What to do When You’re Unemployed Long-term

One of my regular readers left a couple of comments on my Easter post, The Promise of Easter, that were deep enough in scope that I thought it best to respond to it with a full post rather than with just a comment. The subject of her question is just that important.

One thing before we get started: this is a BIG topic, so this will be a LONG post. Anyway…

“What about doing some research to see how folks are using their FAITH to deal with the recession – whether they have an income or don’t…How to not give up when you get tired of stressing over income generation and feeling something is wrong with you…?”

Angela has been dealing with the unemployment issue for at least three years. Most people see unemployment as mostly a statistic—one the government confidently and regularly reports is getting better. Those statistics, I believe, mask much bigger issues. The number of people who are chronically unemployed, or chronically underemployed, is well in the millions and the options for these people appear slim.

The real story on unemployment

Some reports are showing the number of combined unemployed and underemployed is in the neighborhood of 17 to 18% of the workforce—that’s one out of every six adults who want a job. Another telling factor is a recent survey showing that 25% of working age adults went without health insurance for some part of 2011. It’s an outstanding bet that many of those people went without coverage because they were either unemployed or underemployed.

But let’s get past statistics—most of us know people who are in this situation and often we know more than a few. Maybe you’re in it yourself, and if you are you’re hardly alone. There are millions of people who’ve lost well paying, fully benefited jobs they held at the beginning of the recession, and are now doing a balancing act that includes part-time, temporary or contract work mixed with periods of complete unemployment.

Age doesn’t seem to be a barrier either, though it does seem most acute at the extremes. A report out just this week indicates that new college graduates face the prospect of a 50% unemployment/ underemployment rate upon graduation. And if you’re over 50, or even over 40, the loss of a job can mean the loss of a career.

How do you cope with that, either through faith or by tactical means?

Clear the decks—your life has changed

Denial can be your mortal enemy. Many people who lose their jobs continue on with life as they always have, confident that they’ll soon get another job that will restore their lives to “normal”. But if you lose your job, normal might start looking very different, and this is especially true if you’re middle aged or older.

That may mean changing your lifestyle, maybe even radically. That includes spending less money and maybe even selling off some expensive possessions. It’s quite possible that your new normal life won’t allow you to keep your home or a late model car, and if that’s the case, the sooner you deal with it the better off you’ll be.

Stay out of debt!(!!!)

One of the first things people do to maintain their lifestyles after a job loss is borrow money, reasoning that it will “only be temporary”. But debt isn’t temporary–it’s cumulative–which is to say that it grows and grows. If your unemployment becomes chronic, any debt you take to keep your old ship afloat will soon become an unsustainable burden.

Get a part-time job and keep busy

There are at least two reasons for doing this; one is that it can be vitally important to your sense of self worth to work at something productive, and the other is that it gets you out and about and meeting people in the real world. Applying for jobs on the web that never get back to you can wear down your self-esteem so you need to be out doing “real” things.

Here’s a bonus third reason: some part-time jobs offer health insurance. I’ve compiled a list of some of the larger ones in my post 20 Part-time Jobs With Health Insurance.

Angela has an interesting story on her site about a young man for whom a part-time job became something more. We never know where opportunity will come from, and sometimes it can start with a part-time arrangement.

Get healthy (seriously!)

Unemployment is stressful—chronic unemployment is really stressful. You’ll need to take that very seriously. Eating healthy when no money is coming in is almost impossible, but you can offset this by eating less, which will also help your finances. The other half of this is exercise, and that can be a major stress reliever. Walk, bike, jog slowly, but do it every day if you can. Not only will it help you maintain your health, but it helps you to connect with your body and with the world around you.

Get new skills

The first suggestion on this is usually to attend some sort of school, but that costs money you probably don’t have. That shouldn’t stop you. Part-time jobs can be a chance to learn new skills, but you can also consider doing volunteer work.

Consider working for free—just a few hours per week—at your church, the library, a local school, a non-profit agency or even for a small, local business. You may get a chance to learn how to use a new software program, as well as an opportunity to obtain references and new contacts. You might even convert your volunteer work into a paid job. What do you have to lose?

Find what it is you really want to do

My final suggestion on the tactical side…you probably have been working to pay your bills up until this point, but now that that situation is gone, it’s time to focus on what it is you really want to do with your life. Most people don’t seriously consider this during their working lives, but this is an opportunity to do it. Start gearing up to do something you like doing, something you’d do even if it didn’t make any money for you.

And here’s something most people don’t like to think about (but you must!): if you’re middle age, and draining your retirement accounts to survive, you may not be able to retire. But you might still be able to semi-retire, and that won’t feel nearly as bad if you’re doing work you actually like. This might very well be another part of your new, normal life so it’s well worth embracing.

Some form of self-employment may the better route here, and I have a whole category of of posts on this topic. Sometimes the best way to deal with unemployment is self-employment because you can’t be fired, you won’t be forced into retirement and you have an opportunity to grow the business in a way you might not be able to do with a job. Consider it, even if you never have in the past.

Faith in the face of chronic unemployment/underemployment

Crisis can be a time when our faith is at its strongest, but if it lasts long enough, and especially when it goes on for several years, we can sometimes feel abandoned by God. It’s a constant struggle to remain faithful in the face of a relentless, daily struggle just to survive. Making it worse is that you can be surrounded by people who are doing much better—people who are not in crisis—and asking yourself, why me Lord?.

How do we reconcile those feelings with the idea of a loving, merciful God? Are we being punished for a past sin? Or for not having enough faith in the midst of our troubles?


What we have to understand is that crisis is as normal in life as blessings are. Consider what the Bible says about this…

Peter gives us this message:

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”—1 Peter 4:12 (NIV)

And in the Book of John, Jesus tells us:

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33 (NIV)

Jesus is telling us in very direct language that we will have trouble! He doesn’t say may, might or could possibly—he says that we will. Having trouble doesn’t make us weird, cursed or condemned—its part of the package we call life. And He has us covered, no matter what we’re experiencing. In Matthew 28:20 he gives us these very comforting words: ”…and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (KJV). Always, as in always and forever.

Along the same line, Job experienced an avalanche of troubles few of us will ever know, but here’s how his story ended:

“After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.”—Job 42:10 (NIV)

No, we don’t like crisis, but its part of our lives and we can never know when God is preparing us—through our crisis—for something better.

In my own life I’ve found that it helps to focus heavily on the last time—or several times—we faced serious troubles. They may not have been employment or finance related, but crisis comes in many forms. It could have been a health issue, a legal matter, a broken relationship or just about any problem we can imagine life can throw at us. The fact that you’re reading this article means that in some way you’ve overcome what ever problems you’ve faced in the past. God has delivered you through those troubles, and He will deliver you again!

I’d like to leave you with the lyrics to the song Hold Me Jesus, by Rich Mullins. Maybe it’s been around for a while, but I just discovered it, and find the words to be a real comfort at a time of trouble:

“Well, sometimes my life
Just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small

So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart

Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something
I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees

And this Salvation Army band
Is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin

You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace”

(Suggested reading: Psalm 23. Though it’s often recited at funerals, if you read to the words carefully, it seems to me it’s more about how God navigates us through the trials of life. Read it from that perspective and see what it says to you.)

If you fall in the chronically unemployed or underemployed group—or if you’ve recently triumphed over it—what advice do you have for others who are still dealing with it? How has your faith helped you along the way?

( Photo from Flickr by Bytemarks )

16 Responses to What to do When You’re Unemployed Long-term

  1. Hi Kevin:

    Thank you SO MUCH for finally getting around to working on your FAITH FORUM = I guess “nagging” does sometimes bring GOOD things(lol).

    On the serious side, I am looking forward to hearing the comments as I sure need some HOPE that what I have been facing since 2008 (laid of in my 50’s), others have faced and are now back to some type of normal living. And by normal I mean, that shame that lives with me daily when I head home with ZERO to contribute to my household.

    God has ALWAYS been there, even during the times when I was so ANGRY with HIM. He forgave me and took me right back into his arms. Folks, Kevin needs help with getting the word about about this much needed Faith Forum – so join in the conversations, suggest topics you would like to hear about and hey, maybe volunteer to write a post yourself. I first met Kevin through his “unemployment” forum and he asked me to send him an article to post on this particular topic. This was about a year ago, and ever since then, I have been checking on his site to see what has been posted.

    In ending, share this site through Facebook, Twitter, any other social network you may be hooked up to and of course the good old fashion emails and word of mouth works too.

    Be Blessed EVERYONE,

  2. Hi Angela–Thanks for the gentle push–I had been tossing around taking a greater faith direction with the site and this is step in the right direction. I’ll go back to writing faith posts, but will include more that deal with faith in day-to-day life.

    To stay on topic, is anyone dealing with long-term unemployment (or underemployment) who could add some experience or advice to what’s been written here?

  3. So many folks are giving up and we need to encourage each other and believe that 2013 will better. I am already walking in FAITH today 5/4/12 – BELIEVING that the recession is already gone…

    That is how I am coping today.

  4. Hi Angela–There’s much to be said for thinking that way. Yes, there are troubles and obstacles, but focusing on them won’t get us anywhere. We have to focus our energies on where it is we’re going, not on the crises that are in front of us. Positive motion sometimes makes the bad stuff go away, or at least to be less important. And as human beings I think we need to be heading in a positive direction. Not easy when the problems you have are very real, but we need to know that there’s hope. God is there walking with us, but we have to go forward into the unknown for him to help us. Sitting in the same place can be a trap. If we’re out moving, there’s a chance of finding something better and I think that’s what we need to focus on.

  5. Hi Kevin:

    I did not get a notification that you had posted a comment and glad I stopped by to see what was going on.

    The challenge for me today – understanding why my 25 year old daughter has not been able to locate a job. It is like my insides hurt for her today when she shared that she had to call about two jobs she had interviewed only to find out she did not get them. I admire her doing a “follow up” call as I no longer do when I don’t hear anything.

    Here is a young lady with her Masters – lol, then I wonder why I feel I should be gainfully employed – no degree. I do have plans to go back and complete my incomplete two year degree.

    Yes, FAITH is important – but like today, all I could say to her was “I am sorry” – I just did not have the heart to say anything else. I am now listening to Joyce Meyer’s “Power Thoughts”… Yep, those famous thoughts!

    Anyone else been in these shoes?


  6. Hi Angela–I’m reading Joyce Myer’s Power Thoughts book, it’s excellent and one I’d recommend to anyone going through a career crisis. We have to find ways to movtivate ourselves to keep pressing on and this book is a help.

    As to your daughter, I’m hearing more all the time about the plight of new college graduates, they’re even saying the unemployment rate among grads this year will be in the area of 50%! My son is a senior in high school and he’s been unable to find a part time job where we live. It’s difficult to motivate him to get more education when the schooling he’s gotten up to this point has no economic value.

    I think the solution, if that’s what we can call it, is to seek out opportunity, rather than a job. That can mean a lot of things–contract, part-time, temporary jobs, self-employment–anything to keep busy and bring in some money. Maybe we should be focusing on forward motion in the hope that momentum will carry us to our calling, what ever that might be.

  7. Hi Kevin:

    I did not receive my notification that you had responded to my comment but God was good and reminded me today/lol.

    This is AWESOME – I have been listening to her every day at the library while I work on my laptop. Nothing like having some headphones so as not to disturb others. And one of her subjects is the one you mentioned. I listen to that particular one over and over on some days – as she is so right, our mind is the area we have to really watch. Listening through her site is free – right up my alley. When I can, I do plan on purchasing her book for a donation. To be honest, I just don’t have the time to read for pleasure these days as I do book reviews for free on the side for “job hunting book” authors. The neat part about this, I got blessed with two paid gigs (virtual) from 2 of the 4 authors I have reviewed. Folks, you just never know…

    My daughter is doing a temporary job through Kelly Services that started yesterday. Thank you Jesus!! It pays $10 an hour and goes until June. She is grading papers for some university up north. I am amazed that they would contract someone in Florida to do this and not in their area. She is getting 40 hours and found the job through her old university’s website. I told her how proud I was that she did not give up and got blessed in the process.

    Angela J. Shirley, Virtual Assistant
    Whatever Needs To Be Done, Inc.

  8. Hi Angela–that’s great to hear about your daughter! It’s important to try what ever you can, not the least of which since you never know where it will lead. Everyone is looking for a full-time, living wage permanent job with full benefits, but those are getting harder to find. The best alternative is to think in terms of self-employment and take what every you can until some better comes along. At least she’s out circulating, gaining experience and making contacts. That’s putting the power of forward motion to work for you.

    “Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.”–Victor Kiam

  9. Today was a day of “realization” of what “miracles” are!

    Yes, I have been battling with “believing” since 2008 (laid off for the 3rd time) and at age 54 this year I had my personal miracle. Yes, there have been miracles throughout my life – ones I was not paying attention to/lol.

    This one I did!!!! Why?

    The power cord to the second-hand laptop I had been “blessed” with this January 2012 decided to act up, just when I do not have it in my budget to replace it. With the battery being old, I have to stay hooked up at the local library I go to use their free wifi. It was about 1 week of stressing myself and my daughter out over finding a replacement and the cost attached.

    LOL, just when I had resolved myself to going back to using the library’s free computers for 3 hours each day if they are available – the power cord now works.

    Now that is a “miracle” and of course the enemy tried to tell me each day I hooked it up that it would not work.

    Thank you Jesus for not giving up on me even when I had.

    Now your turn…

    Be Blessed,
    Angela J. Shirley
    Blog: How To Survive Unemployment
    Virtual Assistant Site: Whatever Needs To Be Done, Inc.

  10. Hi Angela–it’s those “little” blessings along the way that remind us that we’re always in God’s care no matter what our circumstances. Keep believing and looking for those miracles, they’re everywhere!

  11. Hi Kevin:

    I will be stepping out on FAITH towards the end of this month.

    What will I be doing?

    Taking the Greyhound Bus one way to Texas to visit TD Jakes and Joel Osteen – I have been watching them over the years both online and on TV.

    Today was a day of literally giving up on life or making a decision. It has been a year and 4 months of being here and finally over the depression and heartache. I had my last discussion about my relationship with “him” – finally realized that for the last 2 years after giving up my the apartment I had for 14 years to move in with him – has been years of me wanting things to work. Bottom line I realized today – he is not going to change and now it is time for me to save my own life.

    I want to make the move without “alerting” him until I am actually on the bus to make sure I don’t get put out or have the locks changed.

    I am so GLAD God never gave up on me even when I did this week. I had lost all HOPE and was just existing. Now I have HOPE – HOPE that I will finally be able to get back to caring about life and other people. I have been filled with so much hurt and bitterness there was no room for hope, life, joy and so on. I am still drained, not wanting to interact with anyone but my daughter (now 25) – but I will leave that issue with God. My issue right now, is to continue to make cash online to add on to what I have saved.

    The ticket will cost $159, which I have and plan on hanging onto. If I stayed past my deadline – I would have to pay on the water and electric again. I use to feel guilty and obligated and of course not wanting them off. But now realize it is not my job to take care of a 58 year old man.

    Tonight, I will have “peace” – the “peace” I have been missing….

    Be Blessed Everyone!

    Angela J. Shirley
    “How To Survive Unemployment” site
    “Whatever Needs To Be Done, Inc.”
    ***When you get a chance, google my two sites and stop by when you can :)***

  12. As long as man controls this economy its end is inevitable. I’m 49 and I got sick I tried to leave on short term disability but as soon as my company found out I was trying to do this they fired me and said it was performance related. I cannot find a Job not even an 8 dollar an hour job this economy. It’s a sign of the end times, don’t expect it to get better and if it has a temporary spurt don’t be fooled that all is well.

  13. Hi Ken–I’ve heard of the disability claim issue getting other people in the dog house too. You may have to try to go the self-employment route if you can. Find work doning ANYTHING you can, and try to move it forward from there. Activity generates activity so keep going no matter what. The traditonal job market has gotten so tight that you can be fired for anything and nothing, and as you get older you can’t rely on it. (BTW, don’t stop looking for a job, just don’t think of it as long term security, and keep working toward self employment).

    I don’t know if this is THE end times, we have had bad turns in the past. The collapse of the Roman Empire comes to mind, and the world survived that. The Depression and Word War 2, are another example. Just keep plugging no matter what. I know that sounds simplistic, but it’s really all we can do.

  14. There is nothing wrong with the seasonal projects that collect toys and food for the less fortunate, but is this helping the economy?


    What would help the economy?


    Our homeless shelters are filled to the maximum while more families with children are being added to the ones that now reside on our streets.

    If ONE person gave ONE homeless person a job, that would be ONE less person in a shelter or on our streets. And you can be that ONE person!!!

    Think of ways you could do this. Maybe hire one to cut your lawn. Wash your car. And so on.

    There are so many SMALL ways we can help a homeless person regain their dignity and ability to contribute to society.

    ONE job, ONE person off the streets.

    Angela J. Shirley
    A Homeless “Virtual & On-Site Assistant” (age 55)
    Whatever Needs To Be Done, Inc.

  15. Please sign this petition & tells others about it. It is located on the Change.Org website & here is a copy of what it is all about.

    The President of the United States
    The U.S. Senate
    The U.S. House of Representatives
    Barack Obama, President
    We need programs that reward employers for hiring a homeless person knowing that they may not have the best wardrobe or a way to work.
    [Your name]


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