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Have You Lost Your Job? How to Survive the Storm in a Tough Economy

By on January 3, 2012

On September 20, 2010, the United States of America’s National Bureau of Economic Research announced the recession ended in June 2009. However, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development stated the unemployment will remain above “the pre-crisis level until at least 2013, with long-term unemployment remaining a concern.” Experts state this will be a sluggish and jobless recovery by historical standard.

This piece has been revised from the initial publication on another website to further assist fellow Africans still out of work in America going into this 2012 new year. Happy New Year to you! Stay strong, my jobless brothers and sisters in America. Stay upbeat and hopeful during this temporary setback for the downfall of a person is not the end of the person’s life.

For millions of Americans, this economic crisis has been the toughest they have experienced, period. It has been called the worst economy for working Americans since the 1930s Great Depression. For Africans in America who are currently out of work things are even direr: this is their Great Depression. These our unemployed brothers and sisters don’t need anyone to remind them how bad things are on the employment front, they feel it every day.

During previous recessions, most people begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel within months of recession declaration. Landing a job in this current downturn continues to be daunting, to say the least, and the number of people without jobs seems to grow by the day.

Those of us who are employed should take extra care to keep our jobs and not lose them. Watch your back, be punctual, tow the line, produce, go the extra mile, and stay out from all politics: office and (especially) national. Regardless of how secure you think your job is, be vigilant. Remember you are still who you are, you know what I mean.

With so much pessimism out there, what is an African without a job in America (or other parts of the world) to do? Should he or she throw in the towel and say to hell with this? Should the African pack his or her belongings and head on home to Africa? Should he or she resort to life of crime to make ends meet by all means, thinking wetin man go do now? Should one just pray to God and hope for a miracle? What should you do if you are an African who is out of work in overseas?

When a majority of us arrived in America in the 1970’s and 1980’s, we had one track goal of going to university, earning degrees, and returning to Africa to live in relative luxury ever after. Back then, anyone who stayed here two years after graduation was considered “lost in America.” The norm was to graduate on Saturday and be back in Africa the following week, or as soon as one received one’s “asambodo” or diploma. Most of us did not fathom staying in America this long. But here we are!

For Nigerians in particular, once the effects of then President Shehu Shagari’s “austerity measures” choked off money supply of Nigerian students here (who depended on funds from home), these students suffered severely in a hurry. So did other Africans as the world experienced an economic slow down. It took major adjustments for many to come to grips with the new reality of fending for them selves in these United States. Gradually, Africa has changed from a source of funds continent to one where money earned abroad are remitted to the tune of several billion dollars every year.

However, you cannot send money home if you are unemployed or underemployed here. The unemployed African in America should consider doing the following:

1. Tell your folks in Africa that you are out of work in America. This is easier said than done. But you need to consider doing so to alleviate the financial pressure from Africa. For readers who are not domiciled here, in America your occupation is more than a means to make ends meet. For better or for worse, your identity is embedded in your profession here and the consequences of not having a job can be drastically felt more so here than in Africa. Scores of people here dangerously live from paycheck to paycheck, so any misstep triggers a disastrous domino effect.

For immigrants, this problem is compounded by nauseating pressure from home. Some people there think dollars grow on 4-foot trees here where you can tower over them and pluck the dollars and Western-Union the dollars to them. Haba! They ask you if you are not in the same America where so and so send thousands of dollars to their families in Africa? Go jari! Send me dollars and laptop and digital camera, and I-phone quickly please!! You need do tell them you having a tough time here because they have no earthly idea how precarious life can be in America, especially when you have children to support. During economic recessions in America, millions of people lose jobs through no fault of their own. There is nothing to be ashamed of when you happen to be laid off.

2. Re-examine your expenses: One should monitor where every dollar is going at all times; when one is out of a job, one should watch where every cent is going. Even important driving trips should be combined to save gas (fuel) and marginal trips should be avoided all together. Those $5 coffee treats are now luxuries you can no longer afford. Literally save every cent by unplugging that battery charger when not in use. If you have been using a gardener to mow your yard, roll up you sleeves and start cutting your own grass, edge and trim them too.

There is no shame in doing that. I have always maintained my own lawn and take pride in doing so. The $30 I save every time I mow my yard is money I put in my children’s college fund or use it to give micro loan to woman in my village In Africa.
If you are married and your spouse is still working, encourage your working spouse to take his or her lunch to work if there is refrigeration and microwave availability. You don’t need to be out of work to do this; I often take my lunch to work. Home-made food is cost-efficient and often more nutritious. Cut out soda or fast food! Take any legal work you can find to keep busy and earn income, regardless of how little it pays.

3. Tell your friends and contacts you’re looking for work: When you’re out of work in America is when you know who your true friends are. There is an Igbo man named Athan Ugo who used to reside in Austin (and has now moved back to Imo State, Nigeria). During the early1990s economic recession, this man helped many Nigerians secure employment in Austin, Texas. He did it without fanfare.

A guy he worked with years ago asked me a fortnight ago if I knew Athan Ugo. This Caucasian was the one that gave me a pleasant earful of how helpful Mr. Ugo was to fellow Nigerians who needed jobs then. It would have been beneficial to meet a fellow African like Mr. Ugo when my family relocated to Austin in 1993 from California. I met Mr. Ugo a couple of times times in 1996. He never mentioned assisting some Nigerians. I respect him more for quietly helping others in need.

In this severe economic recession in America, we need to help our fellow brothers and sisters who are seeking employment. Gossiping and sowing seeds of disagreement are unbecoming. Don’t allow your marriage to be ruined by those PhD (Pull Him/Her Down) merchants of evil. Help build your fellow Man up, don’t try to tear him or her down. It is better to help our fellow African in need while the person is living than to wake-keep after the person is dead. If you hear of any opening, contact an unemployed African and give him a heads up. And if you are the person receiving help, make the person giving you the help proud by performing above the call of duty in your new employment.

4. Foster or re-establish professional relationship with sales people, such as the Realtor who helped you purchase your home. Sales people by the nature enjoy finding solutions and they know a lot of people of various professional backgrounds. The higher the ticket item the sales person markets, the more people in hiring positions the sales person will know. If you don’t know any sales person, drive around the expensive part of town and obtain the contact information of the real estate agent whose name you see the most on “For Sale” signs.

Call the agent in a positive voice and right off the bat express you’re out of work and seeking help in finding a job. Tell the agent when you get back on your feet enough to buy a home, that you will want him to help you buy a home. Make it a win-win situation and do keep your word and call the Realtor when you get ready to buy a home or rental property. If the sales person helps you land a job, show your appreciation by doing an outstanding job in your new job and by referring people to that sales person.

5. Safe-guard your integrity and credit report: It is easy to get mad and depressed when you are out of work. But there is never a good time to let your integrity go. As you know in America, your reputation is everything. Try to pay your bills on time and if you cannot pay for any reasons, be the first to contact your creditors and explain your situation to them. Make partial payments if you must, to show good faith. Don’t try to hide from your creditors. Be nice to them even if they are rough with you.

Document everything you are doing for your record. If you allow your situation to damage your credit history, you might find it very difficult in securing another meaningful job in the future. Most employers now check your credit before hiring you. They rightly figure, if you cannot take care of your personal finances, then you would not be able to take good care of the company’s funds. Moreover, those under financial stress at home may be more likely to steal or cheat or under-perform at work. Some of these latent decisions (by employers) are made behind the scene where you are not present to explain your plight. So protect your integrity and your credit report at all cost.

6. Exercise: Engaging in strenuous exercises are very critical at all times, especially when you are facing lots of stress and financial problems. Unless there is a medical reason why you cannot work out, put daily exercises on top of your list. Bad habits are hard to break! We come from a culture that encourages people to be overweight. Big beer belly and thick neck are evidence of good living and wealth. A skinny person is regarded as malnourished and poor. Many of us are still living that myth in America after all these years and with full knowledge of the adverse health effects of obesity. With so many African medical professionals in America, we should know better!

There are plenty of exercises to perform: you can jog, bicycle, lift weights, play tennis, soccer, racket ball, basketball, brisk walk, yoga, etc. I happen to enjoy bicycling, weight-lifting, and mowing my yard. In the past several years I have really become a better bicyclist. I started riding for just 3 miles and I am now up to 31 miles a trip and I often ride 6 days a week during non-Winter months. Like everything, you have to learn the rules of the game and be passionate about practicing your craft. Don’t buy a used bicycle regardless of how cheap it is! I suggest buying your new bicycle from a local shop (not Wal-Mart, Target, Costco, etc), nothing against these big boxes. The local shop will properly fit you with your new bike, helmet, trip meter, night lights, bike pants, shirt, gloves, pump with gauge, water bottle and holder.

These are the basics you must have to bike safely. Investing less than $500 on a bike is not a good idea for a beginner. Start with a hybrid bike. As you gain experience and your finances allow, you can buy the often pricey bike shoes and other gears. To save money, learn how to perform minor tune-ups on your new bike at the local free workshops. Take your spouse and children to exercise with you. Practicing Yoga and Pilate are great for men and women. You will love them! Give them a try to your delight and enlightenment.

7. Muster Positive Mental Attitude (PMA). As the adage goes, “the down fall of a man (woman) is NOT the end of his (her) life”. Think positive and surround yourself with positive people. Count your blessings all the time. Regardless of how bad things get in life, there are always silver linings to hold on to and appreciate: your spouse, your children, your life, your siblings, your friends, etc. If some friends want to lighten your mood by supplying you alcohol, politely turn down their good but misplaced intentions.

Drink in moderation, if you must drink at all! Face reality sober and don’t compound your problem by chancing being caught driving drunk or causing a wreck that could hurt or kill yourself or others. Tough times don’t last forever! Misery may like company but don’t make it yours. Avoid negative people. You will overcome this situation and shine again. Stay strong! Stay positive!!. PMA all the way!!!

8. Make a personal pledge to give back to people who are not related to you when you recover from this situation. Promise to invest a percentage of your income on others in need in Africa or here in America or both. Write down your pledge and keep it to yourself. Or you can share your pledge with your spouse and loved ones, so that they keep you accountable while encouraging you to succeed. When you feel low, recall and re-read your pledge to help the needy when you get back on your feet. The joy you derive from giving to people who are not related to you and those who cannot repay you, is enormous.

The more you give to others, the greater the joy you garner. I often say, giving is a selfish act where the giver receives more than the he or she gives away. No wonder the Book say, “it is better to give than to receive”. Pledge to give $100 or more to a woman in your village or town you come from in Africa. Surprise the woman or women with the gift. Find one of your elementary or high school teachers and give him or her $30 watch. Tell your former teacher “thank you” for helping educate you. Fill your mind with these positive thoughts of how you will give back. Be a person of your word and help the needy later.
9. Relocate: Good things often happen when one changes locations.
Relocate and change careers, if you must! If you cannot find what your family needs where you are, consider moving to a new city or state in America. You don’t need anyone’s but your own imprimatur to move to another area in the United States. America is a huge place with lots of diversity in living costs and standards. You don’t have to live in Kansas or California all your life in America. Moving is a good thing: it rekindles your spirit, enlarges your pool of friends and broadens your horizon.

Let me tell you my personal story so you know I have been where you are: As much as I enjoyed living in California, I wanted to raise my family in a different environment. So when my wife arrived from Nigeria and soon after became pregnant, I had to quicken the pace to relocate. We did our research and found Austin the ideal place. Not only did I not know anyone in Austin, I had never even visited Texas before then. I had a very good and relatively safe job with the City of Oakland, California. Remember in 1993, the economic recession was raging and President Bill Clinton had just taken office, the employers were reducing their workforce and houses were not selling well in the Bay Area. All these factors made it more daring to attempt a move.

To make matters dicer, during a send off party they organized in our honor, my good friends and fellow California State University alumni tried to discourage us from moving to Texas. They meant well! Some of them teased us if we ever watched movies, referring to how Texas was portrayed on the screens. One of them told us, he would reserve a bedroom in his home for us should we come back to California after giving Texas a try. Even the Realtor, Eugene, who sold our houses there, jokingly told us Texas was so big and hot that it would take us two days to drive from El Paso to Austin. He said the bugs in Texas are so big they need a runway to land and take off. Of course, Eugene told all these after we had accepted the offers on our houses in Oakland.

You can imagine what was going through my wife Christiana’s mind after hearing all these about Texas. She had just arrived in the United States four months prior! Yet somehow she maintained her faith in me and almost two decades later, God continue to crown our efforts. We love it here in Central Texas!

The move to Austin, Texas was smooth, but the summer heat and humidity were almost unbearable. It seemed hotter than anything I experienced growing up in Nigeria, or while attending Emporia State University, Kansas years earlier. In all my calculations, I did not fully anticipate how difficult it would be to land a job that paid near what I was making while working for the City of Oakland. All of a sudden, I did not have the little connections I had in California and even the lower paying positions were very difficult to obtain. I worked for both UPS and FedEx as part-time driver helper. I guess that if I planned for every eventuality, the analysis would have paralyzed me from relocating.

To make matters more hairy, three days into our move to Austin, my wife and I stumbled on this extraordinary new homes salesperson Mr. Darrel Voigt. Darrel knows no stranger. He has the fatherly demeanor and people skills that are difficult to explain. But when you feel it, you know it! To make this story short, before we knew it, we were already signing a contract to build a new home. This is very much unlike me to make such a reckless decision, but I was being guided by providence. Darrel overcame every objection I raised against a home. I told him we were new to Austin and that I did not have a job yet. Without a second thought, he asked me to bring him my resume, and that he would help me find a job before construction was completed on the home. He had faith in me!

When after two months in Austin, I could not find a good paying job. Darrel offered me a job as a new home salesperson. He said I would be “great” at it, and would enjoy the profession more than working for the City of Austin or the State of Texas. I refused the offer and pursued working for the City of Austin because I wanted the stability of income in lieu of the inconsistency of a commissioned career. Having worked in the insurance industry for six years in California and being quite good at it, I knew about commissioned professions. With our first child on the way I was cautious about being able to provide for my family. So I worked with the City of Austin until we moved into our new home, and continued after the birth of our first child.

However, in 1995, I had a change of mind and decided to go into new homes profession. True to his word, Darrel got me hired before the company knew me as a person. As I was introduced at the company general meeting, you could hear a pin drop as the president of the company called (mispronounced) my name to stand up. Everyone was shocked to see me! The president said he was told (by Darrel Voigt) I was one of the “most motivated persons he has ever met.” He concluded by saying, “We will see what he does.” He had the right to feel that way because not only was I the only African American in the sea of white people that day, I was the only African American in new home sales in Austin, Texas for years to come. Almost 16 years later, I remain one of the two steadfast African Americans in the Austin new home business. Some have come and gone, but we remain the duo that has been at it for the long haul. Believe it, my accent (identity) and passion are my greatest assets in my profession. I am very proud of my Nigerian/African heritage!

From day one, I was driven to succeed, not just for myself but to clear the path for every other Nigerian or African that stumble onto this same trail. If one passionately works hard, defers gratification, conserves resources, treats people right, and above all God blesses one, one will succeed.

So my brothers and sisters out of work now in American, hold your heads and shoulders up, not in arrogance or foolish pride but in believing you will overcome your current plight. You will thrive again and be better than you were before you lost your job.
True success is not based on the size of your bank account or your home or the type of vehicle you drive, it should be measured by the positive impact you have on others, including those who are not directly related to you by blood.

Editor’s noteThis guest post is written by  Chuks “U.C.” Ukaoma, he’s a Senior Market Manager for Drees Homes. Chuks and his wife and children reside in Austin, Texas. 

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