Wednesday, January 25, 2012

1-24-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians – Starter Non-Job #22 (Being on the Dole or Unemployment, ‘70’s style)

Ugh. What a dire thing that was -- to be collecting unemployment in NYC in the late ‘70’s. First of all, as depressing as it is now, it was probably worse then because you had to show up every week in a local unemployment comp office and get on a long line with a whole bunch of other demoralized people.

Before computerization, everything was done by hand & sorted by the city-employed clerical minions. They gave you a little book with graph lines (I think it was green) that the date of each visit was written in and stamped by the worker you were waiting on line for,

The unemployment book sort of resembled a bank book, like a savings account or Christmas account thingie -- which is ironic, because, of course, it concerned money but there was really no way you could save it. The pittance you received was always about half of what you earned while working, and for people like me -- struggling students who were also writer-musicians -- it was tough.

Sometimes, the people who you talked to at the end of the line gave you attitude; very rarely were they kind or sympathetic. They were almost as tired and discouraged looking as us unemployed workers!

Then again, being unemployed for me proved that I’m able to be more resourceful and forceful when it comes to getting myself and my work out there. I probably looked for more “under the table” and entrepreneurial jobs at the time. . . including waitressing at Spring Street (tips weren’t declarable income then), and possibly even started signing up for Temp work at Kelly Girls or something.

But really, that unemployment line on the given day you had to be there every week (every Tuesday for me?) was a real drag. There was, of course, no way you could avoid that if you wanted to get a check, and another thing: you had to really prove you’d gone out every week and tried at least three (?) places for a new job, too.

Compared to how relatively simple and automated today’s unemployment process goes (I collected from March 2009 until March 2011 in Connecticut, at times having partial employment and declaring it, of course), the seventies NYC process was tortuous.

But no matter where or when, collecting unemployment is always a dispiriting drag that may be helpful in one way, but is also a double-edged sword. Best to use it, not abuse it, and be thankful it’s there for times of emergencies. . .

But again, as my sagely dad would say, “As you go along in life, my friend, and try to reach your goal/ Keep your eye upon the donut, and not upon the hole.”

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