10 lessons I learned from unemployment

Department Of Labor Hosts Job Fair For Veterans At U.S.S. Intrepid

So my long lapse of unemployment has ended. No, I’m not writing news again — just product descriptions for a few well-known online retailers. Not the ideal job, but in this economy, I’d be lucky to have a job at Taco Bell.

So, how do I feel? One part relieved, two parts depressed and another half-part anxious. The latter comes from a feeling I’ll always have after my first lay-off: This could happen again. In fact, my current employer already seems a little shaky; they laid off 8 people just last week.

Anyway, I’ve been working for a few weeks now and I’ve had some time to reflect on my year of unemployment. What have I learned?

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The story behind the Christmas Card

Every year, I send out a Christmas card. But I try and send something a little less like the traditional, boring here’s-my-baby/dog/family-for-your-enjoyment. Last year, I sent out a picture greeting card featuring an ex-marine waterboarding me. A few years before that, I sent out a photo and story about my night inside an inflatable newspaper costume. The year before that, well, let’s just say I have a lifetime ban from that coffeeshop. So, in keeping with my Gonzo tradition, here is the story behind the Christmas card:

So there I was – standing in front of a dozen Pennsylvania police officers in full riot gear, clubs and tear gas ready, with only a press pass to protect me. And even if that press pass was real, reporter credentials didn’t mean anything on the fortified streets of Pittsburgh.

Just minutes earlier, another phalanx of riot cops charged a group of protesters and bystanders a few blocks over. And that was just minutes after police rolled out L-RAD (Long Range Acoustic Device) — a crowd-control device strapped to a military truck that emits a piercing, debilitating tone. This was the first time such a device had been used in the United States.

Yep, the G20 Conference was underway and for the last six weeks, Pittsburgh city officials and the media had scared residents into allowing a small version of a police state right on the banks of the Allegheny River.

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Florida’s extended (extended) unemployment benefits: The good, the bad, the ugly

First, the good news for my unemployed brothers and sisters:

Due to stagnant (and in some cases, rising) unemployment throughout the country, the Obama Administration approved another round of extended benefits for laid-off Americans earlier this month. Although there is confusion surrounding who will actually get these benefits, under the best case scenerio, unemployed Floridians will receive 20 more weeks of benefits to help you get through another four months of job searching.

Well, some of us will receive those benefits (about 250,000 according to the St. Petersburg Times). Which brings me to the bad news.

If you already exhausted your benefits before the bill was passed on Nov. 6, you probably aren’t eligible (although the state says you can apply).  Also, only those Floridians who will run out of all benefits between Nov. 6 and Dec. 27 qualify for the extra weeks.

There is a lot of confusion on who qualifies for the new extension and since the state unemployment office doesn’t make much sense explaining it, they’ve set up a webpage for you to check if you qualify (click on the button that says “Check your eligibility).

That fine print has some advocacy groups upset. The National Employment Law Center just released a study that found over a million American workers will be ineligible for benefits in January 2010. Federal workers have it worse; they estimate over three million of those workers will remain unemployed.

But things get uglier.

The state has already run out of the money to pay for benefits, partly due to the Florida Legislature’s inane idea to not accept federal stimulus money for unemployment insurance. So, as unemployment rises to record levels, there is another cloud on the horizon. Due to a clause in state law, businesses will be taxed extra for unemployment benefits next year. And by “extra,” I’m mean a tax hike approaching 120 percent, which I’m sure can’t be good for companies barely keeping afloat.

Talk about a vicious circle.

New credit card rules great for the unemployed

2007-593-credit-card-size

There’s been a lot of buzz about the new credit card bill that moved through Congress and is heading to President Obama to sign. Right-wing talk radio has made much hoopla of the changes; their rallying cry is good credit consumers will subsidize the bad. Even some news reports have made the same statement. (Back to that argument later.)

But for the jobless, this bill will give some much needed relief, from banning the practice of raising interest rates on existing balances and double-cycle billing. Here’s a rundown of the proposed changes:

  • Companies can no longer charge consumers for paying their bills by phone;
  • Creditors cannot raise your APR in the first 12 months of a new account;
  • Promotional rates must last at least six months;
  • No longer can your interest rate on existing balances increase unless you fail to pay for 60 days;
  • Payments must be applied to the balance with the highest APR first;
  • Credit card bills must be sent at least 21 days before the due date;
  • Companies must give 45 days notice before changing your rates or fees;
  • Credit card statements must be told how long it will take to pay off their balance if they only pay the minimum amount due;
  • Creditors must remove any info given to a consumer reporting agency (Equifax, Experion, etc.) about new accounts if that card has not been used or activated within 45 days;
  • The legislation bans double-cycling billing.

The new rules will probably help some people who have gotten behind on their credit card and have the means to pay it off. I, for one, don’t agree with the argument that the bill makes good credit holders pay for the bad. It’s entirely the choice of credit card companies to raise rates on the good consumers. They are choosing that option, so they can continue to enjoy enormous profit margins.

Of course, my ultimate advice is for everyone to cut up their credit cards. But, hey, that’s just me.