For Matthew Brogan of St. Paul, getting laid off in February turned out to be a “blessing in disguise.” Armed with severance, he was able to spend time in Michigan helping his parents prepare to move from their longtime home, visit his sister who had surgery, and go to all of his daughter’s fast-pitch softball games.
“When I was working, that wouldn’t happen,” he said. “Now that summer is coming to an end, I’m ramping up looking for work, but I was very happy to be there for my family when they needed me. When I look back on the summer of 2010, I will definitely remember it with a good feeling.”
While unemployment is devastating for most, some idled workers are discovering the upside of downtime. They’re making the most of their furloughs by exploring new interests, volunteering or just kicking back. There’s even a new term for it: funemployment, along with websites where the funemployed can find free and low-cost activities (fun-employment.com) or connect (funemployed singles.com).
But some critics fume that focusing on “fun” dilutes the focus on finding a job, which increases the burden on unemployment benefits. And some who have lost jobs fear that the term trivializes the serious problems they face.
Pat Britt of Eagan, Minn., said unemployment has been very hard on people she knows. But for her, getting laid off several months ago was “kind of a blessing.”
“The job had evolved into something I wasn’t enjoying,” she said. “Sure, you’re a little angry and shocked.” But she’s fortunate to have an employed spouse, a severance package and “a debt-free lifestyle,” so she decided to take advantage of the hiatus. “I’ve worked my whole life, except for a six-month maternity leave,” she said. “I’ve always wanted a summer off with my son.”
A weak employment climate not only erases jobs; it also erases the stigma of not having one, according to one college professor.
“Recession gives people permission to be unemployed,” said Dave Logan of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business. “People gauge their success by comparing themselves to their peers. When their peers are laid off, it dramatically reduces the pressure they feel.”
That’s what worries critics of “funemployment,” who fear it encourages idled workers to delay their job search while living a life of leisure at taxpayer expense.
Beth Miller of Mound, Minn., believes that benefits are necessary for those who need them, but is concerned that they’re being taken advantage of by many who don’t.
“We have an extended unemployment situation in my own family, and it’s been very stressful,” she said.
“We’ve made a lot of painful choices.” Her husband is working two jobs and still making much less than he used to; she had to start a new job five days before their baby was born. “Funemployment” encourages people “not to take it seriously,” she said.
But others view “funemployment” as trying to make the best of a challenging situation.