Things to Do

Day 2: Wherein I Press a Series of Nines and Ones on My Phone and Get Paid

Blake Mooney was recently laid off from his job at and has somehow found some time to give a glimpse into the week in the life of a man on the dole. This is his story. Monday

Tuesday: It shouldn’t be this easy. Before I started collecting unemployment, I was under the impression that in order to get paid, you had to head down to some government office and stand in long lines that would make the DMV look like the express lanes at the grocery store. You would wait there in your brown and disheveled clothes for an hour or two, shuffling your feet and sharing looks of quiet desperation with your fellow hard-luck cases. When you finally got to the window, the clerk – voice hoarse with the residue of 20 cigarette breaks per shift – would impatiently ask a few questions and hand over a check with the disapproving glare of a mother picking up her kid from detention.

So it was a pleasant surprise when I discovered that collecting unemployment in the 21st century is so simple, it deserves it’s own jingle – “Call 318-9000, get your check while on the go!”

There is, as with all bureaucratic procedures, an inordinate amount of paperwork to fill out to begin the process, followed by a three-week waiting period and a formal review of your claim. You have to sit out a number of weeks based on your severance package and vacation hours, but once the claim is approved and your unemployment figure decided upon, receiving a check is as easy as calling an automated hotline – or, as I like to call it, the Magical Rainbow Phone Line of Giving.

What’s more, once your claim is approved, an account is opened for up to a year, telling you how much money you have left and how long you’re still eligible to receive it, which, in my case, works out to something around eight large between now and next Labor Day.

If telling people exactly how many thousands of dollars they’re qualified to receive so long as they don’t get a job seems counter-productive toward the goal of getting them back into the workforce, I agree whole-heartedly. Whenever I tell my friends about the unemployment process and the money I’m entitled to in bi-monthly installments for the next year, it invariably elicits the same response: “Man, I wish I could get fired.” (Granted, we’re of the income bracket still impressed by an Andrew Jackson).

But there are several hoops of humiliation to jump through before and after receiving an unemployment check. The Magical Rainbow Phone Line of Giving requires a series of statements about your work status (were you able to work and available for work?) that, once repeated back to you, only reinforces the shame of leeching off the system. Then there’s the legalese found on the back of the check itself. “I herby certify, Under Penalty of Law,” the check reads, underline included, “That for the weeks I am Being Paid…” It goes on to reiterate the conditions of unemployment eligibility and is, without fail, cashed by the hottest bank teller, who gets to read over the terms of your pitiful government handout as she verifies your account number and delivers your cash stipend with a look that says “Here you are, slacker, don’t go spending all of it on booze.” By the time you finish your fourth beer of the afternoon, this sense of embarrassment will have abated only slightly.

Nevertheless, these minor indignities are small in comparison to the fabulous sum of money still sitting in my unemployment account, a figure I like to imagine as a large pile of gold coins stored in a lavish vault and protected, Harry Potter-style, by greedy little goblins. When I imagine what I can spend all those galleons on and, more importantly, the time it quite literally buys me, the uphill climb to find a new job to get laid off from becomes that much more manageable.

-- Blake Mooney