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An unemployed guy’s guide to Minnesota’s unemployment system

The ‘non-payable week,’ LinkedIn’s revenge, and how the Dislocated Worker Program actually works.

The people at the Workforce Center in St. Cloud are unceasing in their offers of assistance, pamphlets, computer access, the works.
MinnPost photo by Celia Neuman

ST. CLOUD — I lost my job on March 31, 2014. I have now been unemployed for six weeks. Here’s what I can tell you about this.

You will go to meetings

If you really enjoy meetings at your workplace, don’t worry, you still get to go to them when you’re unemployed. You will be paid less and there will be no ice cream cake, and if you don’t go to them, you won’t receive your unemployment benefits.

That said, you get out of the house and the people running them are super-friendly. There are meetings to make sure you are aware of how Minnesota’s unemployment system works. There are meetings to help you build your resume and search for jobs tailored to your skill set.

I assume there are meetings to tell you stuff you already know and meetings for the sake of meetings, in order to fully prepare you for the modern workplace.

You will stop making fun of LinkedIn (for now)

Do you know anyone who likes LinkedIn? You do not. However, one of the things the people who run the aforementioned meetings stress is to get on LinkedIn and start networking. And it’s true, you’ve been more active on the site and made some contacts!

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It is also true that you have yet to get any leads, much less job offers, from these LinkedIn contacts, and you will resume making fun of it when it is economically feasible for you to do so, because good god it’s the worst. 

You will wait an extra week for your unemployment insurance

A “non-payable” week is one of those unpleasant surprises that await you as you enter into unemployment.

You’ve been deemed eligible for unemployment benefits, but you have to wait a week before receiving them. This is not because cultivating anxiety is built in to the whole process, but rather due to costs and integrity, according to Richard Caligiuri, Director of the Unemployment Insurance Division at Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

“If a person is unemployed for only one week, it is widely held that they should not need temporary wage assistance,” Caligiuri says. “Also, particularly when economic conditions are good, a fairly high percentage of folks who become unemployed through no fault of their own actually find jobs right away — particularly when they are given sufficient notice prior to layoff.”

He added that the extra week “increases the accuracy of determinations of eligibility and would also serve to reduce the number of overpayments to individuals.”

This makes more sense to you now than when you discovered this feature the same week your last paycheck didn’t show up due to your previous employer’s insolvency. It was a bad week to have a non-payable week.

You will be overwhelmed by how helpful people are

The people at the Workforce Center in St. Cloud are unceasing in their offers of assistance, pamphlets, computer access, the works. Your friends and relatives will forward you job listings, punch up your resume and cover letter, or simply offer to buy you a beer or a cup of coffee. If you tend to cynicism, it’s a bracing reminder at a not-great time that people are often … nice. They may be getting paid to be nice, but it’s refreshing nonetheless. 

You will dread being asked how the job hunt is going

These same helpful people will likely ask you the above question. You want to be able to give them a good, positive answer, and there isn’t one. You will be unshowered and in your pajamas at 1:30 in the afternoon and you will lie and say something like, “Nothing yet, but there are a couple things I’m looking at.”

You feel worse, they feel better. They provided you with pamphlets/beer/coffee, so it evens out. 

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You will be asked questions by your kids that will break your heart

“Are we going to lose our house?” and “Will I be kicked out of dance since you don’t have a job anymore?” have both been asked of you. You’ve assured them it’s not that bad. Then you have to assure yourself of the same. You stare into the middle distance a lot more now.

You will not catch up on your movies/books/TV

You have a stack of a half-dozen unread books by your bedside. You have “Django Unchained” just itching to get sent back to Netflix. You have “Breaking Bad” season one, episode one queued up and ready. And none of these have been touched.

You will spend the traditional work day looking at job sites, picking apart and formatting your resume, shooting out emails, cold-calling leads and writing things like this or the Darwin Twine Ball Playing Right Field for the Minnesota Twins

You will also spend too much time on Twitter, but you have to stick it to the man somehow. (That said, the lack of Obamaphones is troubling. You were told there would be Obamaphones! They’re not mentioned in any of the pamphlets!)

You will be stunned by how little you know about government programs and how they work

In my case, I was eligible for Minnesota’s Dislocated Worker Program. I vaguely knew of it beforehand, but thought it was only for when the taconite mine taps out or the Ford plant closes. In fact, the program, created in 1990, is also there for a 43-year-old IT schlub who was part of a mass layoff, and can help with retraining and job search expenses.

Chris Perrier, a career planner for the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council, notes that there are also “programs that are federally funded and programs that are designed specifically for youth.”

What that means to me is I’m able to defray tuition costs for a copy writing class at the local tech college and transportation expenses for an out-of-town interview.

The most useful thing by far, though, is telling interviewers that the On-The-Job Training program can cover half my wages during my first six months of employment as I learn, um, on the job. I assume this is where the name comes from. The old, sad dude with the weak chin who didn’t get a severance and is morally opposed to PowerPoint looks a lot better when you can go back to your boss and say the state will give you money to hire him.

(Yes, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s the nickel version.)

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I had no idea about any of this. These are really helpful, necessary government programs, and I would like to thank whatever legislator(s) came up with it. I will vote for you a lot, even if you are deceased. Especially if you’re running against someone who wants to make it two non-payable weeks. I hope you beat that guy by a lot.

You will alternate between crushing self-doubt and actual optimism

I’ve felt like a failure as a husband and father for six weeks. I’ve also felt giddy over the potential opportunities I have for those six weeks. These emotions hinge on a phone call that doesn’t come, or an email that arrives out of nowhere.

Right now, I’m leaning more towards optimism. Ask me again in 26 weeks. Those dance classes don’t pay for themselves.