I heard a staggering statistic on NPR, our public radio station: the number of homeless children in San Diego county has gone up 83 percent since 2008. That probably tells you a lot about how bad the economy is in California. Yet my future in the United States largely hinges on getting a job. This has become a major worry since the news always comes back to the same nauseating theme in a thousand variations: there are no jobs. When you hear about people with master’s degrees returning home to live with their parents because they are seriously in debt and haven’t found a job for two years, you do start to wonder if you would just be better off playing the lottery. In fact, finding a job starts to feel a bit like trying to come up with a magical number. What would be the perfect combination that would make you an ideal candidate for someone?
Perhaps I underestimated the job problem. I maybe naively assumed that I’d be able to find something within a few months. My casual remarks to the English Husband always were that ‘we’d just find jobs and everything else would eventually fall into place’. In these fantasies I was never living back at the parental home and sharing a car with my mother – and I always had a job within weeks of clearing immigration.
Sure, things in London are not great economically, but it’s a major international city and, for that reason, you can largely feel sheltered from some of the worst effects of a recession so long as you don’t lose your job. For instance, I don’t know anyone who is underwater in London (where they owe more than their house is worth), but in the United States I know several.
It’s also true that there is scepticism about buying a home in the United States because of the state of the economy. Many of my friends believe it is better to continue renting, but the opposite is true in London – it’s almost always cheaper to have a mortgage than to rent, which can be extortionate in good areas.
But there will be no rental or future mortgage without a job first. Since I’m already in the United States while the English Husband continues to work in London, I’m the one looking seriously for a job that can support a family of four. I can’t say I’ve attacked this task with the gusto with which I might attack a good bottle of wine, but I have done a fair amount of searching. Okay, I’ve been searching in the causal way you might look for a lost earring.
As I don’t hold highly employable skills – I work with humble words – I am at the mercy of a limited number of possibilities. Right now that possibility is precisely ONE.
What I’m up against – the grim truth about unemployment
- 1.1m Californians are receiving unemployment benefits (as of October 17)
- 3.9m Americans have had their unemployment benefits expire
- 545,000: The number of Californians who have had their unemployment benefits expire since February 2010
- About half of all unemployed Californians have been out of work for at least six months
- The average amount of weekly unemployment benefits is $294, with the maximum at $450
- The unemployment rate in CA (as of Oct, non-adjusted) was 11.9 percent
- The total unemployment rate in CA (adjusted) was 16.5 percent in Sept (the adjusted rate includes all unemployed people looking for a job, those discouraged but still wanting to work and part-timers who want to work full time)
- The Georgia Department of Labor estimates their unemployment rate (adjusted) at 10.3 percent, according to their website
Sources: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Calif Employment Development Dept, San Diego Union-Tribune
I ended up applying to a job in Atlanta on a whim. I thought the job had great potential, far better than anything I found on the west coast, and Atlanta is certainly more affordable than California. There were some immediate advantages. The weather was not one of them and this is a city I’ve never been to before.
Miraculously, I was shortlisted for two interviews over the phone. I must have said something right, because I got flown to Atlanta for a third and, presumably, final interview this weekend. I still like the sound of the job, and Atlanta pleasantly surprised me. The reality of living there, though, might be far different from dipping your toes. I spent less than two days in the city and I probably walked around in circles in a 2-mile radius. This is less knowledge than the average tourist armed with a Lonely Planet would have.
Would I move there? I don’t know. Part of me wants to jump at the chance if the opportunity comes up. I don’t think it would be easy to match this job offer. But it would mean asking the husband to give up his relatively well-paid job in the UK. He has been the breadwinner so far in our relationship. I can’t reassure him about how well he will do in the United States. I only know he will be starting from scratch. This is both exciting and terrifying.
Traveling in Atlanta
Upon landing in Atlanta I am tempted to take a cab because the company I am interviewing with is going to pay for it – and I have no idea where I’m going. I go to an information desk and two lovely Southern ladies basically all but tell me not to bother with a cab because of the horrific traffic. Have they ever lived in London or Los Angeles, I wonder. Could it be an exaggeration? They persuade me to travel by Marta (Atlanta’s version of the subway system). Since I have traveled on a subway system for more years than I have driven a car, I feel at home negotiating just about any form of public transport. In other words, a bit of dirt, roughness and strange maps don’t tend to scare me.
I find that Marta is remarkably similar to London’s underground but much, much smaller. You have to pay in advance for a plastic Breeze card that you load with money. This is exactly the same to London’s Oyster card but at a fraction of the price. We are talking a fraction here. Whereas a one-way ticket from Heathrow to the center of London (including a deposit on a new Oyster card) will probably set you back about $10 or maybe more, this cost me $3.50. Bargain.
I emerge from the subway and get my first impression of the city. The immediate feeling is one of disorientation. I’m used to a teeming metropolis, a sea of pedestrians and buildings/shops/cafes/bars that are literally on top of one another. This is eerily quiet and it’s about 5pm. The blocks are intimidatingly huge and there are very few people on foot. I’m guessing that people are in love with their cars here. I get lost walking to my hotel, get sore feet and end up hot and sweaty – and this is nearly November. I feel slightly uneasy about Southern summers. I believe the English Husband would probably melt into a pool of bitter resentment come July and August. A London summer day very rarely gets over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The summer average I would guess at 70 degrees with a fair amount of rain.
But no point in getting carried away with weather woes, one of my favorite subjects (a trait I inherited from the Brits) . Before I can contemplate cloud formations and humidity, I need a job.