Jobless Barely Survive on Unemployment Insurance

When workers are laid off, they face expenses that can go beyond what they were used to spending while employed. If they choose to continue to receive health insurance, for instance, they're left paying the whole cost out-of-pocket instead of relying on employer subsidies.

Searching for new work may also prove costly: If they're fortunate enough to obtain job interviews, they have to scrape together funds to cover gasoline bills or other travel expenses.

Amy Morris, 25, who lost her marketing job in November, said she sometimes decides against attending job search events or networking affairs.

"I try to go on a lot of informational interviews -- lunch, dinner, drinks," the Massachusetts woman said. "But that's an added expense to my life."

Rainwater, the former educational company editor, knows a lot about added expenses – and, after being unemployed for nearly a year, she's also quite familiar with subtracting expenses.

When the 45-year-old New Yorker applied for unemployment benefits last spring, she learned that she was eligible for $371 a week before taxes – roughly half of the $40,000 annual salary she once earned.

But Rainwater was lucky in at least one respect – she received a $2,000 severance package, something that many are going without as cash-strapped companies cut severance from their budgets. For that first month after losing her job, she said, she didn't alter her spending habits much.

Once unemployment pay became her primary source of income, that changed.

"It has been a slow realization that it's just not enough," she said.

Cutting Back, Getting Scared

So, Rainwater started cutting. She stopped renting an apartment in New York and moved in with her half-sister – together, they split rent and utility bills. She reduced her grocery bills, choosing generic goods over name brands. She resigned herself to using less-effective -- albeit cheaper -- allergy medications, and, with no health insurance, she skipped the dentist altogether.

In comparison to Rainwater, Andrew Lottner, of Cincinnati, Ohio, is an unemployment rookie – the 33-year-old was laid off just last week.

He didn't get severance and is now in the process of applying for unemployment benefits. Lottner's unemployment pay will probably represent just a fraction of his $45,000 salary as manager of a staffing agency.

He's already started cutting back. He's keeping his thermostat turned down and bundling up instead. He's stopped visiting his parents, who live a three-hour drive away – the trip, he said, would cost too much in gas.

But Lottner worries that such belt-tightening may not be enough to help him afford his $978 monthly mortgage payment.

"I'm just scared," he said. "I don't want to lose my house."

Lottner wonders if applying for food stamps would help, but he's reluctant to take that step.

"I think that there's a stigma with those types of benefits," he said. "There's nothing wrong with me, my arms work, my legs work, there's nothing wrong with my back. I kind of feel like those should be intended for someone other than me."

Barista Dreams Deferred

Rainwater, meanwhile, may face harder choices.

Her unemployment ran out late last month and, without a government extension – like the one being proposed by Congress – she's not quite sure what she'll do.

Searching for work within her field hasn't yielded much and a trip to her local Starbucks also proved discouraging.

"My original thought was well, I guess I'll be a barista," she said, "but they're cutting back."

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