In the long run

A reader suggested I take a look at Hamilton Nolan’s ongoing Gawker series of unemployment stories. They make for harrowing reading, and a lot of them are from attorneys. Here’s one from somebody still in free fall from a spot near the top of the profession:

Two years ago I was on top of the world – at least from exterior appearances. Barely past 30, my salary was approximately a quarter million dollars per year, I was living in a luxury high rise with a view of Central Park from my balcony, and it seemed I was on the fast track to a successful career. Now 18 months after losing my job at the end of 2010, I’ve learned a lot of valuable life lessons but find myself wondering, constantly every day, is there any hope left? The Manhattan apartment is long-gone and replaced with a room at my father’s house in the exurbs of Atlanta, a house I helped him buy five years ago. I’ve applied for over 750 jobs in the last year, but still I wait. This is my story.

We hear a lot of talk about the employment crisis these days, from both sides of our so-called political spectrum. No one has much in the way of solutions, and the options for the unemployed seem to be Republicans that tell me what I need is to have my unemployment cut off – then surely I’ll be motivated to find a job. Democrats at least don’t think starvation will improve my job hunt, but beyond affording me my luxurious life on unemployment, I hear scant dedication to anything that might actually improve the employment outlook. I remain a voracious consumer of news and from what I see and hear portrayed in the media, the unemployed in this country are generally older, often former factory workers. We hear much discussion of how to address these workers in a nation that may no longer offer employment they have experience in. I feel for these workers and don’t mean to diminish their situations – but I was supposed to be exempt from that. In fact, based on what the media says, I don’t exist. I attended an Ivy League college and a top 5 law school (at least according to US News’ rankings). My first real job, which started shortly after my 25th birthday, paid a salary of $125,000. That salary had doubled within 5 years. I was lucky enough to have the chance to go to some of the top schools in America, and it seemed I was enjoying the rewards of obtaining such a pedigree. Then it ended…

The question I find myself grappling with these days is “is this the best we can do?” I’ve spent months focusing on not being jealous or angry, and I’ve largely succeeded. I really am happy for my friends that are having children, and going on vacations, and otherwise moving forward and living their lives. But is this a country where one false move (in my case, working at the wrong law firm) can essentially end your chance at a productive life? I admit I had an arrogance prior to my layoff – I never imagined this could happen to me. I was no conservative, and I sympathized with and believed we could and should do more to help the unfortunate in this country – but I never believed I would be in that situation myself. I was told from childhood on that a good education was the path to a better life – and that if you were willing and able to work hard and had something to contribute, you’d have opportunities in this country. Where are those opportunities?

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