I was unemployed from April 1, 2012 to April 22, 2013. That was a pretty long time to be out of work, as you can probably appreciate.
(Note that I'm graciously leaving out a five-week period in which I was Executive Editor of GameSpy.com, mostly because the bulk of those five weeks were spent getting used to the CMS for the site rather than actually creating content for it. It was an honor to write for a site that I greatly respected, but it was pretty clear that IGN didn't really have a lot of resources to bring to bear on GameSpy. In the end, getting laid off was a pretty fortunate turn, especially since it freed me up to come on board over here.)
Anyway, I was out of work for almost a year, aside from occasional freelance assignments. The great state of California is fairly close to the mean when it comes to unemployment benefits, kicking out $450 a week at the maximum level, which I qualified for. Some citizens might have gnashed their teeth at the prospect of living on the dole, but I figured that I had put my fair share into the system over the past eight years of my working life through the contributions that the companies I had worked for had paid out to the state unemployment ledgers. I didn't really feel too bad at getting a workable amount of financial support while I was actively looking for work.
No one takes any kind of pride in living off of government assistance, obviously, but neither was the prospect of drawing unemployment any source of shame or depression to me. Not to get political, but I think most sane people can agree that it's better for a society to support someone who finds themselves unemployed during their search for a new job (for a reasonable amount of time) rather than let said citizen be turned out on the street. I was supported by the state to a not-inconsiderable sum during the year that I was looking for work, but now that I'm back on the job, I'm paying the state of California a not-inconsiderable sum in taxes, and will be for some time into the future. Which is a good thing for everyone concerned, in my opinion.
(One annoyance worth mentioning: when I would report freelance income on my unemployment forms, the following check would deduct the bulk of that income from my benefits. I can kind of get the reasoning behind this, but at the same time it seemed to eliminate most of the motivation to look for part-time or freelance work, since you would wind up making practically the same amount of money not doing that work as you would actually doing it. That conundrum, combined with the amazing annoyance that freelance contracts often wind up being, were almost enough to convince me to write for free rather than ask for payment for them. (Almost.))
I can't claim that my situation was necessarily a standard one, though: despite the fairly ridiculous cost of living in San Francisco, I was still fortunate in that the unemployment benefit that I was drawing covered all of my rent and bills, with a bit left over for food. I say "fortunate," but in the end that situation was just as much a result of my life choices as it was a result of circumstances: I managed to pay off my student loans a couple of years ago, I don't have children, and I don't own a car, the latter two of which are likely to be immediate concerns for the majority of people who are filing for unemployment. (To be fair, the "not owning a car part" is kind of built into the cost of living in San Francisco, since it's such a bike-friendly city; I might pay a few hundred dollars more a month to live here than I would elsewhere, but I wind up saving that money through not having to pay for a car loan, parking, gas, tickets, and etc.)
I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm the best at making smart financial decisions, but I did at least learn to avoid debt pretty early on in life from some unfortunate family mistakes, and I've always made it a point to try and stay away from large financial commitments unless I'm relatively sure I can pay for them immediately without incurring monthly bills. To that end, I don't think I actually even have any real debt; I have a credit card, but I make it a point to pay it off every month and just get some points from spending on it.
Being unemployed also encouraged me to be frugal in other ways, though. For instance: paper towels? Mostly unnecessary! You can wipe down dishes and stuff with rags pretty easily, and they're completely reusable if you're willing to wash and wring them out regularly. Cable television? Cut the cord! Video games? No need to get them right away! Wait for a Steam sale! Haircuts? Why spend 30 bucks a month when you can buy a set of Wahl clippers for 20 bucks on Amazon and do it yourself? The back of your head might wind up looking suspiciously like a mullet, since you can't actually see it when you give yourself a buzz, but you'll wind up saving a boatload of money over a year.
I wish I could say that I had much of a point to all this; this is really more of a series of thoughts than any kind of narrative. I appreciate all the good wishes that everyone had for me during my time out of the limelight, but in the end, I guess my dirty little secret about unemployment is this: I kind of enjoyed it. I wish I hadn't been unemployed for so long, but after a series of jobs where working 60 hours a week was normal, it was kind of refreshing to be able to read a bunch of books, hang out at bars until they closed, work through some of my game queue, and most importantly sleep as much as I goddamned please for a while. There was a bit of anxiety here and there, but not nearly as much as I would've experienced if I had had kids to feed or a bunch of debt to worry about. I wasn't kicking around like it was a vacation - I was actively looking for work the whole time - but at the same time it was nice not to have to worry about getting up and heading into an office every day.
That's not to say that being out of work for so long doesn't breed a bit of cynicism. I'm a bit of a pessimist to begin with, and I'm still pretty sure that we'll all be unemployed and underwater well before the robots take over in 2060. In the near future, though, it's a good thing to remember that corporations might care about your happiness insofar as it affects your productivity, but that they'll also cut you loose as soon as the calculus shifts against your continued employment. I suppose that's fair, so far as such things go, but it's also a good thing to keep in mind when figuring out how to balance personal needs and the needs of your employer.
Anyway, it's good to be back in the fold of the working man, and a bit of positive cash flow now brings the exciting prospect of actually buying some stuff that I've been holding off on purchasing for a while, like new shoes and some glasses and a new TV and such. But I'll leave that for another blog post, I suppose.