Sunday, 25 November 2007
Involuntary Unemployment: A Terrible Experience
For those people who have never experienced the devastating status of involuntary unemployment, it might be very hard to imagine what life is often like for the many individuals who are struggling to find a job. There are several articles and studies about how this type of unemployment, especially when it becomes chronic, can harm a person physically and psychologically.
I have never been involuntarily unemployed for long periods of time. Yet, whenever I tasted such unemployment, it was surely not associated with pleasant memories. My first experience of this phenomenon goes back to 2001, shortly after graduating from university. At that time, I strongly believed that an Honours degree in Psychology was going to open several doors for me. Within a month or so, I thought to myself, I was going to find a great job. Totally disconnected from the reality of the local job market, I had no idea whatsoever about the real demand for psychology graduates in Malta. I scanned the newspapers and started sending out copies of my CV. For the sake of clarity, when I sent my CVs, they were not for jobs related to my studies; I had not found a single job that requested the skills I had. I nevertheless wanted to start doing something so that I could earn enough money to live comfortably without constantly feeling like a beggar for every item I needed.
Even though I registered with the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) to help me in my quest for a job, I remeber that some of the letters I received from them were for jobs that clearly demanded a higher level of education. Indeed, I had received a letter for a post that required a Master's degree in Management or Economics; I had none of those assets!
The first interviews were not successful. I was considered as over-qualified or as lacking enough experience to do a good job. When it comes to the experience issue, I totally agree with the question put forth by a Washington, DC job-junter: "How can I have experience in this field if nobody gives me the chance to gain the experience?". The latter has a very interesting blog which details her attempts to find a job in a country that is supposed to be overflowing with work opportunities: http://searchingforajobinwashingtondc.blogspot.com/
I eventually found a job as a Support Officer in an organisation that formed part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although the job was very interesting and offered a relatively decent salary, the fact that I had a university degree was not even taken into account. This was said to me extremely clearly during one of the interviews. Looking on the bright side, the job allowed me to escape the misery of the unemployed life.
I tasted involuntary unemployment again shortly after my return from El Salvador in June 2005. I returned to Malta with hardly any money since I had spent most of the dollars earned in El Salvador to purchase my flight ticket. Once again, I registered with the ETC. Given that I had worked as a language teacher in Spain, I was informed about some teaching vacancies at the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS). I sent my CV, but they never even bothered to contact me for an interview! After some other rejections, the only company that accepted me was an insurance one.
During the short periods of time that I spent unemployed, many thoughts and doubts crossed my mind. Would I ever find a job? Would I ever be able to develop a career? Should I have studied something more marketable instead of Psychology and Philosophy? I am quite sure that the same questions are asked daily by the millions of job seekers all over the world.
With so many companies currently winding up or restructuring and, consequently, throwing several people out, involuntary unemployment is still a terrible experience that few governments are really trying to eradicate completely. Sadly, I have come across some people who - having never experienced such unemployment - said that if someone loses a job, one could either look for another job or improve one's skills to find employment within another company. I find such statements to be absolutely ridiculous, showing virtually no understanding of the socio-economic circumstances of countless individuals. Perhaps an example would help to clarify how hard it can be for many unemployed people to look for another job or to acquire new skills.
Let us imagine a man called James who is in his early 30s, married to a woman who is a full-time housewife, and who has a 2-year-old child. James only has a few O-level passes and has always worked as a warehouse keeper for a company that has recently decided to shut down. His wife has no qualifications. The family, who has no car, is living in a rented apartment; every month, the rent consumes a considerable percentage of James's salary. Upon being made redundant, James could apply for social assistance. Given that he is married and has a child, he might be able to receive around Lm40 a week. On a monthly basis, this money would be just enough to pay the rent. From where are they going to obtain the money to pay the bills? Food expenses? He could find a part-time job, but the income would probably still not be enough to allow the family to meet all their expenses. The wife could also look for a job, but with no qualifications, it could take a while until she found something. The main problem is that they do not have any relatives with whom they could leave their child during the day since they all either work or are not perceived as sufficiently reliable to do so. Of course, they cannot afford to pay a nanny! Who is going to cover all the survival expenses until jobs with decent salaries can be found? (When I use the word "decent", I am referring to a salary that would allow one's survival expenses to be covered.) These are only some of the problems that might torment a family once unemployment rears its ugly head.
I believe that every government should do much more to eradicate involuntary unemployment. The latter breeds despair, illness, anger, and crime. A society cannot really be considered as a just one if it even tolerates this type of unemployment.