This weekend, our family marks one year since my husband lost his job. He’s hardly alone. In Indiana, the “official” unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, and that’s not including those no longer on the unemployment compensation rolls or have settled for part-time or underpaying positions.
Walk down your street, look down the aisle of your church pew or scan your conference room table, and you’ll likely see someone who’s become a statistic in this economy. Or their roommate, spouse, significant other or family member is.
There’s a lot of people needing support out there. And not just financially.
So today, I’m going off-topic and offering a little unsolicited advice for the nine out of 10 (or whatever the stats really are) Americans who are still working today.
If you know someone who is out of work, is underemployed or is otherwise impacted by unemployment in their household:
- Realize that people need more support as time passes. While many may be able to eek by for a month or two, as time passes and savings wane, uncertainly and stress levels increase. Moral support is needed more than ever!
- Offer friendship, not a handout. One of the things that impressed me most about this journey was when a friend asked me to teach her to make Chinese – then came over with groceries. We had a great evening, she learned how to cook Chinese, and she was able to help our family in a way that didn’t feel like a “handout.”
- If you can’t relate, it’s OK. Saying things like “It’s a bad economy” (really?) or “I was a broke college student once” makes you seem callous. And frankly, it doesn’t make the other party feel any better. Just as I can’t relate completely to my single friend who’s worried about her safety net in a few months, she can’t completely relate to the fact that our income is cut in half and we have $400 available each month to cover utilities, daily needs, medicine, day care when my husband is in class, and anything else required to care for our family. Admit you can’t completely relate. But be there to listen.
- We’re happy for your success, but don’t rub it in. We don’t necessarily want to hear how you can now pay an extra $1,000 a month on your student loans or share every intricate detail about your new car you bought to celebrate a new job.
- Don’t isolate us. Unemployment is isolating enough due to embarrassment, frustration or lack of resources. Ask how it’s going. And listen. Or talk about politics, sports or the other things that happen the other 128 hours or so of the week when you're not at work.
- Reconnect with us cheaply. Hang out with a cookout, for a beer at home, or a pizza and movie night. Friendship shouldn’t have to end just because someone can’t go to dinner or an expensive evening out.
- Don’t assume we wouldn’t be interested in a lead. When you’re trying to keep a roof over your head or support your family, flipping burgers, working retail or signing up with a temp agency isn’t above us. Even if it’s not ideal, it feels good to be doing something about your financial situation.
- Offer a networking coffee, particularly later in the search when frustrations begin to increase.
- Most of all, just listen.