Being unemployed, being human

We’ve been intrigued with some unusual research out of the University of Minnesota examining our brains, feelings and motivations when we’re out of work.


On the day we posted, the Pew Research Center published some equally fascinating stuff about the emotional toll extracted from people who want jobs but can’t find one.

The national research group calls it, “Lost Income, Lost Friends — and Loss of Self- respect.”

The U study, which followed Minnesotans trying to find work, together with the Pew surveys, have us thinking we need to do more to look at the human side of being unemployed.

Among people who’ve been unemployed at least six months, 44 percent said the recession has cause “major changes” in their lives. We’re not talking positive changes.


On MPR’s Minnesota Today site, my colleague Mike Caputo has opened a discussion thread on the emotional roller coaster that is on the job search.

Please jump in and share your experience. The more we know, the smarter we get. Try Minnesota Today, post something below or contact us directly at MinnEcon.

After reading the U research, we reached out to Tom Koller, a Minnesotan in MPR’s Public Insight Network who’s been letting us follow his journey through unemployment and retraining via the Minnesota workforce programs.

Koller was laid off as a machinist in 2008, he’s been navigating state programs for job seekers to become a computer network administrator. He got a job after months of working through the state retraining system — but not the one he was training for.

We asked him to take a look a the U research abstract and offer some thoughts.

I would think it’s obvious, that at times people need a break from stress. A break with a positive attitude is more effective than when you are depressed. Also, having a routine to cover all bases in a job search works to keep the breaks from becoming excessive.

My routine started with checking email, responding to urgent ones, then checking for new listings and responding accordingly. There were times I would find none. That is when I would start studying. If there were listings, I would follow up. As for study, I would go until my brain hit the day’s limit and then I was done.

One important thing for me, was to focus on search sources that were easy to use. That pretty much was Craigslist. Focused and eternally updated.

I didn’t apply to everything. That is demoralizing in itself.

The other side to that, is it is a hiring market right now. You will not get a job you do not fit.

An accountant will not be considered for a job digging ditches, the odds on having the needed strength and endurance are low. A ditch digger will not be considered for an accounting job because there are plenty of certified and experienced people available. So don’t waste time looking for work you are not qualified for.

I looked for work I had done, then closely related work, then the related positions I was training for. All initially with good pay. The best I did was come up in second place. But when the second unemployment extension was looking iffy, and I was low on funds, I looked for low pay work. I found work quickly that touched on several past jobs, using the experience in new ways.

Then just as I started making money equal to unemployment on the pay-per-piece job, my earlier second place became good enough.

We’ll be posting something separately later on Koller’s new work.

Given the topic, though and the frustrations that surface in the U and Pew surveys, we wanted to give the last word to someone who’s lived it.

“My best advice,” said Koller: “Know your limits, skill, money, education. Figure out new ways to use your limits. Know that to survive, you may not be able to live as you did.”

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