This January, the Obama administration proudly announced that the unemployment rate had hit it's lowest figure since August of last year. All that good news, however, didn't prevent that reduced figure from including lil' old me.
Yep, Militant Ginger, le grand rouge, was unfortunately laid off this week. I didn't take it personally - many of my colleagues were given the similar boot - but it doesn't stop it being a bit of a blow to both the ego and the bank balance.
In fact, Mummy Militant and I had spent the past few months frantically scrimping and saving to avoid debt consolidation so we could think about buying a house and now all that hard work looks like it's in jeopardy.
The great irony of my plunge into unemployment is that just three days earlier, I'd been volunteering at our local church's homeless shelter. I realized then that an awful lot of Americans were only ever a paycheque or two away from living on the streets. It seems the reward for realizing that uncomfortable truth was to wind up a step closer towards the same predicament myself!
Joking aside, I've decided not to be too glum about my situation. This is, after all, the 'land of opportunity' and if there's one difference between America and Europe, it's that there's always a fistful of dollar bills waiting for you if you're willing to work for it.
Right now I'm just getting my schiznitz together and seeing what opportunities are out there for me. Pretty soon, I hope to start plucking them.
This whole experience has taught me a lot, though; not least of which how America isn't quite as friendly to entrepreneurship as I'd first imagined. Even though I wrote in posts like this about the flaws in Europe's universal health care, I realized a much larger one in the American system as soon as I stopped being part of a company health care plan. Health care is bloody expensive.
I don't mean to brag, but I'm a reasonable wag with a word processor and have a fair bit of talent for writing and copy writing. When unemployment struck, I'd even considered the possibility of launching off into a career of my own as a professional independent writer. (Don't joke; it wasn't beyond the realms of possibility to achieve this.)
However, the health care issue puts a spanner into the works a bit. Working for a company, as part of their company health care program, my health care costs were about $300 a month, with me picking up about a third of that. An entirely manageable proposition.
Now I'm out on my own, trying to live the 'American Dream?'
$800 a month, easy. In fact, health care insurance for myself and my family could quite effortlessly equal my rent if I decided to try and purchase it privately.
Considering that it's a four-fold increase, or ten-fold if you consider my out-of-pocket expenses, it's not difficult to see why more Americans don't take the plunge into going it on their own. The health care costs in this country are, for want of a better description, completely fucking insane.
So I don't mind admitting that I've lost a lot of sympathy for the 'Tea Baggers' and 'Tea Partiers' who are out there protesting against health care reform. They probably all have twee little jobs which give them affordable health insurance and none of them have a clue about how broken the American health care system really is. Shame on them.
Anyway. Moving onto my second great realization; that the government doesn't want me to work.
Living in America, part of each bi-weekly paycheque goes towards unemployment insurance - so if you get canned, you can claim 60% of your salary for a fixed period until you get yourself another job. Sounds all well and good, doesn't it? It's enough so you don't lose your house or starve your kids, but it's a small enough amount that it inspires you to go out and start earning a 'real' paycheque again as soon as humanely possible.
Except, like with health insurance, you're out of luck if you decide to be an entrepreneur and make it on your own. When I got laid off, I realized that some focused effort and hard work could get me earning my old salary again through freelance work and writing in three or four months... If I didn't find a job in the mean time, unemployment insurance meant my family wouldn't starve. I'd be off benefits shortly enough, as who wants to live off 60% of your previous salary when you could earn more than you ever did before?
Except, of course, you're screwed if you try to 'go it alone.' If you're an entrepreneur or a registered business owner - even if that business doesn't make enough money to live off, or even any at all - you can kiss your unemployment benefits goodbye.
Never mind the fact that it's your money, that you paid into the fund - if you proudly call yourself a 'business' then there's no government cheese for you. You're expected to be earning a livable wage from day one (after all, the largely Democrat-leaning East Coast states argue, that's how private business works, right? Right?)
The fact is, if you get laid off from your job it's not the 'opportunity' you might think it is. 'Big Brother' is leaning over your shoulder with a wooden ruler and he'll smack your knuckles if you even dare to think about anything apart from signing up for another 9 to 5 gig.
Entrepreneurship, it seems, is only for the people who already have enough income or savings not to need to be entrepreneurial.
It's definitely a deeply frustrating situation to wind up in, but I'm not going to be despondent. I'm bright, talented and hard working and I'll do whatever it takes to keep food on the table (or 'food on my family' to quote President G.W. Bush) no matter what that entails.
It's just made me more determined than ever to achieve financial independence; because unless you're captain of your own ship, you can ultimately never dictate where you're sailing to.