Xbox vs. Job Hunting: No Contest

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Nine months out of work, Daniel Christ recently spent several days avoiding calls and e-mails from a recruiting firm. The recruiters were trying to contact him for temp assignment at a marketing company, and Christ did not pick up the phone on four occasions. He also ignored the two emails the firm sent him. The agency ended up calling his wife, Jennifer, whom Daniel had listed as his emergency contact. "I could have been upfront and said, 'This isn't what I want to do'," said Daniel. "But I didn't. Hopefully they figured it out."

Recruiters weren't the only ones he'd been avoiding. "I feel bad, but sometimes I won't pick up a call from my dad because I know why he's calling me," Daniel said. His father would phone daily to ask him about his job search, and when the answer was "terrible," Daniel opted for solitude. "Sometimes I just don't want to talk to people; I'm just happy with my Xbox."

As the national unemployment rate soared to 10.2% in October and New York saw the largest increase in the nation in September, Daniel Christ was just one of millions losing hope. When he finally landed a job in November as a customer service rep at the online stock management company, SogoTrade, he became one of a small percentage of long-term job seekers in New York to beat dwindling employment odds. And this was despite efforts that had nearly halted due to countless rejections.

Though he had kept looking for jobs, therefore not joining the 808,000 discouraged workers counted in October (people who have not searched for jobs in the four weeks preceding the monthly Labor Bureau survey), Daniel's job search had changed drastically over those nine months. He started out confident that finding a job would be easy, but professional networking and hand-tailored cover letters eventually gave way to long days in front of the television screen and sending out resumes without bothering with a cover letter.

"I don't think I'm depressed," Daniel said, "but it is depressing. It's like a job in itself, getting one."

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He said he fell into a gloominess that made putting energy into his job search nearly impossible. "And maybe part of it is lack of confidence," he added, "I can't get a job, so why try? Why not do what I’ve been doing? What's the point? And part of me likes being home. It's nice, I'm not gonna lie."

The Christs scraped by between Jennifer's income and Daniel's weekly unemployment checks. Those benefits were often more money than Daniel earned doing temp work, and extension after extension by Congress had effectively killed the pressure to apply for full-time jobs. Daniel noted, however, that "the longer this goes on, I'm not developing at all. I'm not taking my free time and studying or learning. I've just kind of been playing video games and sleeping late."

In November, the Senate voted to extend unemployment benefits an additional 14 weeks, bringing total benefits to 99 weeks for some workers. Millions of Americans will have another chance to hunt for work on the government's dime, but extra time doesn't guarantee anything, recession or not. The longer a person is unemployed, the lower the probability that he or she will find a job, The Wall Street Journal recently reported.

When he started looking for work in February, Daniel said he was "ready to pound the pavement and do what I have to do" to find a job. After a few unsuccessful interviews, set up through his professional network, he started looking on job Web sites.

To see how Daniel spends his days, click here.

"It's been up and down, like a roller coaster," his wife Jennifer said. "Sometimes he'll be really motivated and look for jobs, interviews, contact any person he could think of. But there's also times where he hasn't done any job looking or applications."

"I can tell you what I want about the success I haven't had," Daniel said, but if "I'm not applying to a job at all in a day, or the jobs with no cover letters, then is it the economy to blame or is it just myself?"

Daniel definitely wanted to find a job by the year's end. With Christmas coming, family members would be inquiring about his situation, and he was dreading their advice ("Oh, maybe you can be a cop").

He also felt his wife's growing frustration. "She wants a family," he said. And though they weren't thinking of having children right away, Daniel didn't like feeling irresponsible. "If I'm not grown up enough to hold a job," he said, "then should I really be raising a kid?"

Seeing their life in five years time, Daniel wonders, "Am I gonna be between jobs again? If I need to be the person that provides, it can be scary to think that maybe I won't be able to."

This story is part of a series called "The Big Hurt" produced by the Digital Media Newsroom at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University.

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