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unemployment diaries afternoon

The newly unemployed struggle to fill unwanted time off

Ten residents from around the region kept journals for The Washington Post about how their lives have changed since losing their jobs.

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By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's past noon one day in the middle of the week, and a longtime D.C. schools counselor is on the treadmill in her Maryland home.

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In Virginia, a man who used to wear a tie to work prepares to put on a brown uniform and deliver packages.

In the District, a Fulbright fellow who finished her doctorate and expected to slide into a new career is about to start her volunteer shift at the zoo.

None of them are where they want to be, where they'd ever imagined they'd be. They did everything right -- arrived early, stayed late, climbed ladders, got degrees -- but here they are, unemployed, trying to keep busy in the middle of the day, when most people are at work.

Across the Washington region, 10 unemployed men and women agreed to keep diaries for The Washington Post to document how the rhythms of their days have changed. They describe how a once predictable market in which jobs were plentiful has turned moody and abusive. It is the afternoons that sometimes seem endless now, a vast plain of time that must be filled with something other than watching TV and picking up the kids.

For the unemployed, there is only so much drafting of résumés and visiting of job centers that can be done. They have come to treasure distractions, whether a part-time job or a trip to the coffee shop, knowing that they would trade all of it in a flash for a paycheck.

Today I have somewhere to go.

Nicole Harper, a military wife who recently completed her doctoral degree in education, writes this on a Friday. She has been looking for work since moving to Alexandria about a year ago.

I spent the afternoon volunteering at the zoo. Throughout my life, I have always found volunteering to be a rewarding experience. But, right now, when my career aspirations seem to be crumbling, volunteer work is one of the only things that keeps me going.

It has been only a few weeks since Keith Freihofer, an environmental consulting project manager, lost his job. But during an afternoon doing yard work -- one of those days that, sitting in the office, you wish you could be outside, but now I can say I wouldn't give up the paycheck for it! -- his thoughts drift to the unemployment benefits he has yet to sign up for and his wife's insurance policy that he needs to get himself added to. He already has cabin fever.

I need to start scheduling my days. Whereas my weekdays used to consist of morning, work and the evenings, they are now just one long block of time. Without specific schedule boundaries, the whole day feels monotonous. I am finding myself starved for human interaction and need a change of scenery. I need to schedule some time each day to be out of the house and spend at least two hours in a coffee shop, library or at the Alexandria Joblink office.

Out of the more than 500 jobs that Vanessa Ennouini has applied for, she has had three interviews but no offers. Until August, she worked as an executive assistant at a shipping company.


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