Unemployment insurance or not?

Last time DH was unemployed, he couldn’t get unemployment insurance because he’d left his (professor) job, and the only way he could have lost the job would be to quit or be fired.

This time, DH is in a textbook layoff situation– first furloughed (but didn’t bother getting unemployment supplementation even though he could have) and now the company has gone entirely out of business.

Sadly, our state does not currently have the covid provision that you can get unemployment even if not looking for work.  If he wants unemployment insurance money, he needs to look for work.

If he gets unemployment insurance, he would qualify for somewhere around $500/week or $2000/month, which is not nothing.  Back when we had a mortgage, that would have been our mortgage.

The hang-up is about looking for work.  DH wants a break before going to the next job.  Last time he had a 3 month break (basically summer) and enjoyed it immensely.  But he was also younger then.  More attractive to companies, maybe?  (We don’t actually know that much about age discrimination in high level tech positions even though we very much WANT to know.  It seems like some of the problem is that when you’re older you are expected to have connections.  And DH does have connections– everyone who has ever worked with him LOVES him and he’s done pro-bono stuff for companies when I’ve had technical issues with their technology.)  And will there be a problem with an extended length of unemployment (again, we don’t really know much about higher level workers and the effects of unemployment duration– really big literature, but nothing specific for our case… the closest is the Farber et al. work which suggests it maybe won’t be a concern for DH).

He’s also not sure what he wants to do next.  Ideally he’d do some kind of consulting where he swoops in and fixes difficult technical problems for people and they feel grateful and he’s done something that matters.  But… that’s not how large consulting companies work (particularly not the consulting company that his labmate wants him to work at)– they tend to be called in for CYA reasons or management doesn’t understand technology reasons and do something superficial that isn’t actually helpful and doesn’t get used.  That’s totally demoralizing.  He does not at all want to be an adjunct or lecturer at the university even though he could get a job doing that easily (and be paid very little to do so!).

One of his former coworkers is now working for a company that they worked with in the past that sounds to me like it would be a good fit.  They’re larger than the previous company and actually get products out to market instead of being an SBIR-mill.  And they allow working from home.  And he likes the people.  But DH is holding back on asking about it.  There’s something about it he can’t articulate that makes him not currently interested.  It may just be that he wants a sabbatical and this could lock him in for work for another decade.  I don’t know [update:  DH says the project they worked on together didn’t go well for reasons involving a third company not holding up their end].  I keep saying that once his former coworker gets settled DH should find out if he likes working there and hit up that network.

He could also switch from medical the-thing-he-does to just the-thing-he-does which is used in many industries, not just medicine.  There are several older members from his grad program actively looking for new employees at their companies.  Or he could just do computer programming– he’s one of those types who can pick up any new language in a few days.  And he’s known at a company I’ve bought specialized equipment from since he worked with them to fix some of their bugs that were causing me problems.  His plan for the month was to work on gimp via github, which is an open source project that would allow him to do labor for free that he could put on his resume to get his computer science cred up.  Or he could lean back on his imaging and instrumentation experience, which he has kept his hand in.

Anything that isn’t work from home, we’d have to move for.  And I cannot move.  There are like 20 jobs for people at my level in econ this year, and I did not apply to any of them.  (Though I think I would have had a shot at a couple of the jobs in Boston, but I can’t move poor DC1 in the middle of hir high school career from high school in the south to high school in Massachusetts for so many reasons.  Even if it would be so much better for DC2.)  Moving makes more sense in a couple of years when DC1 is out of high school and DC2 hasn’t yet started.

Then there’s all the jobs listed on the state unemployment website.  DH is over-qualified for many of them, but they’re not really good fits at all.  It looks like he wouldn’t have to accept jobs from them if offered because they likely don’t pay enough, but I’m not sure that he wouldn’t still have to apply to some number in order to get unemployment benefits.  If getting a job is most likely through networking, how much active cold applying will he have to do?  He’s going to look into that more.

Is it better to be able to say, “I took time off from applying to jobs to work on these fun projects and to help deal with the covid schooling situation” or to put the minimum amount of intensity into finding a job in order to get unemployment benefits, risking getting one that isn’t a good fit?  Or should he tap those networks hard to see if he can get a job, even though covid means a lot of places won’t be hiring?  (And we just found out that his friend who got him this job 7 years ago and left a few years back took 8 months to find a new position, though he didn’t quit his old job first and was definitely looking for something remote and stable that pays well.  Sadly for DH, he landed at a start up that can’t afford another engineer!)

I know hiring cycles start in January, so maybe we should just wait until the new year to worry about it after DH has had a break.  It looks like he can put off applying for unemployment insurance about that long without triggering any red flags.  I’m not sure how long he can put off applying before it gets difficult to apply though.  The website only says, things like “we encourage you to apply the first week you’re unemployed.”

Have you ever applied for unemployment insurance?  Have you taken breaks between jobs?

26 Responses to “Unemployment insurance or not?”

  1. Omdg Says:

    I got laid off and applied for unemployment when I was in my 20s. I used that time to take classes and find the job that led me to medicine. Strictly speaking I did not need the unemployment since I had savings, but it was definitely nice to have a little extra cushion. I used the money I saved to pay for my premed classes. Honestly? It think DH should low key look for a job and take it. Something appropriate might come along and he will never know unless he looks.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I agree—we’ve been having lots of conversations about search intensity and how it doesn’t have to be all or nothing!

      Meanwhile it seems like everything in our house is breaking and he’s been spending all his free time fixing things.

  2. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    My vote is take a break first, look for a job after the new year.

    Getting further into my career, I feel a lot more laissez-faire about breaks in between roles (for myself and others), at least in tech. If he’s able to ease back into “working” through open source communities, he’ll be fine with a much longer break. Or he can do the one-man consulting shop thing. Lots of options.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ah, but he is over 40! Is there age discrimination in tech? We don’t know!

      We were feeling much more lax about this 7 years ago when he did his last break.

      He spent a good portion of last week talking to his contacts… most of them are currently working on very small start-ups, so there’s no longer the, yeah, I can get you a job at *major related tech company*. But maybe if they grow. (A couple of them got pretty far in Y-combinator, but didn’t actually get funding. One got offered about a 25th of what they need for equipment and said no.)

      • yetanotherpfblog Says:

        Re: age discrimination, it really depends on the team and company. I will say, as someone on a lot of hiring panels right now for big tech co, I see forty-something year old guys all the time, including those who’ve been out of work for a few months. Less so women of the same age. In any case, it’s never come up in our interviews (big tech, very standardized rubric), and if it did he’d have a more than sufficient excuse (holiday break after covid-induced layoff). Assuming he ends up only taking a couple months off before starting to apply, I honestly don’t think anyone will blink twice about a small gap.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Well, it is likely he’s not going to find a job right away, so eventually that couple months is going to turn into a longer time frame.

        It took him >3 months to get the job he’s had for the last 7 years (though he got 2 job offers right on top of each other, and he did his interview a couple months before being offered the position). His friend who got him this job (but left for a lower paying, less interesting, but more stable job a few years ago) took 8 months to get a new job (though with no work gap). One major problem is that he would have to work remotely. If we lived in [two specific coastal cities] this wouldn’t be a problem, but there isn’t really anything here besides the university. So it’s a very narrow band of potential positions, even ignoring the phd in a very specific field. Unless we’re willing to move my job, which at the moment, there are literally 20 jobs whose annual application deadline has passed. I can’t even take a sabbatical next year because that deadline has passed. So for me moving we’re talking Fall 2022(!) which is a long time to be unemployed. (I could take an unpaid leave of absence, in theory. But then I don’t get paid and don’t have my benefits.)

  3. CG Says:

    Agree with @yetanotherpfblog that waiting until the new year is a good idea. You (I hope) will have a bit of a break coming up and it might be nice for you all just to get a couple of weeks to hang out together with no one in school. Everyone needs a break sometimes! My DH had a month off between changing jobs last time and used it to take swimming lessons, which he’d always wanted to do. As for whether to work/what type of job to do, is there any way DH could do the kind of consulting HE would like to do? As in, could he freelance/form his own consulting company? Since he doesn’t have the pressure of needing to make a lot of money, he could just take projects that interest him and are impactful. He can work at home and work as much as or as little as is workable for your family. My SIL formed her own consulting company last year (in a different area) and is working much less and making much more than she did when she worked in the same type of business area for a company. She’s making it look pretty good! Too bad for me there isn’t a big market for social science academic consultants…

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      He doesn’t have clients he could just take from his old job, so any kind of own consulting would take a lot of work to build up a client base, which he isn’t interested in doing. He’s open to that if jobs come to him, but not if he has to seek them out. Last time he was unemployed he did do that for around 3 months, but really only did one project (free) for a charity auction after going to all the effort to set up a business etc.

  4. L. Says:

    My husband lost his job as a tenured full prof in July because his program got cut. He’s been collecting unemployment, and we’re putting it away right now because we don’t need it but we eventually might. In our state, collecting unemployment requires doing 3 job-search activities each week. These include contacting people in his network to discuss options, submitting his resume to a job search site, or a full job application. He’s only gotten a few nibbles, largely (we think) because of a combination of age/PhD discrimination, the economy in general, and the problem of translating his humanities PhD cv into a resume for a job that would be in his wheelhouse. I think it’s been worth it to collect and do the necessary things for it – it’s not really that time-consuming, and it can take a while, even in a higher-demand field. The worst thing that might happen is that he’s offered a job that’s appropriate and he decides to decline it and stop collecting unemployment.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      How awful! I’m so used to the security of tenure that it’s horrific to think of a program being cut. Especially after attaining a full! My condolences and best of luck to him. I hope he gets a new job that pays 2-3x more than the academic one!

      I think our state is the same re: 3 job-search activities.

      The worst thing that can happen doesn’t sound so bad.

  5. Alice Says:

    I took about a 9-month break between jobs once, unintended– it was after a layoff and there wasn’t a lot of hiring. I didn’t apply for unemployment, but had a lot of savings and also a severance package.

    Could he apply for jobs but negotiate a further-out start date once he gets one? Or does he want a full break from even thinking about work? I personally think that with or without unemployment money, it may be wise for your family if he were to not just sit back for a while, unless you’re very certain that your job is safe or that you don’t need for either of you to be employed. (I know you have tenure, but I’ve been reading about higher ed issues for the last few months and know that not all institutions/programs are equally secure in these times.)

    • Jessica Says:

      The idea of a break after accepting the job but before starting sounds particularly relaxing and appealing! I have no idea how easy that is to negotiate, but I certainly plan to try next time I switch jobs!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My department is pretty secure– if they tried to get rid of us there would be a LOT of lead-up to it. They just renovated our building to our specs so… I think we’re ok. It is unlikely we will get raises any time soon, but I think paycuts are also unlikely. Could happen, but probably not without more warning.

      I would think he could apply for jobs and negotiate a further out start date. One of his former coworkers negotiated a January start (but also started looking for jobs a month ago and even though he’s working remotely ended up employed at a place he can bike to).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Well, we don’t live in Chicago and it’s only temporarily remote, so… no. Also the $1/year pay seems a bit low! (I don’t really want to get into a guessing game of “What is DH’s PhD in?” so I won’t comment on that, but thank you for thinking of us.)

  6. Debbie M Says:

    I have not generally taken a break between jobs, and never on purpose (until I retired). The first time I wanted unemployment, I was not qualified because my previous income had been too low. One time I wasn’t qualified because I had quit. Then finally I was qualified! But then I was looking only for jobs with employers that used my same pension plan (because I needed only 3 more years to retire). After a while it was too hard to do those three activities, so I stopped getting unemployment before it ran out.

    My other thoughts:

    * Given your financial position, it seems like the obvious choice is to blow off applying for unemployment compensation, for a while anyway.

    * I think the advice to apply ASAP is for people who are living paycheck to paycheck–y’all can handle a break in his income. There may also be a 3-month deadline or something.

    * In contemplating the research on breaks between jobs, remember that now should be more similar to research done during recessions than during other times (because it’s similarly difficult to find jobs).

    * Because of covid, I bet a lot more companies are willing to hire remotely, at least for now, than in the past.

    * ‘Is it better to be able to say, “I took time off from applying to jobs to work on these fun projects and to help deal with the covid schooling situation” …’ Oh, yes, that sounds like a fabulous thing to be able to say!

    * I once had a roommate who worked IRS seasonal jobs to get her through college. She took a very small load of courses in spring, and bigger loads in summer and fall. She qualified for unemployment, but didn’t have time for work, so her strategy was to apply only for pie-in-the-sky jobs where she would never get hired, but if somehow she did, she would gladly quit college and take the job.

    * I moved a lot as a kid, and I was so happy that I got to live in the same place throughout all of high school.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think some of reason for apply right away advice is that in some states they make it more difficult to apply if it has been more than some number of months (where some number is 1-3). I couldn’t find anything about our state though. :/

  7. SP Says:

    Out of curiosity, is very early retirement (for him) on the table?

    The reason I ask is that, while my current career is really pretty great, my backup plan if I can’t find a good gig after this, is most likely early retirement, possibly morphing into something else to keep me busy that also pays (but maybe not).

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      He could– we can live on my income alone plus a little bit of savings. He’s not averse to that, but none of his friends or former coworkers (including me) think it is a viable long-term solution for him emotionally. Initially he disagreed with that assessment but after the third (of several) person was like, dude, no, not you, he introspected and thought maybe we were right.

      We both like to keep busy. And eventually he’s going to run out of errands to run. But really he mostly needs interaction and positive feedback along with difficult problems in order to be happy. And although I worship the ground he walks on and everybody loves his cooking, that’s probably not enough external validation to get him through the next 40-50-odd years.

  8. becca Says:

    I think it takes a lot of emotional energy to apply for jobs, even if you are doing it on “I don’t urgently need a job setting”. To be honest I didn’t really realize how much it was taking until my project got funded for a couple more years and I stopped looking as closely. So I think it’s valid if he just doesn’t want to apply at all. It’s a pandemic and the highly skilled professional job market is moving slower than molasses.

    That said, I’m not familiar with a state that requires you to apply to anything on their job board, and for some states it basically looks like “I document this phone call or this online application” 3X/week. It’s almost always easy to find unicorn jobs to apply to that you have probably very little shot at, but you would be happy to look at if they actually wanted to hire you. Whether this is a bad habit because the Algorithm learns your applications and excludes you in the future is something I worry about, but that’s almost certainly my paranoia.

    This also might sound 100% bananas mc crazypants, but he could look for a job in desired future city you are likely to be able to get a role at later, and you could maintain two households until Fall 2022. Expensive, but probably easily workable for where you’re at. The bigger issue is whether you can stand to be apart that long. Obviously, only amazing perfect wonderful jobs for him would be on the list.

    As a tactical matter, if he intends to try for unemployment, I think he should consider applying ASAP even though the vast majority of job ads will not go anywhere until after the new year*. The reason being, Covid19 completely broke a lot of state unemployment systems and they still have not caught up with the backlog. Unless you know they are working quickly and efficiently in your state, better to get the process started. And apply for all the perfect impossible unicorn jobs.

    *I suppose if he were to apply for an entirely fictional remote job with Abbott cardiac mapping and they realized they could use his programming pronto on some Covid19 testing equipment, he MIGHT end up in a situation where he was hired “too soon”. Judging solely from the “inside info” of my financial services professional friend who has seen several clients who retired from Abbott though, I think this would be a huge enough win from a personal finance perspective that it’d come out all right in the end

  9. First Gen American Says:

    We applied right away when we had a job loss but it was right after we bought our fixer and needed every penny as we still didn’t sell our other 2 places yet. I am of the opinion that if it’s unlikely that a job will materialize shortly, then why not collect? He’d still get the break he was needing. And as you stated, the honey do list will get tended to quick enough and it may give some sense of purpose and weekly milestones to tick off. You can also get a feel for what types of jobs are out there and where they are.

    I really like the idea of looking for a job in dream city and if one potential place is Boston, I can tell you for a fact that most tech employees in the northeast I work with are still fully remote unless they are needed at work to operate or manufacture stuff. So anyone who can do their jobs with just a laptop are home. Even the engineers are maybe going in once or twice a week but only as needed. I work with many different OEMS across multiple sectors. It’s very different in the south as I covered that region as well until recently. I personally know people who have taken jobs across the country who don’t have to move until the pandemic is over and others who have gotten the okay to work from home permanently. The landscape is changing. Remote work is growing. Think about how much cheaper commercial rent would be in Boston if a company only needed 1/2 the footprint they are using today. I think there is a good chance this will be disruptive to the bloated corporate real estate market in these expensive cities long term. There are a zillion medical companies out here too. He’d be like a kid in a candy shop.

    I agree that it’s worth waiting and not moving a kid in high school. However, I think the odds of getting a Boston based job that DH can do from home over the next 2 years are higher than you think. Once he proves his awesomeness, many companies will make accommodations on the moving date provided he’d be willing to travel into work for meetings periodically as needed. Come to think of it, even before the pandemic I know a bunch of folks who were already doing the hybrid approach to work and flex hours because traffic had gotten so bad out here.

    What an exciting thing to work towards.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      DH could probably get a job in Boston (his last job was technically based in Boston and he still has a network in Boston) but the earliest I could get one is Fall 2022! And it will probably take longer since universities in Boston are among the only places hiring this year (the deadline to apply was November) so they’ll be filling any empty slots with amazing people.

      His friend who took 8 months to find a new position was mostly looking in Boston. So I dunno. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime it’ll be 3 job seeking events per week.


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