On the street
I would definitely travel everywhere I could.
Intermittently cursing and squealing, Michael Barber smashes buttons on the Super Nintendo controller as he races Mario through a castle.
He makes the character hop over lava pits and dodge flying fish. And at the end of the level, he spits fireballs at Bowser and frees a sack full of Toadies.
This has to be better than work, right? Barber, 22, who lost his job in early June, says it can be.
“The good thing about unemployment is you don’t have to get up to go to work, so you can sleep in,” the Lawrence resident says. “And you have a lot of free time. I spent one whole day doing nothing but watch ‘The Office.’ I watched an entire season in a day. I’ve never been able to do that before.”
Clusters of happy jobless people are popping up across the country, allowing a new word to enter the lexicon: funemployment. The fun-employed are typically in their 20s or 30s, bolstered by a shrinking savings account and a stack of student loans. They also tend to be single.
Not having a family to support makes the job search less urgent, says Dustin Miller, 25.
Miller, a former Lawrence fast-food employee, says drawing unemployment has its setbacks, but the free time makes up for that.
“Getting laid off was the best thing to ever happen to me,” Miller says. “Before I was waiting on people all day, making just a little bit more money than I do now without a job. Sure, the (unemployment) checks are small, but I can do what I want, when I want.”
Miller spends most of his time watching movies or hanging out with friends. Not having a job has let him catch up on pop culture. He recently watched the first and second seasons of “True Blood.” Next, he planned to watch “Dexter” to prep for the release of the third season on DVD.
Sarah Skaggs, a new member of the unemployed, is using her time to remodel her house. She’s already ripped up the carpet and put down tile. She’s going to paint her kitchen and bathroom. She’s picked out colors — icy gray for the kitchen, and deep green for the bathroom.
Skaggs also gardens, which helps her save on groceries. And she plans to help paint a house and get paid under the table.
“If my life has shown me anything, it’s that as long as you keep moving, no one can take your birthday away, and that’s the only thing you really need,” Skaggs says. “I try to make sure my time is still worth something, to make sure none of it is wasted.”
Matt Mendoza, a KU film student, subsists on student aid. Without a job, he’s learning how to write screenplays. He basically tries to live the life of the artist, he says. He pores over film books, watches flicks, always consumes and appreciates art.
Getting by without a job comes at a cost, though. Mendoza doesn’t have a car. He can’t afford expenses like gas and insurance. When he needs to go somewhere, he snags a ride, catches a bus, or shuffles around on foot.
Barber limits himself to one meal a day. He can’t afford more than that. And that meal is more often than not a generic box of mac and cheese. But through all the drawbacks, he says unemployment has its benefits. After defeating boss after boss, Barber eased his way through Super Mario Brothers, until he finally arrived at the last castle, where he pelted fireballs at Bowser and effortlessly freed the princess.
“That’s what unemployment gets you,” Barber says. “Not having a job has certainly improved my mad skills on Mario.”