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Recession Etiquette: How the Employed and Unemployed Can Be Friends

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The situation is simple, and yet it is endlessly complicated: One of you has a job, the other doesn’t. One of you complains about cover letters, the other about the daily grind. One of you worries about draining your savings while you look for work, the other is exasperated at maxing out his or her IRA.

And then suddenly, one is resentful. The employed get tired of the unemployed acting like life’s victims and wish they could talk about normal job stuff without getting wistful looks and hearing “at least you have work.”

The unemployed can’t believe that the employed would dare talk about their health-care plans when they unemployed are checking prices at Comfort Dental and discerning whether that cracked tooth really hurts that badly.

Rule 1 for the Employed: Buy yourself a sympathetic ear by offering a little help.

You employed folks are right. The fact that your health-care plans lack any vision coverage does suck. But before you instant message that to your unemployed friend, remember that they lost their health care when they lost their job. Do a half-hour of research, and start your conversation with, “Hey, this plan is just $35 a month and gets you a few doctor visits.” You’ll find you have a much more willing listener when you bemoan your ripped contact or outdated glasses.

Rule 2 for the Unemployed: Don’t quote random unemployment numbers at a party.

The employed feel helpless when you, Mr. Unemployed, give the details of how many people who used to live in McMansions are now living in tent cities. (Sidenote: It’s usually best for the unemployed to shut off the news altogether, unless the news anchors have made some sort of pledge that they will personally find you a job.) Also, the unemployed should know there is a slippery slope when it comes to constantly talking about the fact that you’re not finding work: You’ll stop being Joe, and start being Unemployed Joe.

Rule 3: There is a rich amount of ground between the Employed and Unemployed in the current job market.

Basically, we’re all just trying to figure out how to keep our footing in a volatile market. Even as employed friends get raises, they’re nervous about the future of their job role–and if their increased status puts them closer to the layoff chopping block if profits decrease. Unemployed folks: I know all too well how hard it is to hear the employed complain about how overworked they are. But remember that they also feel trapped to take on the work in this market, and probably envy that you have time to realign your life and get things on track.

Good luck, you Romeo and Juliets of the job world. And here’s to hoping that next year the footing is easier for all of us.

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