The Failure of Unemployment in America

I filed for unemployment for the first time in my life in March 2020 in my home state of NJ.

I was working for a temp agency. I had quit my low-wage job for the millionth time to pursue an office career; unfortunately, after a month or so in a position I enjoyed, the virus hit America. Offices closed; including the one I worked for. Permanent employees were taking laptops and going remote.

When my boss asked if I wanted to continue working, I quickly and enthusiastically agreed. Soon, I was one of the only ones left in the office with my boss, who was determined to help me set up for remote work.

Before the end of the day, my boss called me into one of the conference rooms to inform me that they could not grant temp employees remote access. He told me that in a few months, they would probably have more roles open, and if I applied, I would be welcome to use his name because he appreciated my work. I am still truly touched by his words.

At this point, the reader may wonder why I would not once again return to my low-wage job. My longtime job was in customer service as a cashier, among other duties. It’s a germ-infested job as it is. Add the pandemic to the mix, and it’s deadly.

I applied for any remote data entry temp positions I could find.

Nothing was working. I had never filed for unemployment before. In fact, over the years, I had lost a month or so of income before when looking for temp jobs, but normally, I would return to my cashier position to fill in the gaps. I couldn’t do that, this time.

So, I filed in NJ. I filled everything out online. It took hours, but I managed. I figured I’d receive an email or a call in the near future. A month went by. Nothing. I tried calling, but it was hard to get through with everyone else now out of work and applying.

I went back to applying constantly for remote data entry.

Finally, I landed one that I had previously applied for about a year earlier. I was thrilled. I thoroughly enjoyed it; however, I was not making much. I needed to afford rent in PA, where I was staying. So, I talked with my then boyfriend who lives in Upstate, NY. I was merely venting, when he began suggesting that I move in with him and his parents. He reassured me that I would not have to pay rent there, and that they would not mind at all. It took three months of convincing for me to finally agree.

In the meantime, I applied for NY temp positions. That was difficult because I was not yet moved. Yes, I could give them the address where I would be staying, but if they wanted an in-person interview before I moved that could be difficult. That means taking off work, driving half a day to NY, getting ready for an interview, which may or may not lead to employment, and then driving back to PA/NJ.

So, I gave my two weeks notice and moved, instead.

“Difficult” does not begin to describe looking for remote work in the Spring of 2020. Eventually, I gave up on the requirement for remote and landed a data entry position onsite. I was there four months. It was the longest I had worked in a temp position. When it ended, I tried again to find another position; however, that proved difficult, like in NJ.

So, I applied for NY unemployment.

In the summer, I finally received a forwarded letter from NJ unemployment.

I did not qualify. I had left my previous cashier job voluntarily. They decided that my temp job ending because of the pandemic wasn’t good enough.

I was about to ignore the five or so weeks of unpaid time in NJ, when NY began denying my claim for those four months!

Their main reason? The NJ case was still “open.”

I called NJ to close it. It took a long time to get through, but after explaining the situation in NY, they closed it.

Then, I called NY to let them know. Due to the growing unemployment rate, calling NY took weeks to get through. According to them, since NJ still owed me unemployment, they could not process my claim until the money from NJ was taken care of.

I resumed calling NJ, asking them to process my claim.

An agent “escalated” the claim, telling me it “could take a few months,” but that everything would be fine.

Months went by with no improvement. I would learn about the scam of “agents” and “escalations” on a Facebook group of all things. Most people answering the phone on the NJ Unemployment line are not agents; they’re reps! They have no power to do anything. They are trained to say that they’ve “escalated” claims to “upper management,” simply to get the person off the phone. To avoid making people immediately angry, they include “it takes a few months” as a way to get the person to stop calling them for a while. Disgusting.

During all of this, I was thankfully employed by another temp agency in NY with a wonderful company president for my contact. I am forever grateful to him.

At this time, I was working onsite, on my second temp assignment for them.

I cannot remember every attempt I made to get through to NJ and NY unemployment. At one point, I messaged the NY government with my situation and received a call from a real employee of NY unemployment while working at my desk. She informed me that there is a law that entitles me to the money from NJ. I went back and forth with her and NJ unemployment for a while.

Eventually, my NJ claim closed due to no activity. It’s funny, isn’t it? I had to refile again, almost a year from the original time I became unemployed for a month, even though I had been diligent with checking on it.

On Facebook, I learned and tried what is known as “The Phone Trick.”

Since calling NJ unemployment and following prompts usually leads nowhere or to an “agent” saying they’ve “escalated” the claim, people found a way to bypass the lie.

I tried this and got through. I could tell that this woman was not a rep. She immediately went into my file and informed me that I had to appeal. This was still bad news, but at least it wasn’t the usual “I’ll escalate this. It’ll take a few months. Don’t worry.”

The last attempt I made was to file the appeal in January. I explained the situation:

“The reasons for the disqualification make sense; however, the pandemic makes this unique.

I moved to [upstate], NY in July 2020; therefore, I did not receive a mailed notification about my NJ unemployment until later. Mail forwarding was still being processed. Today, I estimated around when I received that first letter, but I’m unsure of the exact date in February. I was confused by the letter, and it took a while to try to make sense of it. I was also dealing with a lot at once with the move.

In NJ, I was working as a cashier on/off since 2007. I was trying to find a permanent office position through temp agencies. I left [that job] for the last time on 02/09/2020 for my [temp office role]. [They] closed because of [everything] 03/2020. Onsite, I was being set up to go remote, when my manager at [the office] found out that they don’t allow temps to be remote. That’s how 03/19/2020 became my last day.

I would have returned to [my cashier job]; however, the pandemic makes onsite customer service dangerous; therefore, I began looking for a remote temp position, instead. I found one with [another NJ temp agency] 04/29/2020.

I planned to move to NY eventually, and since the pandemic created more remote work I decided to do it, early. I left [the NJ temp agency] in order to get settled in [upstate, NY]. I temped from 07/2020 until 11/2020 with [a NY temp agency] onsite for the time being; unfortunately, I didn’t find remote work until 04/19/2021 for [my current agency], where I have been ever since. I tried to apply for NY unemployment, but NY was also overwhelmed from the pandemic. I was going to let the NJ case go, until I reached an agent who told me I need to finalize the claim in NJ. The NY agent informed me that there’s a law that would allow me to receive that money.

Today, I spoke on the phone with a NJ agent who told me to appeal this claim.

Thank you for your time!”

My appeal letter without sensitive information.

I waited.

No response.

I cannot access my claim online. It says there is too much activity.

Social Thoughts screenshot of UI profile screen.

When I search for my current status, the date of my second time filing still shows; however, there continues to be no backpay for that time.

Calling does nothing. Emailing does nothing.

I fear ever becoming unemployed, again. I fear this will never be resolved.

Screenshot by author Social Thoughts.

I wrote this to vent, as well as to send the message to others that they are far from alone.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Note: This is an original work by the author Social Thoughts on their blog site.

03.27.2022

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