24 March 2003
It was a somber weekend for me, with the Gulf war in the background, adding to the doom and gloom of the recession and economic slow down.
There is not much cheer these days, and I decided to spend Sunday afternoon with a friend who has been jobless for the better part of 2 years now. John’s (not his real name) financial status remains sound as
he has substantial savings. The extended job search has instead impacted on his more vulnerable psyche. Just two years ago, he was a self-confident and happy IT engineer.
In fact he maintained this positive attitude even a year later. He was unphased by his initial lack of success and stuck to his regime, waking at 6.30am in the morning, sending the children to school and dropping the wife at work before going to the gym. Thereafter he would scan the classifieds and send unsolicited applications to perspective employers. He kept his upbeat sentiment and also attempted to widen his network.
Cashflow was not a problem yet as John’s wife earned a decent pay packet with an off-shore bank. But being reduced from a dual income to a single income family meant making certain lifestyle changes. The country club was gone, and a modest 1.6 liter Japanese car replaced the 2 liter BMW. But John took all this in his stride in the first year.
“The problem really starts when you realize you are unlikely to get any job in the near term.” John said.
“The first 6 month to a year are easy, I still had supportive friends and relatives, and most importantly the moral backing of my wife.” He smiled.
“But after maybe 9 months, people begin to look at me with different eyes. They wonder why I can’t get a job. Am I too choosy? Sure the economy is bad, but there are still jobs, settle for less, now’s not the time for pride.”
At this stage I felt a tinge of guilt as I recalled that I too had gently prompted John to “explore other options, other then just IT work.”
“I tried everything, every single decent job I could think of. During the initial 3-6 months I applied mainly for managerial IT positions.”
“Later on I widened this to junior-mid level IT related positions.”
“Finally I applied for any office work I could find. Admin, clerical, IT, you name it. I was either overqualified, or did not have the relevant experience. Lets face it, if you needed a admin assistant, which would you choose, a fresh 24 year graduate, or a 35 year old unemployed IT engineer.”
“They always say the younger ones are easier to train. But its not like I am pushing 80 here.”
With a blink of an eye, Chinese New Year was here again. “It would be my second New Year as an “Unemployed Professional”” he conceded. “And I avoided visitations. We did not have the cash to go on vacation, so most of the two weeks during Chinese New Year was spent locked in our flat, with doors and windows closed.”
“If a few friends did visit, we pretended to be out and did not pick-
up their calls.”
“As for my routine, well I still drop the kids and wife off in the morning, but I have sold the club membership. Its not that encouraging to go to the gym every morning during office hours and meet only house-wives and retired aunties/uncles who give you a questioning look.”
“Instead, I’ll just drive to east coast park and go for a jog. It’s a
solitary sport, but it helps me keep my sanity and peace of mind.”
“I could deal with all of this, but the real blow came when I felt my wife abandoning me.” He said with a slight break in his voice.
“We used to go for some of her corporate functions together, like D&Ds. Last year she specifically told me she would go without me. She had to go as her bosses expected her, but she could did not want to bring me along.”
“I said I’d understand, but what really hurt me most was the curt manner in which she made known her decision to me.”
“The other factor which placed more distance between us was when I had to turn to her for financial help. I no longer had a salary and she picks up the tabs at the supermarket etc.”
As the long draught dragged on, it took its inevitable toll on the man. From a happy, well balanced, socially active and out-going person, I saw him reduced over the months to a mere shell of his former self.
He was now a social recluse, waking up only well after lunch.
Two Years. That’s how long, a gentle reminder that Singapore never really recovered from the recession in Sep 11. In fact it been one long track down hill since, with no pick-up. The Straits Times and local media have always played down the extent of this long drawn financial draught. But some aspects of it just cannot be hidden.
Over the weeks, Singapore Review has received several letters/e-mail submissions from readers voicing their grievances. Many have turned to us as an alternative avenue (to the SPH news media) to express their heart felt opinions.
Additional to its duty to make available newsworthy articles and information, we hope that Singapore Review can also function as a voice of the heart-landers, especially in a socially and politically oppressive environment that is bereft of bona fide avenues of expressions. It is in times like this that a credible news paper must bite its teeth and be a sounding board for the voice of the masses.