The holidays can be treacherous emotionally for all of us, but the festive season can pack an extra heavy wallop for the unemployed. They may not be able to muster the cheerfulness they are expected to feel and regret their inability to splurge on celebrations and gifts. If they have been out of work for many months, they may not be able to afford what they and other family members would have considered normal purchases when they had regular incomes.
Susan M. Sipprelle
David B., 50, of Weirton, W.V., has been laid off 10 times since he began working in a steel mill in 1978. He and his wife have learned to live frugally and budget their money carefully to get them through lean times, but their hopes were raised a bit when he was called back to the mill in late 2009.
After David had worked for five months and the holidays neared, the couple decided that they would shop together for living room furniture to replace their old worn sofa and chairs, rather than exchange individual gifts. They planned to delay the outing until January when they could take advantage of post-holiday discounts.
“It was two weeks after Christmas that I got laid back off,” David B. said in his interview for Over 50 and Out of Work, “so there went that idea again.”
“It would be kind of nice to do something like that,” he added, wistfully.
One path to blunt, if not overcome, the negative emotional impact that the holidays can bring is to hark back to simpler times. Remember that the season is about thankfulness and gratitude, rather than about spending money. Be generous with time and attention for others, rather than with gifts that create additional financial burdens and worries.
Protracted unemployment and financial pressures have focused many of our interviewees on leading more streamlined lives less cluttered with possessions. Often, they are finding their simpler lifestyles equally, if not more, satisfying than their former ways of life.
“I had all the junk and toys and crap,” said Bill F., 55, a flooring installer from Little Chute, Wisc. “That’s all it was, was stuff.” Now, his goal, he said, is straightforward: He wants to work, make a living and pay his bills.
“We think all these material things that we collect along the way mean so much, it really doesn’t,” said Regis T., 65, a family counselor from Hempstead, N.Y. To limit expenses, Regis T. downsized from a house to a one-bedroom apartment. To generate income, she sold her gold jewelry, as well as most of the records that she collected when she worked in the music industry. I don’t need those things anymore, she said.
Unemployed individuals who are experiencing hardships, but uncovering positives, are instinctively using the appreciative inquiry model, recommended by Kenny Moore, best-selling author, business consultant and former Catholic monk. The model, used to shape change, explores what works best in organizations and then uses those findings to build greater success.
“What we focus on creates reality,” Moore said. It is important for the unemployed to remember, he said, that the holiday season is not about things; it is about people.
The Great Recession decimated the contribution that Rich F., 50, a Rhode Island lobsterman and boat builder, was able to make to his family’s income. The family of four has become almost entirely reliant on his wife’s salary. They adapted by scaling down and leading a more modest lifestyle. Their present way of life more closely resembles the way Rich F. grew up than the family’s prior standard of living based on the couple’s dual earnings.
“Revisiting an old system, the family doing simple things becomes all of a sudden, a real pleasure,” Rich F. said about their new approach. “We make a lot out of family time with dinners and keep it simple, and it works.”
“Every tragedy has an opportunity,” Moore said.
As we travel around the country and interview Americans who are over 50 and out of work, we find people drawing upon previously untapped reserves of resilience, determination and courage that carry them through not only the holidays, but through many long months of joblessness. They draw strength from their families and friends, from their faiths and beliefs and from the memories of what their ancestors endured and overcame.
They often talk about the lessons they have learned from the hard knocks school of unemployment, reduced incomes and straightened circumstances. They value the additional time they have had to spend with their families, the new friendships they have found through the job search process and the meaning they have discovered in volunteering and giving back to their communities.
Boomers, lucky to be born and raised in times of general prosperity and peace, now find themselves facing an unanticipated economic challenge that affects not only them, but also their children and grandchildren. Unemployed boomers are relying on homely, old virtues, such as paring down, gratitude and compassion to get through the tough times they are facing financially and emotionally. If the boomers can combine their trademark characteristics of zest and optimism with their newfound wisdom, they can rebuild economic opportunities for themselves and the country.
Susan M. Sipprelle is a multimedia documentary maker, a journalist and a photographer. She graduated from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism in 2008, and is the mother of five children.
OVER 50 AND OUT OF WORK is an ongoing multimedia project that documents the impact of the Great Recession on jobless Americans, 50 and older. Boomers, generally regarded as self-centered and indulgent, reveal unexpected depths of faith, perseverance and resilience through their life stories.
Click on the Names to View Their Stories.
All opinions expressed by Susan M. Sipprelle are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.