Surviving the Holiday Season Unemployed

Los Angeles is typically a competitive city for work, but the pandemic has added extra pressure.
December 16, 2020
Photo by Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

It’s too easy to fall apart this holiday season. With the latest stay-at-home order, rising long-term unemployment and the looming end of the eviction moratorium in 2021, what exactly is there to celebrate? The holiday season in 2020 almost seems like an inconvenience or a joke — a time to panic and ponder the hopelessness of joblessness.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the number of long-term unemployed (those who are jobless for 27 weeks or more) increased from 3.5 million in October to 3.9 million in November, accounting for 36.9% of total unemployment. (By contrast, during the 1981 recession, only 26% of total unemployed were out of work for 27 weeks or more.) So, it won’t be much of a jolly holiday or a Happy Hanukkah if you’ve been in the unfortunate position of being unemployed since March, when the shock of the pandemic and initial closures first hit.

Being unemployed in California is particularly challenging now, with the potential end to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) around the corner. The PUA provides up to 39 weeks of benefits as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a significant increase from the 13–26 weeks provided by regular unemployment benefits. The PUA program has been a life raft for business owners, self-employed workers, independent contractors and freelancers who’ve been out of work as a direct result of the pandemic.

According to the State of California Employment Development Department, “absent congressional action, unemployment benefit payments are set to expire for recipients of PUA and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) starting December 27, 2020, which will impact an estimated 750,000 Californians.”

SoCal Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) Career Counselor Rachelle Cohn-Schneider said that many of her clients who’ve been unemployed for an extended period “thought they would have a job by December, but that didn’t happen.”

“People kept thinking [life is] going to go back to normal, but it keeps getting worse,” she said. “People have major issues right now,” she added, pointing out that some job seekers that she’s been in touch with don’t even have access to Wi-Fi or, at best, they have access to spotty Wi-Fi, which limits their job-seeking abilities. Additionally, she said, there are extra challenges for families with kids, who are trying to juggle it all.

Los Angeles is typically a competitive city for work, but Cohn-Schneider notes that the pandemic has added extra pressure. “The added competition is that there’s a lot more people out of work. If you’re submitting your resume to a job on a website, you now have triple the number of people applying,” she said. For example, “A highly skilled person who loses their job is competing against people who’ve had years in retail and might be overqualified.”

In terms of solutions, Cohn-Schneider suggests, “It’s important to think outside the box right now and even consider volunteering, which can occasionally lead to a job opportunity.”

The other side of the Los Angeles job culture is freelancing, which is always a short-term option for job seekers. “The freelance market is always mercurial, but it’s often a more economical solution for brands in the short term, so I’m seeing needs pop up all over for project work,” said Jake Weingarten, Program Manager at Contingent Recruitment, who has a background in placing freelancers in Los Angeles.

In addition to the financial aspect of job loss, there is an underlying emotional and psychological impact that is often overlooked. “When someone loses their job, whether it was logical (or not), there is a period of mourning; a similar kind of loss to losing a friend or a loved one,” said Santa Monica College and Private Career Counselor Vicki Rothman.

There is an underlying emotional and psychological impact to job loss that is often overlooked.

According to Rothman, the upside of the pandemic is that it has “forced people to reevaluate what their values are and to consider what they want in the workforce.” To help job seekers reevaluate their values, Rothman presents her clients with a list of 64 different values to choose from, ranging from work-life balance to independence, helping others, honesty and integrity.

Rothman also uses the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a popular personality test, to help her clients identify opportunities that match who they are as a person. The MBTI “helps people understand what gives them energy, how they gather that energy and the way they take in and give out information to make decisions,” she explained. For many of her clients, she says, “they’ll take the assessment…and the light goes on, and they realize they’ve been doing a career that goes against their personality.”

For those who’ve been stuck in the rat race or a job they’re not passionate about, perhaps losing that job during the pandemic is a blessing in disguise and an opportunity to reevaluate and redirect. Here are a few suggestions on where to look. 

  1. Find a Temporary Solution, like Freelancing

According to Cohn-Schneider, there are a lot of great websites for side jobs and remote work, including sidehusl.com, weworkremotely.com and flexjobs.com.

You can also contact JVS for help at https://www.jvs-socal.org/. Despite an increased workload post-pandemic, JVS is committed to helping every person who reaches out.

  1. Change your Inner Story

Mark Rothman, a Progress Coach who helps his clients move forward in whatever area they’re feeling stuck in, suggests that those who are unemployed long-term begin by changing their inner story.

“Simply by telling yourself you’re long-term unemployed, you’re setting yourself up for being long-term unemployed,” he explained. Instead, he advises, “Tell yourself, I’m unemployed today. The question then becomes, what can I do today? What do I have power over today and what can I do?”

  1. Network

Rothman’s core advice to job seekers is to focus on networking and to reach out to people in your community.

“If you want to move forward, make ten calls a day. Check in with people. If that’s overwhelming, make five or three calls,” he said. “If people get down on themselves for being unemployed during the holidays, I would (suggest) this is the best time to be unemployed. It’s kind of a hiatus, an opportunity to look at your values.”

He added, “Do your community networking and position yourself for January.” One of the best online resources is LinkedIn, which is a great way to immediately expand your network and start reaching out to people.

  1. Create a Schedule

According to Rothman, one of the best things you can do for yourself if you’re out of work is to set a schedule.

“Set up your day, so that you get out of your pajamas. The longer you’re unemployed, the harder it is to get out of bed in the morning,” he said, reiterating that a basic schedule that tells you to wake-up, exercise, eat breakfast or take a walk can have a positive impact on your psyche.

Mark Rothman is offering a FREE one-time 50-minute session to help unemployed individuals strategize and get un-stuck. Contact Mark at mark.rothman.coach@gmail.com.

Eva Kowalski is a screenwriter and journalist from Sydney, Australia.

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