Getting Laid-off (again)

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These are layoff notices. Receiving two of these for a two-income family is a bad day. A really bad day. Today, we have two incomes. On July 1, we will have 0 incomes and no benefits. Over the past year, two of the key phrases heard have been “more jobs” and “drain the swamp.” Well. This is what that policy looks like folks. In Alaska, that has translated into firing many thousands of people and eliminating the option for even collecting unemployment insurance. The real bottom dwellers in our political system are the politicians who only act in the interest of people who give them money. In all other countries of the world, this would be considered bribery or graft. In our country we all pretend it’s ‘free speech’ and then try to go about our business as if it’s not going on at all. As the state moves to lay off some 20,000 people, the politicians will continue to be paid, and no-doubt, be receiving money from their well-heeled benefactors to keep them going.

To digress from the political rant a bit, and make this into something more positive, I posted something like this almost exactly two years ago. In response to the layoff threat two years ago, I went and got a new job. A job that would free me from the threat, a job that would offer me opportunities for advancement, and an opportunity that might make me more marketable in the broader economy.

That new job was generally most of the things I hoped it would be though to be honest, it was no less subject to layoffs than where I’d left. While there, I realized that there is no longer such a thing as a ‘stable job’. The best you can hope for is a marketable skill set and a local economy good enough to shop that around. That said, the job I got turned out to be what I describe as a hostile environment. Based on things I learned at ADF&G, I tried to be inclusive. Things go better when you involve your team and other folks who’s support you will need to proceed. I attempted this and for the first year or so received mostly responses of “well, it’s complicated, good luck”, and (quite literally), “I hope your project fails.” That last one stung the most, even though I tried to roll past it with good nature.

That hostile environment is one of the reasons I left. You can either be an agent of change or shrug and let them carry on. When my old job at ADF&G opened up and the possibility to return came to me, I was in a meeting being told about all of the things I wasn’t doing right at the new place. To be clear, the purpose of this meeting was to explain that I didn’t have the resources and might not make the deadlines set in spite of every attempt to get there. With this option in hand, I spent a few nights thinking very, very hard about what it meant. And yes, it did mean possible layoffs, but that’s going to be true across the board with the Trump administration gutting government – no job is safe. I concluded that, for the benefit of my family life, I needed to leave the job even with layoffs a distinct possibility. So. I left. There were other options, some lucrative, some very risky, but they were there, once I really started putting myself out there.

What that short-lived foray out of ADFG did give me, however, was a sense of optimism and life satisfaction with my old position that I desperately needed. Just six months back and I am a genuinely happier person with a seriously adjusted attitude for optimism. Even though both myself and my wife are going, as likely as not, to be out of work and out of health benefits without even the prospect to collect unemployment, I feel more optimistic about what comes after. There are no plans for me to bail from where I am, and I’m not even looking. Not because I’m not worried, but because I really like my job and want to hang on to it and because even if I’m asked not to come back in the end, I know there are options out there. If this extends into a month or longer and we default on our mortgage or wrack up tens of thousands of dollars in surprise medical bills or perhaps just lose a car or two for failing to make the bills, I know I can find ways to start digging us out. We probably won’t be living in a cardboard box.

The truth of the matter is that, I genuinely believe that the politicians engineering this shutdown really do want to inflict damage on state employees and, indeed, the state economy as a whole. If we’re in a shambles and desperate for work, we will sacrifice freedom, income, health, education, property, and environment to feed our family. They know this. So too do the politicians in Washington. If you make us hungry, we will beg. That said, I’m also confident that we’ll pull through this mess. Perhaps poorer, perhaps without the land we’ve worked so damn hard to get and keep, or even some of the nice things we’ve gown accustomed to, like the ability to afford reliable transportation and the certainty of our next meal. What I do know – what I believe – is in spite of the concerted political attack on families by our politicians, we’ll figure it out, even if we have to move to Canada.

I might get a lot more time to write soon – sort of.

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I had written two of these posts, one was good, and the other, well it’s this post. I want to start out by bringing your attention the the following word:

Breadwinner.

It’s a fun word, and it’s so imbued with sexism, it’s almost not worth using. All that said, its something I identify with. Why? Because I’ve spent my entire adult life earning the primary income for my family. Even holding down two jobs at one point to make it happen. I’m apparently about to lose that title. Not because my wife got a kick ass job that pays 50% more than mine, although that would be awesome, no, it’s because today my layoff notice went into the mail. I’ll be receiving it later this week. I don’t need to see it, because I know it’s coming, sort of like a letter bomb that kills slowly, starting with the soul. It’s the first time in my life I’ve been staring down the barrel of involuntary separation from a job. I’m a good worker – received awards, have real accomplishments to point at, and even manage to help my organization become more competitive, in short, I’ve done all of the right things, but I’m still looking at losing my job.

The last day of work is July 1. In theory, it’ll be a temporary shutdown* and I’ll get my job back. That’s all far from certain though. In fact, as the impacts of this shutdown start to come into focus, it’s looking increasingly like I will be among those not asked to return. Basically, I have a month in which I need to begin making plans. Do I just throw in the towel on this job and start seriously looking for another, or would it be better to hang-tight and assume cooler heads will prevail? Assuming the cooler heads will prevail I should be cheering the extra time off and pretend to be a full-time professional writer until I’m allowed to go back to work. Really though, I want to cry because we just finally got our finances in order and we won’t last a month without my paycheck. I can draw a bit of unemployment, but in order to qualify I’ve got to be actively looking for work, and in any case it won’t do much to cover the bills. What all this means is that yes, I will not be working, but I will be even less able to focus on writing because I’ll be working on getting a new job that I don’t really want. Me and some 10,000 other people will be fighting for the same couple hundred jobs that might be available elsewhere.

If the layoff is extended (or permanent), in all likelihood I won’t manage to find a new job that pays more than half of what I make now – Not that I make lot mind, it’s just that I’ll have to start over. Anytime you do that, you’re going to take a few steps back. Practically speaking though, I’ll have to take a LOT of steps back. Turns out I’m too specialized in a field that has 0 application anywhere else – I have dipped my toes into a few applicant pools only to find that my skill-set isn’t a good match for what the hiring organization is looking for.

It may be true that I have this fantasy of becoming a professional writer (by all accounts this is a long-shot, even with a shit-load of hard work), alternatively, I think it would be cool to operate a distillery (I’d like to make whiskey**). At this point an optimist would be telling me to go for it. Shoot for my dreams. I, however, am a realist***, and realistically, I need to make sure my family has food to eat, a place to sleep, and clothes to wear.

I think what all this means is that this comfortable life that we’ve built that affords me a few hours here and there to frantically chase a fairy-tale will go away. On July 2, I won’t be waking up at 9 to pour a cup of coffee and sit at my laptop to be brilliant. I’ll pour the coffee, which may or may not be mostly bourbon, then fire up my laptop to file unemployment, hone my resume, and continue the soul-crushing search for a job. I’ll also be seriously considering alternatives, some of which don’t involve remaining on our little swamp, with our chickens, ducks, geese, and children. Maybe I’ll have some luck and start a successful distillery, maybe I’ll finish a book or two and find success as a writer, or perhaps become a writer or for a game development company, then again, it’s just as likely that I’ll pull up stakes and take on a completely new adventure.

Life is full of uncertainties, setbacks, and heartbreak. For now though, I’m certain I’m going to see about a bourbon, after that, I don’t know, we’ll see.


 

* There’s even a chance things will turn around and I won’t leave at all
** That’s a whole other rant. Do you have any idea how illegal it is to make your own whiskey at home? I’ll give you a hint: If you’re thinking about making whiskey, you might be better off selling crack instead. The laws are more lenient.
*** My wife calls me a pessimist.