Is it okay to not job hunt and live off unemployment? (And, can I be a journalist?)

Should I continue collecting unemployment insurance as long as I can, or accept the next job offer I get?

Right now I’m happily collecting unemployment, and applying and interviewing for new jobs at a steady pace.

I am really enjoying not working for the first time in years. I can live comfortably off of my savings unemployment benefits until they expire. I volunteer for several organizations I love, so I am still very busy. And for the first time in my life, I might have the time, energy, and means to really travel, as long as I continue to adhere to my state’s unemployment requirements. I also have plans to start in-state graduate school in the fall for a professional degree program that I know will expand my skills and career options in my city, so I’m not totally without direction.

I am 26, have a 4-year college degree, no loans, work in journalism, and live in the Midwest, where jobs in my industry are harder to come by.

Is it career suicide to just remain unemployed between now and graduate school? Will the gap in my resume become too much of a problem after a couple more months pass? I am looking forward to getting back to work in what will hopefully be a less decrepit environment, and with every passing week I get a little bit more anxious about just finding a job already. I agree with you that it’s good to try new careers, but how often is one lucky enough to be on unemployment and without a care in the world? I also don’t think my story should raise any red flags with future employers, since essentially, “My contract with company X expired in February, and I elected not to stay because I wanted to travel and pursue personal projects. I felt like my goals and skills had outgrown that position and company, and now I’m really eager to apply myself to the next opportunity.”

Thank you so much for your time, Penelope.

13 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Living off unemployment is fine.

    Going to graduate school for journalism is not fine. The degree will not help you get a job. Most of the people making money in journalism today are writing online. And you don’t need journalism credentials to write online. You don’t need journalism credentials to write anywhere. You just have to write.

    The path to being a journalist today is writing a lot for free until you show someone that you can make money for them. Even the people I know at the New York Times started writing for free online.

    The idea that journalism schools can teach you to write online is absurd — most of the professors never even worked at online publications. Additionally, most of the writers online write for free. Writers make money other ways, just like musicians do.

    So maybe use your unemployment to pay for you to build your journalism career so that when the unemployment runs out, you will be able to get a job that has some sort of security and career path.


  2. jessica
    jessica says:

    “So maybe use your unemployment to pay for you to build your journalism career so that when the unemployment runs out, you will be able to get a job that has some sort of security and career path.”

    This is exactly what J.K Rowling did.

  3. Jane
    Jane says:

    I feel like I just happen to be the first to get here in noting this, but I do think it’s really important to point out that you’re taking advantage of a system that’s in place to help people who can’t get jobs, not people who just don’t feel like it. I promise, I’m no crusader for social justice, it just seems like you’re smart, talented, and being pretty selfish by sitting around on unemployment. I’m not saying this because I have some kind of chip on my shoulder, but I think it’s really worth thinking things over when you talk about how it feels good to “finally” not work when you’re 26 (seriously, I know–I’m also 26). Activities like long-term travel are things that you can do on on merit–it’s not that hard and you’ll probably get there faster. Volunteering doesn’t really make up it, unless you decide you want to make a career out of working for nonprofits.

    Finally, if you don’t try a few jobs, you may sink a whole bunch of time in the direction of journalism, or a particular type of journalism, that you end up not liking. If you read Penelope, she talks a lot about trying lots of different jobs in your 20’s so you find out what works. How can you actually gain a solid perspective if you’re just coasting?

    You’re clearly not stupid, so you may well already know that you’re doing this.

    Also, totally agree with Penelope that journalism grad school will be useless for you and you should just begin your career. If you go to grad school and accrue a whole bunch of debt, it probably won’t lead you directly into a dream job, so you’ll HAVE to use that unemployment.

    • E
      E says:

      This was my first thought, too – “way too mooch off the system.” Except the more I thought about it, how does that make any sense? We all have unemployment taken out of our paychecks anyway. I just checked my paystub and there is almost $3,000 missing in total taxes deducted. That is $6000/month, just from me alone. That is insane. What is the point in getting upset over someone taking back a tiny piece of that money?

      I do agree about avoiding grad school – you will regret the loans, and it will not get you a job.

      • Mysticaltyger
        Mysticaltyger says:

        You fail to understand why you’re paying so much in taxes in the first place. It’s because pretty much everyone on the planet, from the welfare recipient, to the person on unemployment, to the corporations seeking special favors, don’t think their “little bit” is enough to make a difference one way or another. But that is completely untrue precisely because the majority of people think this way…it adds up to a lot.

        • E
          E says:

          Right, but the whole point of having this money taken out of my paycheck is so that people are able to use it. So if I’m getting 6,000/mo of taxes taken out of my paycheck for years and years, and then decide not to work and collect unemployment, isn’t that the whole purpose of having that money taken out in the first place? I never said it doesn’t add up, I’m saying if I am PAYING for something, why shouldn’t I (or anyone else) use it when we need or want to?

          I don’t drive, so I don’t use the roads I pay for. I don’t send kids to school, so I don’t use the schools I pay for. Who the fuck cares if someone ACTUALLY uses the unemployment that we all pay for?

          Also, I have worked peripherally for the government for a long time and of course every single department is incomprehensibly wasteful and burdened with administrative costs, so I can’t really muster the energy to feel guilty that someone is actually benefiting from using my tax money.

  4. Kat
    Kat says:

    “My contract with company X expired in February, and I elected not to stay because I wanted to travel and pursue personal projects. I felt like my goals and skills had outgrown that position and company, and now I’m really eager to apply myself to the next opportunity.”

    Your story is not a red flag. However it doesn’t make you an attractive candidate even if it’s true. Many employers hear this explanation on a daily basis. I was one of the interviewers for a small publishing venture. We’re sick of hearing about the same story from 20 somethings – me being still in 20s.

    There is a reason why you need to get ahead by writing for free.

  5. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    Only mention ‘personal projects’ in an interview if you do one worth talking about.

    Everyone wants to travel, but so much of travel is routine, piecemeal, and a giant cliche because it’s so easy now anyone with a few k’s can do it. What would you do with your trip? How could you make it extraordinary, something to enhance your life later on?

    Saw a talk this week by a guy who cycled 10,000 miles across Siberia, and now makes a living from being a wilderness guide and writing books. He had specific goals before starting the trip, took photos with transparency film (back then that’s what was needed to get a magazine cover) and took footage which became part of a documentary.

    Only once did I collect unemployment – for a month. Was temporarily furloughed by the travel company I worked for at the time, after SARS cut out our biggest trip to China. I used that month to a) learn a new art medium which changed my life, and b) take my mom to the Caribbean right after she left my dad.

    Have specific goals for your time off, and you’ll be fine. Diversity of income streams is important too.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      You took your mom to the Caribbean while on unemployment??

      Don’t most people collect unemployment because they can barely make ends meet?

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        I think welfare is when you cant make ends meet. Unemployment is completely different. Every paycheck you and your employer pay into unemployment, it’s like insurance for when you lose your job. Some people collect both.

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        Good question!
        As an incentive to get us to furlough (different than regular unemployment), we were given a pair of free tickets anywhere in the US/Caribbean.

        I used my savings to fund the trip ;) Have always saved 30% or more of my income when working a job.

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