Let’s face it. Unemployment is a bummer. I’m not even talking about financial hardship. The psychological and social burden of unemployment weighs just as much as the economic. Millions of Americans know this after sending out hundreds of résumés and applications and finding virtually nothing available that suits their skills and experience.
As a recent college graduate in the job market, I’m quickly becoming acquainted with the feeling. It’s hard to resist the urge to telekinetically strangle the talking heads in the news media railing on the lazy unemployed trying to steal the hard-earned wealth of decent hard working Americans. The truth is that unemployment can be hard, dreary, tedious, and oftentimes seemingly futile work. Unfortunately, telekinesis remains far beyond my skill set.
The point is that after several months of unsuccessful career searching, it can be easy to start to believe that maybe your skills just aren’t good enough or maybe you’re just not trying hard enough. Maybe you are one of the legion of lazy unemployed leeches on society. This, of course, can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy weighing heavily on the heads of millions of families across the United States.
However, the vast majority of the unemployed in this country are not idle moochers, but rather talented workers with skills of great value that are currently sitting idly in a depressed job market. Our economy loses just as much from the absence of their services and skills as the unemployed suffer from lost income.
It is my belief that most Americans want more than just a paycheck from their work. They want to be engaged, to grow and exercise their skills, and be proud of what they accomplish in their employment. Long-term unemployment not only creates financial hardship, but deprives many of the pride they take in their work. And in my opinion, taking this pride away has more devastating consequences than financial hardship.
So what can be done to remove the malaise of the idly unemployed? My suggestion is to spend less time job hunting and more time volunteering in our local communities.
The premise is simple: provide something of value to your community and the rewards will follow. Instead of stressing about that gap in your recent work history, spend several hours a week volunteering for a charity that can use your specific skill set. Not only are you doing a good deed, you’re keeping your skills sharp and showing your future employer that your head is still in the game.
Can’t find anything to suit your skills? Use your volunteering as an opportunity to learn something new. Most non-profits can find something to do for any willing volunteer with a pulse. Again, not only are you providing something of value to your community, you’re showing prospective employers your ability to quickly learn new skills. Who knows? It could even open up job opportunities in new fields.
Perhaps you don’t feel you have time to sacrifice from your job hunt to spend time working for free. Yes, volunteering is all fantastic and high-minded, but the bottom line is that you need a steady paycheck before you can begin to indulge your more benevolent impulses.
But think of all the networking possibilities you forego meeting new people with shared interests and ambitions. Why not simply consider your volunteering time as a networking tool? The fact of the matter is that this presents a great opportunity to help others as well as yourself.
Put on your starry-eyed glasses and think of the potential impact of millions of unemployed Americans voluntarily performing the community services that so many other Americans are in dire need of at this time. Organized groups can raise funds from corporate donors for community projects (and probably make some nice contacts at the same time). It is only a matter of time before the value created by these services turns into real increased economic demand as people get back on their feet. Revitalized communities will soon demand new employees as neighborhoods and communities bounce back. And you can bet new employers won’t forget those who led the charge.
Create something of value, and wait for the rewards to come. It’s not a prophecy, it isn’t sage wisdom, it isn’t magic. It’s putting faith in yourself, your skills, and your community. It’s rejecting that nasty feeling that maybe you just don’t have anything to offer. It’s proving to yourself and others that you have something valuable to offer. And once you show how valuable you can be, it’s only a matter of time before someone else notices.
Tanner has spent the last four years not only gaining insight into the macroeconomic trends that produced the Great Recession, but also learning how to restore his own finances from losses during the 2007 housing market collapse. Having gained experience from both academia and the school of hard knows, Tanner is uniquely qualified to interpret the impact of macroeconomic happenings on your wallet.
When not pontificating on all issues financial, Tanner enjoys pontificating on all issues non-financial. Contrariety is among his more heavily indulged vices. He also enjoys cycling, music, wine, literature, sports, and traveling anywhere he will be tolerated. He currently resides in Des Moines, Iowa. Besides blogging, he hopes to one day work in economic policy analysis, either at a think tank, government agency, consulting firm, or non-profit organization.
Latest posts by Tanner Strutzenberg (see all)
- The Golden Fleece - October 25, 2013
- Don’t let unemployment keep you down - October 17, 2011
- Congress and the Deficit Deal: The Buck Stops Somewhere Else - August 8, 2011