Jobless find comfort, support in online social networks

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 8, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- The basement of Gioia Albi's house smells like mold. It flooded in February, and the unemployed mother of five can't afford the thousands of dollars it would take to fix the water damage. So now she worries that the mold could make her children sick; her youngest is already ill.

Albi hasn't worked since January, and her husband lost his job on Sept. 30. The family is uninsured. Since the start of the recession in December 2007, 7.6 million more people are out of work, according to the bureau of Labor Statistics. Like Albi, more than a third of all the unemployed have been without work for at least 27 weeks.

Albi, the former director of business and development at a nonprofit organization, made a six-figure salary. Now she's liquidated her retirement fund and she's fallen behind on every payment, except the mortgage. The value of her home in Northern Virginia is $300,000 less than the mortgage, so the couple can't sell.

Amid all this bad news, Albi's found a lifeline: Facebook. On her status updates she'll write: "I have an interview today, pray for me."

As people struggle with joblessness, they're turning to online forums and social networking sites for moral support. There, they find others like them sending resumes into what feel like black holes. As the financial burden has grown for Albi, she's even received checks from her Facebook friends. Sometimes for $100, and other times for as much as $400.

"I've found hundreds of my friends from high school, junior high and others on the site, and they've been the biggest support," she said.

Originally, she set up her Facebook account as most people do, to update friends on her life, post messages to each other and keep an eye on her college kid's antics.

"That circle of friends has turned out to be a huge support in my life now," she said.

Others simply feel more comfortable venting to strangers who feel like friends because they're unemployed, too.

Kendra Heath, 58, of Santa Rosa, Calif., investigates workman's compensation claims. With so few people working, however, her caseload went from light to nonexistent.

In 2007, she made about $50,000, less than in most years. Last year, she made $28,000, and this year she'll make much less than that.

Every day, she spends hours looking for work on job sites and on Craigslist, a free classified advertising site. About a year ago, she started looking at the "Jobs Forum," where people post messages. There she found friends and people who understand.

"It's easier sometimes to talk about things on the Internet not face to face," Heath said.

Her forum name, or "handle" is Turtlelvr, and she uses the site to ask others for help with her resume and advice about interviews. Sometimes she lends support to others.

"If you go through and read this forum you will find that two months is not very long at all," she wrote in one posting. "Oh yea, I know it feels like a long time! But there are people on here that have been out of work for much longer than that. The only thing you can do is make a job of job hunting. Keep applying and know that you will not get ever (sic) job you apply for or even interview for. And try to stay positive!"

John Kleeburg of San Diego uses the forum to vent. He's been out of work for three years.

"Even though it's frowned upon and you might get called a whiner, the forums help me to let out and vent my anger about things," he said in an e-mail. "Like how I only get responses from scammers or damn! another rejection letter came today."

For months, the posts went from bleak to bleaker. Lately, there are more frequent comments from those who've turned the corner.

"I got a job!" a person with the online nickname kricket wrote on Wednesday. "Don't give up hope. It can happen -- all you need is one job."

Roswellfunguy, who'd been out of work for a year, posted this week: "FINALLY!! I GOT A JOB!!"

The forum elicits a range of emotions from the unemployed:

There's anger.

Wrote 4X4 pony: "I know that my life feels like the lowest form of crap I'm just sitting around waiting to die.... no work no money=no goin any where, not paying bills the only thing i have to look forward to is the kids crying (at) me all day."

There's fear, too.

"Starting to doubt my abilities and am losing confidence in myself after being out of work for 13 months now. This is getting scary," wrote RustyinSF.

There's reassurance.

"Survive for now and keep looking for opportunity."

Humor, too.

"Just think of the stories you'll be able to tell back in the Great Recession, I had to steal TP from public bathrooms -- after walking barefoot twelve miles through two feet of snow, uphill both ways!"

There's the question on most people's minds.

"Will it get better?"

No one knows the answer.

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