Recovering from Job Loss
Losing a job or experiencing any kind of loss in income can be incredibly painful, both emotionally and financially.
Right now, millions of Americans are experiencing this kind of disruption as a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak. While there is no "right" way to manage joblessness, there are many proactive things you can do to reduce the negative impact and begin the road to recovery.
This page contains resources and guidance for anyone experiencing unplanned joblessness. This advice is meant to guide you through the immediate and long-term stages of recovery. These steps are presented in order, but feel free to skip ahead to the topics that are most valuable to you.
- Processing and Creating a Plan
- Accessing Benefits and Establishing Income
- Reducing Spending and Adjusting Your Budget
- Managing Debts and Communicating with Creditors
- Finding Long-term Employment
- Maintaining Health and Wellness
1. Processing and Creating a Plan
Job loss may not carry the same emotional weight as the loss of a loved one, but it is a loss. It’s natural to grieve and it’s normal to feel sad, even if you didn’t even like the job all that much.
In the immediate aftermath of experiencing job loss, it’s important that you allow yourself the space to process what’s happened. A job is – for better or for worse – a significant part of our identity. And when that goes away it can be hard to manage all the many painful feelings that creates.
You may not feel like talking through your experience, but try not to go through this alone – especially if you have a family that wants to help.
And to that end, it’s crucial that you be honest and open about the situation with the members of your household, especially if you’re one of the primary income earners in the family. Not everyone is comfortable talking about money and you may have reservations about letting your kids know what’s happened. But the fact of the matter is that you’re all in this together. And it’s so much easier to manage these kinds of sudden, difficult shifts when you’re all on the same page.
5 Ways to Make Tough Conversations with Kids Easier | Parents.com
Coping With Grief and Loss | HelpGuide.org
2. Accessing Benefits and Establishing Income
After learning that you’ve lost your job, one of your top priorities should be understanding what benefits are available to you and re-establishing some form of income. You’ll inevitably want to cut back on your spending (and we’ll get to that), but reducing your spending can only do so much if there’s no income – especially if you don’t have an adequate amount in savings (and most of us don’t).
Are you eligible for unemployment?
Unemployment insurance is a financial safety net managed by state governments to help workers as they transition from one job to another. It’s not a one-to-one replacement of your previous salary, but it’s money and you want to re-establish income as quickly as possible.
Your eligibility for unemployment benefits will be determined by the guidelines in your state of residence. Generally speaking, however, most states require the following:
You were laid off involuntarily – If you quit your job or were fired for misconduct, you’ll be much less likely to qualify for unemployment insurance.
You meet the base requirement for tenure and earnings – The metrics will vary from state-to-state, but you may not be eligible if you didn’t have the job long enough, work enough hours, or earn enough income.
You’re actively looking for a new job – Because unemployment insurance is meant to be a temporary measure for workers between jobs, most states will require some evidence that you’re looking for new job.
Whether or not you’re sure that you qualify, visit careeronestop.org to get information on the requirements for your state and a directions on how to apply. Unemployment benefits may take some time to kick in, so start this process immediately.
As part of the CARES Act, the federal government is offering an additional $600 per week for anyone who qualifies for regular unemployment insurance. These funds are a supplement for those specifically impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak and don’t require a separate application.
Are you self-employed?
Freelancers and the self-employed don’t typically qualify for unemployment benefits. As part of the coronavirus relief package, however, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program has been established to help those who aren’t eligible for typical unemployment insurance.
In order to access these funds, you need to first apply with your state’s unemployment office. Some states may require that you apply for regular unemployment benefits first before you’ll be able to apply for PUA.
The process may take a little time, but the good news is that PUA benefits are retroactive to January 27, 2020, so if you’ve been unemployed because of COVID-19 for some time you can be compensated for that lost work.
Can you temporarily pivot to a new line of work?
It may take some time to find a new long-time career, but in the short-term, you may be able to find a temporary source of income to help supplement any unemployment benefits or savings you may have.
Everything should be on the table. Selling unwanted or unneeded assets can help buy time, but finding a steady source of income can really go a long way toward stabilizing the situation and reducing some of the anxiety that comes with losing your job.
Fortunately, we live in a time when side hustles are somewhat easier to find. If you’ve ever considered dipping your toes in the gig economy, now may be the best time to start.
How Do I File for Unemployment Insurance? | U.S. Department of Labor
Unemployment Insurance Relief During COVID-19 Outbreak | U.S. Department of Labor
Unemployment Benefits Finder | CareerOneStop.org
3. Reducing Spending and Adjusting Your Budget
Even if you’re eligible for unemployment benefits, and even if you have a sizable emergency savings account, and even if you find a way to start up a temporary gig to keep at least some income flowing, you’re still going to need to reevaluate your spending in the event you lose your job.
Look for easy budget cuts
The first thing you’ll want to do is evaluate your spending and see where you can easily make cuts. Look at your last few bank statements and review all the charges.
- Are there any monthly charges you can quickly turn off? (Subscriptions, memberships, automated donations, etc.)
- Are there any non-essential charges that you could easily reduce? (Entertainment, takeout, etc.)
- Are there any essential charges that seem high and might be temporarily reduced? (Transportation, home care, groceries, etc.)
Making huge, sweeping changes to your lifestyle is really hard, but hopefully if you find enough small, easy wins you’ll be able to maintain something pretty close to normalcy.
Determine your priorities
Even in the best of times, there’s only so much money to go around. We’re always making spending decisions based on our personal priorities, but when you have less money to work with those distinctions become even more important.
You probably already know that essentials come before non-essentials and your mortgage payment comes before your Best Buy bill, but there’s another level to consider.
For example, you know that food is a priority, but what are your priorities within that category? Are there dietary restrictions? Are there technical limitations to consider? What about simple preferences?
As money gets tight, it can be incredibly helpful to understand your household priorities and make sure everyone is onboard.
Increase your money mindfulness
If you’re intimidated by the idea of creating a new budget, then you can simplify the process by asking yourself a few quick questions before each purchase:
- Do I have enough to pay for this now?
- What might I have to sacrifice if I spend this money now?
- What happens if I don’t spend this money now?
- What am I trying to accomplish with this money?
- Is there a less expensive way to accomplish the same thing?
For some people, drilling down into the details is really helpful. For others, that level of work is just a blocker and prevents them for properly dealing with their financial situation at all. Be honest with yourself. If you have disposition to create and maintain a strict “between-jobs” budget, then go for it. If not, that’s okay. Just find the method that helps you succeed.
Food Bank Locator | FeedingAmerica.org
Free or Low-Cost Social Services | AuntBertha.com
Access to Local Assistance Programs | 211.org
4. Managing Debts and Communicating with Creditors
When you experience a sudden reduction in income, you need to quickly sort through your expenses and determine what you can pay and what you can’t pay. That process extends to your various debts.
If you can keep up with your mortgage, car loan, student loans, and various credit card debts, great! But for most people, one or more of those expenses may need to be reduced or deferred until your income returns to normal.
To effectively prioritize your debts, you need to ask the following about every debt:
- What are the consequences of not paying this debt?
- How much do I owe each month and what can I really afford?
- How willing is this creditor to help me out?
It’s not a fun process by any means, but if you do the work and make the calls, you can buy yourself some crucial breathing room as you work to re-establish your income.
Mortgage Assistance Programs | MakingHomeAffordable.gov
How to Get Temporary Relief for Student Loans | StudentAid.gov
5. Finding Long-term Employment
The most daunting part about losing a job is the work that’s often required to find a new job. Job hunting is draining and, depending on your field and the current economic landscape, it can take a long time to find a good, long-term fit.
There’s no “correct” way to look for a new job, but there are some fundamental steps that cover almost every industry.
Highlight your relevant skills and experience – Make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are up to date and reflect your most impactful skills and prior experience, especially when considering the openings you’re applying for.
Make yourself visible – Now’s not the time to be shy. Leverage social media. Lean on your friends in the industry. Talk yourself up whenever possible. Connect with companies that you think you could benefit, whether they’re hiring or not. This can be tough if you’re not much for self-promotion, but in a competitive market it really pays to get your name out there.
Make job hunting a job and stick to your schedule – Creating a quality job hunting routine can go a long way towards ensuring that you stay positive and focused, even if the process takes a while. If you view job hunting as a job itself with scheduled tasks and key deliverables, you’ll have an easier time being consistently productive, while also not feeling guilty about the time you don’t spend job hunting (hey, you’re off the clock).
Job Search Tools | CareerOneStop.org
“Help Me Find a Job!” Emails to Send to Your Network | TheMuse.com
How to Use LinkedIn to Get a Job | TopResume.com
6. Maintaining Health and Wellness
It may be tempting to disregard your health during a period of joblessness, but fight that temptation. Keeping you and your family safe and healthy should always be a top priority, no matter the circumstances.
Maintaining physical health
If you had health insurance coverage in your previous job, you may be eligible for COBRA continuation health coverage. If your former employer was a private-sector business with 20 or more employees, chances are good that they’re required to offer you the chance to continue using your group insurance policy.
The catch is that your former employer will no longer be paying a portion of the costs, so while you may have the same benefits, the policy will now be substantially more expensive.
Instead, you may want visit HealthCare.gov to see if you can find a more affordable plan.
Maintaining mental wellness
Here’s an important thing to keep in mind: You are not your job status.
As you navigate the often difficult process of re-establishing income, it's important that you remember that your job status doesn't define you. It's completely natural (and understandable) to be distressed when you're out of work. It's hard and the longer it goes, the more it wears on you.
That's why you absolutely must be kind to yourself whenever possible. Don't forget—you're reading this right now because you're trying. Give yourself credit where it's due and slack where it's needed. Recovery from joblessness is rarely ever a linear process. And while you can't always control how long it will last, you can control how you treat yourself along the way.
Mental wellness looks a little different for everyone, but here are helpful tips for maintaining perspective and staying in a positive headspace:
Take breaks – If you’re treating job hunting like a job, you should also make sure to give yourself breaks and days off. Allow yourself some time away from the grind. And don’t feel guilty about taking that time to yourself!
Treat yourself – When you’re unemployed, the budget gets pretty tight. As you're trying to keep spending minimal, it's almost inevitable that you're going to feel like you're depriving yourself. To offset that frustration, budget some room for the occasional splurge. Pick a thing that brings you a lot of joy that's outside of your defined essentials, and treat yourself. Even if the money's not there and you absolutely cannot spend on anything beyond the barest of essentials, it's still vitally important that you find free ways to engage with your interests.
Don't isolate yourself – If you're feeling down about being unemployed, you may not want to do a lot of the things you normally do, or see the people you normally see. While there may be very real financial constraints at work, you should do whatever you can to maintain your hobbies and relationships. When you isolate yourself and completely break from all your healthiest habits, the process just gets all that much harder and lonelier.