Tag Archives: unemployment

Thankful.

Last week was the big fancy dinner that my job throws.  Unlike a lot of nonprofit functions, this one is usually not boring, and doesn’t involve a lot of big financial requests.  And it made me feel very inspired, but mostly it made me feel lucky and thankful.

You guys, I work for the best people in the world.  I truly and genuinely believe this.  I work for people that care about me as a person, about me as a lawyer, and about women in general.  I think this is awesome.  Our organization does good work, and I feel like I have all of the support in the world from my boss.

I point out a lot that I work regular hours.  And I brag about this not because it means I get home at 5pm, but because I truly believe that my office’s fierce protection of regular hours is more about them trying to improve work-life balance for Americans and trying to prevent staff burnout.  I don’t make a lot of money, but my office has my back.  Additionally, my company creates part-time positions designed to help stay-at-home parents re-enter the workforce, and positions like mine allow the idea of having children and a fulfilling career seem possible, and I think that is really important for organizations that are committed to improving the lives and status of women.

This year, it’s pretty easy to say what I’m thankful for, because it’s my job.  It’s my job that reminds me continually why I went to law school.  It’s my job that gave me a chance as a lawyer, that values me as a professional, and it’s my job that allows me to continue to serve person after person who is in desperate need.  It’s my job that makes me feel fulfilled, which has made me happier than I knew I could be.

Plus I get to walk to work.

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Interview Questions, Part III

Do you have a family?

When asked this question on an interview last year, I nearly choked.  This is a question that is not only illegal, there is no good answer.  Saying “yes” says that “I will be leaving work early to go to piano recitals” and saying no says, “yes, but I might in the future.”

Several people asked if when a lawyer asks this question, is it some kind of test as to whether or not you know this is an illegal question.  Several people have suggested that I take the interviewer to task over this question.  Those people clearly do not understand the market, in which applicants are a dime a dozen and employers have the upper hand.

So how have I handled this question?  The last time, I simply said, “yes.”  Because well, everyone has a family.  I said yes in a halting way, as if I found the question offensive and the interviewer had better clarify why he/she had asked it.  Which he/she did, or tried to.  But I walked away from the interview wondering if a job that asked me about a family was somewhere I wanted to work, so the question really hurts both people.

The tips I found on the internet for avoiding illegal questions are to say things like, “I can meet the demanding requirements of this job, if that is what you are asking.”  I’m not quite that slick yet, but I’ve been practicing.  I think another easy “don’t-you-know-that-question-is-illegal” answer is, “what exactly are you asking?”  The problem is, they might clarify by saying, “do you have children?” And a don’t-ask-don’t-tell, “it is my understanding that you are not allowed to ask me these types of questions” is probably not the right response, but will do if you’ve already decided you don’t want the job.

I’ve actually been asked this, or if I am married, quite a lot.  So I need to have a better response in my back pocket that says, “MYOB.”  Any suggestions?  Has anyone else faced this?

 

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Retirement and Saving

I finally sat down and talked to my financial adviser yesterday (fancy speak for my best friend from high school who is a CFA), and he did not react well to the news that I’m not saving for retirement.  The conversation ended with me opening a Roth IRA at Fidelity, and a couple people asked me questions about it on Twitter, so I thought I’d explain my process a little bit.

Here’s the tricky thing about all financial guides directed to people in their twenties.  They tell you how to eliminate the credit card debt you inevitably piled up in college buying big macs and they teach you to start saving money towards a house.  They tell you to contribute whatever is left to your retirement account, preferably a 401(k) your employer matches.  (I have read this post on numerous personal finance blogs, but I’m open to reading other posts that say different things.)

I grew up in a relatively affluent area, and as such, I know a fair number of people in their twenties who are a) debt free and b) living comfortably.  Some of them have the luxury of living in a house their parent’s own, rent-free, some of them received an inheritance or a significant amount of money as a graduation present, some of them have simply been working since they were 16 and have saved a significant amount of money.  All of this is to say, there is very little advice for a person who is not currently in debt, and who either has a house, or has enough money to a house without needing to save for one, or has no interest in having a house.

There is a conception that has been promulgated recently among some of my friends that rich kids know what they are doing when it comes to money.  The truth is they don’t, because they’ve never really had to worry about it.  So let’s start with the very best advice I’ve received all year: retirement savings.

From what my high school friend tells me, there are basically three retirement options – an IRA, a Roth IRA, and a 401(k).  The difference between a Roth IRA and an IRA is that an IRA is taxed when you take the money out and a Roth IRA is that it is taxed when you put the money in.  So if you are in a lower tax bracket now than you plan to be when you retire, a Roth IRA is the way to go.  (This is how it was explained to me.  Please please please do your own research.  I am not giving you financial advice.)

A Roth IRA has income limits, which I am currently well below.  So a Roth IRA seemed like a no-brainer – so there are two remaining questions: where, and how much money do you put in?

There are a number of investment companies out there that do retirement accounts.  I went with Fidelity because my friend recommended it, based on the fact that I could invest with the S&P for free (I have zero understanding of what this actually means, expect a post on investment shortly once I’ve learned more about it).  I decided to go with Fidelity for the same reason that my parents both got iPhones.  It’s much easier to help somebody with a problem when you understand it, so since my friend invests with Fidelity, I can go to him for help in the future and he will understand it better than if I went with Vanguard (my second choice, as it’s where my husband’s accounts are.)

The second question – how much money do you put in?  My friend’s advice was that once I/we have a six-month emergency fund in savings, I should be maxing out my retirement funds.  You can put in $5,000 a year.  The minimum for Fidelity is $2,500.  The minimum for other companies is supposedly lower (one tweep said her minimum was $1,500 per year.)  The thing about retirement funds is it is incredibly hard to play catchup if say, you don’t start saving for retirement until you are 30 (this was the lecture I got today), but if you start saving now, even if it’s not very much, it will give you a boost for the future.  As a person who does not make much money currently, I know that I cannot count on having a large amount of social security earnings (if I can count on any), so saving for my future makes me feel better about it.

In case you are wondering whether you really need to save for your retirement, nursing homes cost about $7,000 a month.  Does anyone else have any tips or thoughts on investing and retirement funds?

 

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No lateral moves

Somewhere along the way, I made a promise to myself: no lateral moves.  No moving from my job to a slightly-better-job.  I want a salary, I want benefits, I want personal fulfillment.  Does this make me sound entitled?  Maybe, except I have a job that I like very much that does not have a salary or benefits (but is more personally fulfilling than I ever expected.)

So there is this other job, that was listed yesterday.  It’s at an organization I used to work for, doing work I swore I was finished with, but it has a salary and benefits and personal fulfillment.  I would be working in an office with a very good friend of mine and I would be doing good, important, meaningful work.  It would be a lot of litigation, which isn’t something I have any experience with (and experience I probably need), and it would offer me a route back into the public interest job sector.  It has reasonable, flexible hours, and reasonable expectations of it’s entry-level opportunities, so it seems like a no-brainer.

What doesn’t it have? An avenue for advancement.  A guarantee that if I got and took this job, I would eventually end up back in public interest elder law (an area that just doesn’t hire enough.)  A guarantee that if I got and took this job, I could eventually transition to a future in legislative advocacy work.  A guarantee that if I got and took this job, I would be good at it.  A guarantee that if I got and took this job, we would have everything we’ve been talking about for a year and therefore Everything Would Be Okay, like we’ve been talking about for a year.

I come down to wondering if I’m just scared.  I’m scared, genuinely scared, to get a real job.  I have always worked at jobs that were below my experience level, that didn’t pay, that offered rewards in their nonmonetary compensation.  When I have been paid, it’s almost a token of appreciation, enough to pay gas and parking and maybe for groceries.  I make money at this job now, but not a salary.  And I wonder if there is a reason for that besides the crummy economy – if I’m letting The Fear hold me back.  If they pay me a salary, they will expect me to show up and work hard, and while academically, I know I do not have a problem with hard work, I have always worked hard, and I will continue to do so, what if what if what if it isn’t good enough for the real world?

At the same time, I’m itching, as my friend C. said, to get out there, to lawyer, to put my name on my work and have it be mine and to own who I am and what I do and stand up and say, “I’m your lawyer, b*tches.”  But on the other shoulder is the little scardy cat scales of justice telling me that if I continue to go for jobs that aren’t what I really want, I’m selling out for the money and the health insurance and in twenty years I’ll look back on my life and say, “well, how did I end up here?”

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The 99%

Whenever I check out We Are The 99%, I think about whether or not I am part of the 99%.  The definition from the website is:

“We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.”

What I conclude, when I read through the site is, I am not “part of” the 99%, as I have money for both groceries and rent, but I am one bad medical problem, car accident, or layoff away from being part of the 99%.  Despite the fact that I went to law school, passed the bar, and was sworn in nearly a year ago, I am still unable to support myself.  My husband supports us.  If he lost his job, we would probably have to move, or spend down our savings.

And yet, and yet.  We are the lucky ones.  We have our health, except that my heart condition has been acting up lately and I’m afraid to go to the doctor, because I pay out of pocket for my health insurance, and I know that the possibility of having a pre-existing condition that won’t be covered once I have a salaried, full-time, benefits bearing employment is high, and that I don’t want to be paying out of pocket for the rest of my life.  So I don’t go to the doctor.  I haven’t been to a “lady-doctor” in two years (but I have an appointment for next month),

And yet, and yet.  We are the lucky ones.  I managed to graduate from undergraduate with not one, but two useless degrees, one in History, one in English (useless except they taught me a hell of a lot more than any current Republican candidate will ever know about American History), and I graduated from law school with a Juris Doctorate degree, without any debt.  So the fact that it took me nearly six months to find a job, and nearly a year to find one that paid more than a checkout cashier at Costco, the fact that I was in a position where it was easy for me to be taken advantage of, all of this makes me lucky.  

I graduated in the top 12% of my class.  I may very well be spoiled, entitled, elitist, and lazy (but does anybody really always put their socks in the laundry bin?).  I’m also lucky, smart, and hardworking.  I have been resourceful enough in this economy to get enough work for me to be able to get by.  I got the luxury of taking a job I wanted, a job that was good for the long term, a job that makes me happy, because I don’t have debt and I have a husband that supports me.

I’m not really sure what my point is here.  It isn’t that I don’t get the 99%.  It’s that it’s complicated for me.  Because I think I’m part of the 99%, in that I’m not a bazillionaire, but I don’t feel like I’m actually part of the 99% because I’m lucky, and have been lucky, and will hopefully continue to be lucky.  And it’s not that I don’t identify, but that I think the movement which is supposed to be inclusive is having some trouble well, including people.

Do you share my questions about the 99%? Or are you unquestionably sure you are part of the 99%, or sure you are part of the 1%?

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