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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

"Will work 4 principles"

Late last March the seven of us who comprise the department I'd worked for the past 18 years were summoned to a meeting with the new person who had been put over our office last year. Seated around a conference table, we all received the news that our employment contracts would not be renewed at the end of June.

State policies being what they are, we all received three months advance notice that our jobs would be ending. Three months was surely a generous amount of time to job hunt. By the time our contracts expired, I was sure all of us would have found alternate employment and would be thumbing our noses at the State of Kansas in general and the weasel who "reorganized" us out the door in particular.

I had reason to be optimistic. I've had good luck when it came to job hunting. My first job right out of college was at a small weekly newspaper where the publisher was more interested in when I could start than my grade point average or whether I had been a member of the student journalism honor society. When it turned out to be a really shitty job, I got the very next journalism job I applied for and found it much more to my liking. I was unemployed only once and that was only for a few weeks. That "dry spell" ended when I took my most recent job.

Now, three months after receiving notice the job was ending, I find myself unemployed for the first time in nearly two decades. Fortunately I was able to refinance my house and roll over my car payments and credit card debt, so I'm in decent shape. The weekly unemployment checks will be enough to cover the new mortgage payment and keep food on the table.

I've had time to contemplate my reversal of fortune when it comes to job hunting. The economy has changed in the past 18 years. Where once I could count on finding at least half a dozen public relations or writing jobs listed in the Sunday newspaper, last week I found only one.

Then there's the timing factor. I'm sending out resumes at the same time this year's crop college grads are churning out their resumes. Not only are they more computer literate than I am, but they will work cheaper.

I've also pondered whether having been a state employee worked against my in my job search. Despite having done a number of different jobs in my department - everything from redesigning the employee newsletter and serving as the media liaison to writing for the alumni magazine - I'm sure there are potential employers who see 18 years of service to the state and place my resume in the "probably brain-dead" file.

A few weeks ago I came across an interesting report on the Economic Policy Institute's website. Headlined "Many already lack a steady job before the Social Security retirement age." Among its findings was this:

Americans over 45 are disproportionately more likely than their younger counterparts to be among the long-term unemployed (those unemployed for 27 weeks or more). Americans older than 45 make up about 14% of the labor force but 37% of the long-term unemployed Older workers - even those as young as their late 40s and early 50s - are disproportionately more likely to fall into the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

All those are legitimate reasons why I'm finding myself without work for the first time since Reagan's second term. But there's something else that's been gnawing at me.

Near the end of my resume - under the heading of "Other skills" - I include information that I designed and maintain a website for a political club and that I helped with the editing and design of a book that was written and self-published by a friend. Lots of employers want people who have at least some knowledge of web design, I reasoned, and the type of attention to detail required to get a book ready for publication would be an asset to most companies.

Oh. Did I mention that the website was for an LGBT Democratic club and my friend's book was written for the families of gay married men who come out?

Perhaps I'm suffering under delusions of adequacy, but with my background in journalism, public relations, media work, writing, editing and web design, I figured the offers would come pouring in. Despite at least two dozen applications and resumes sent, faxed and e-mailed out, here are what I have received in return: a postcard and a e-mail acknowledging that my resume has been received and one "thanks, but no thanks" letter.

When I updated my resume, I thought the world had changed sufficiently that my work experience would stand on its own merits. For nearly two decades I've worked for an institution that includes sexual orientation in its non-discrimination policy. For over 10 years I've lived in a city that bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. It never occurred to me not to include the website and book on my resume.

As a friend of mine pointed out the other evening, "You've given them a reason to toss your resume without even an interview. For all they know you're one of those radical types who wears your sexual orientation on your sleeve and is prepared to file a grievance at the drop of a hat!"

He has a point. After all, this is Bush's America where the religious reich is one of many puppeteers pulling strings on the political stage. But on the other hand, I don't want to work for a company that discriminates and I refuse to hide in the closet.

So which will last longer? My prinicples or my unemployment benefits?

Maybe I'll start saving cardboard to make a "Will Work 4 Principles" sign and find an available stoplight to stand at to collect donations. Subversive that I am, I'd probably show donors the flip side of the sign on which is written "Thank you for your support of a gay man!" ... but not until I had their cash safely in hand.