How to Tolerate Living with an Unemployed Person

Long-term unemployment is an issue that has been present in the US economy for what seems like forever. In reality, however, it has only been since Fall 2007 that the unemployment rate has hovered around ten percent. Do you know someone who, despite his or her efforts, could not find a real job?

After I got separated from my former wife, my best friend Roland was there for me. In his tiny studio apartment, I got my bearings and looked for more work and my own place to live. I was so out of sorts that I thought I had only been with him for a couple nights. In reality, I’d couch-surfed at his place for a whole week. The experience worked out pretty well, so when my rent got too high at my solo place, and Roland wanted a new place to live, we decided to share an apartment.

Now, as of today, Roland and I have been roommates for a year and a half. Of those eighteen months or so, he has only been employed for about six of them. He had a job working at a print shop, and one day he came home and said, “I got laid off.” Roland has not worked a regular job since; he’s been drawing unemployment insurance for almost a year now. Luckily for him, the job from which he was laid off was full-time; otherwise, he would not have been eligible for the unemployment.

Roland’s existence is the most miserable one I have witnessed. He fills the day doing who knows what: watching daytime TV, cooking pasta, sleeping, and checking job postings online. While I have two jobs, enjoy going to the gym, and socializing with friends, Roland only seems to leave the apartment if he goes to the bar or to see his girlfriend. He is seemingly always in our living space, as he has no place else to go. One can imagine that this makes living with him challenging at best and annoying at worst.

How shall one tolerate living with an unemployed person, then? If you find yourself in this situation, a handful of mental strategies can make the situation better for both employed and unemployed parties. The most important steps encompass how one must challenge assumptions and judgments toward the unemployed person. Here are the core concepts that help me:

1) It’s not just him. With our economy readjusting, many people sit where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. It’s not his fault to have been laid off. Don’t blame the victim. Trust me, down that road of judgment lies madness.

2) Living on unemployment is not bad or evil; it is a rational choice. Roland could get a menial big-box or fast-food restaurant job or the other “careers” offered by our current economy, but he is college educated, so he has decided to use the safety net provided by our government. These choices are for the unemployed person, not you.

3) It’s not forever. Obviously, unemployment does not go on forever. The economy will turn around, and those currently unemployed will get jobs. In the future, it could be me as the one without a job. Build sympathy, not judgment.

Furthermore, it is not your job to offer platitudes or pep talks to the unemployed person. Learn trust-he will handle things on his terms. Learn how to let things go-I have learned to not expect cleaning to get done. But then again, why would I expect something like that from a person with whom I have not discussed cleaning? Roland is not my maid.

The best strategy I have for dealing with an unemployed person might seem like a choice to isolate the unemployed person, but I do not look at it that way. Find productive, fun “third places” (third place = a hangout away from home and work) to go. I go to the gym, the library, and my girlfriend’s place. Often I will grab my gym gear on my way to work so I do not have to drop in at the apartment later, and leave Roland the master of his domain for half the day. I am not sure this strategy helps him per se, but I know that it helps me tolerate living with an unemployed person a lot better.

Luckily for nearly all of us, living with an unemployed person is not permanent. Life changes, and quickly. Even the worst recession since the Great Depression will pass. To kick out an unemployed person could be hardhearted, but it may be necessary if the strategies I have described fail. But overall, learning to live tolerantly with an unemployed person might be the best thing one does as a favor, and also because learning tolerance is a great gift. Let others choose their values, and let you make your own and put those values into action. What better way is there to be a good citizen-and a good friend?

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