them too!


Additional benefits. The bill also gives states additional funding to increase the level of Medicaid availability for workers who cannot afford health care or who cannot sign up for COBRA Coverage because their former employer did not offer a health care plan.

So Perry's rejection of the stimulus money will keep people who didn't have health insurance in the first place from getting any. Nice. Kinky, where are you?