Thursday, April 02, 2009

For laid-off, a lesser problem: What to do today

Some reconnect with family, other start hobbies, some just wait
NEW YORK - A few days after she was laid off last month, Dina Schipper's husband asked if she could make sure the dry cleaners came to pick up his shirts.
It was a perfectly routine domestic request, something she'd have done without thinking twice while she was working. But now it sent Schipper, who'd been media relations director at a New Jersey science museum for a decade, into a tailspin of self-doubt. "I was thinking, 'Oh no, is this what I have become?'" she says.
The recession claimed more than 650,000 jobs for a record third straight month in February, and similar painful losses are expected when the government releases March figures on Friday. Unemployment, already at a 25-year peak at 8.1 percent, is expected to rise to 8.5 percent. More than 4 million have lost jobs during the downturn.
For all but the very luckiest ones, the overriding question is, "How will I support myself and my family?" But along with that comes another immediate question, more mundane but vexing nonetheless: "How do I spend my time?"
"Losing your job is akin to identity theft," says Nancy Collamer, a career counselor in Connecticut and author of layoffsurvivalguide.com. "You're robbed not only of a sense of who you are, but of what you were supposed to be doing on a daily basis."
That's something Joe Urbanski has struggled with every day for the two months since he lost his job as a computer programmer for a security company in O'Fallon, Mo. He had no severance payment, and is now trying to live on $135 a week in unemployment benefits.
To make things worse, three days after he was laid off, Urbanski's girlfriend of three years ended the relationship. Now Urbanski, 54, needs to find both a job and a new apartment.
He spends about three hours a day online, searching job sites. Beyond that, there's little to do. "I feel aimless, empty ... worthless is also a good word to describe it," Urbanski says. "I've had jobs for 30 years. It's devastating."
Urbanski says he spends some time reading science fiction books, and some time watching TV. "But honestly, sometimes I just sit and stare out the window," he says.
Andrew Lisy, laid off from a Wall Street job two months ago, counts himself among the luckier ones. At 24 and with nobody to support, the Manhattan bond trader was just beginning his post-college career. He figures he has the savings and severance pay to tide him over for six months.
His approach has been to immerse himself in new projects as he ponders the next step. He spends many hours each day on a social networking site he's created, The Free Agents (freeagentnet.com), where members can meet others recently unemployed, and swap tips on life between jobs.
Since being laid off Andrew Lisy has started a Web site for those in a similar situation, and polished his cooking skills.
He's working out more, and has thrown his energy into becoming a better cook. "The other day I bought a vegan cookbook," he says. "I'm not a vegan, but I'm trying to cook all vegan to challenge myself. It's easier than you might think." The one luxury he allows himself: More sleep. He used to get up at 5 a.m for work. Now he sleeps 'til 9 or 10.

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