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David Dennis interviews American Mike Mauss on How to Survive Unemployment

Mike Mauss was once a successful American. Through fate, recession and bad breaks, he became unemployed. He managed to survive unemployment, however, and kept putting one foot in front of the other as he put his kids through college, paid his mortgage and continued to live his own life to the max. He wrote a great book, filled with practical advice, called The Unemployed Guy’s Guide to Unemployment. In it, he explains where and how to look for work in this dismal economy; what works and what doesn’t; and very practical advice about how to manage with less while you strive for more. I am the author of Disregarded: The True Story of the Failure of the UK’s Work Programme about the unemployment situation in Britain. I wanted to interview Mike about his American-centric book and see if he had any tips that would help the British unemployed.

Q) Hi, Mike. I wanted to meet you to talk about your new book: The Unemployed Guy’s Guide to Unemployment. Can you tell me why you wrote this book?

A) That’s easy. I became unemployed. For the fifth time in my career, I ended up out of work. I was hoping that a book like this would help others deal with the shock of getting fired, the stress of living without money, and the difficulty of finding a new job. That, and I thought I could make a bit of change with the book, too.

A new study just came out from Pew that said that one out of four people in the US has been out of work at some point in the past four years and over half know of a family member or close friend who’s been unemployed. There are too many people out there who need solid advice and need it now.

Q) In England, we currently have an epidemic of unemployment. I, myself, wrote the inside story of unemployment centres here in the UK. The training system is based around the concept of free labour. Would you have taken part in “shelf stocking” schemes for your benefits?

A) Probably not. I wrote in the book that working at minimum wage is wonderful from an “I will dig ditches to support my family” point of view, but it doesn’t really work. A middle class family cannot survive on minimum wage in the US – hell, a poor family can’t survive on the minimum wage these days. So every day spent working for less than your “Nut” – the basic amount you need to make to keep your family going – is a day wasted. You don’t have time to look for work that actually pays the mortgage and you’re just falling behind a bit less quickly.

Q) The problem with that method is pretty clear. So, how do you support your family whilst you search for work?

A) Well, I didn’t direct my book at the real poor. That’s a very different life and a very different set of realities. I was looking at the middle-class family where you have a mortgage, school, car loans, credit rating, maybe private schools, etc. Unemployment Insurance is pretty irrelevant in this case – it would take five weeks of UI to pay four weeks of mortgage ALONE. And that’s without the government taking taxes out, which they do. I basically assume that a middle-class family can get by on savings, credit cards, home equity loans and freelance work.

Q) I would say that, in fact, your book is a guide for those who don’t “really” need a job. It’s for those who have independent means and just want to bleat about their unemployment?

A) No. David, no one in the US middle class can survive without a job and most families have less than four or five months’ worth of savings. But they still become unemployed so the question is, what do you do when that happens? These people aren’t independently wealthy. They have been squeezed for decades by the very rich – the One Per Cent. If they get fired, it’s a race between getting a new job that pays enough to keep going and the day that all their money runs out. I just give people the tricks to keep going.

I don’t pretend to understand the problems of those under the poverty line. It would be a bit presumptuous to lecture them. I’ve been freelancing or basically without a “real job” for nine of the past twenty years. I don’t know about poverty – but I do know about the very real problems of being middle class and without work.

To be continued…