Should I Take a Job That Pays Less Than Unemployment?

By Linsey Knerl on 15 April 2009 (Updated 10 May 2009) 40 comments
Photo: Brian Moore

The statistics are in.  While the unemployment rate was last counted at 8.5%, the underemployment rate (those who quit looking for work or have taken part-time jobs in lieu of a desired full-time job) is up to 15.6%.  So what should you do if you’re offered a lower-paying job while on unemployment?  Should you take it? 

The Bloomberg story that cited the 15.6% rate of underemployment makes several good points.  First, it acknowledges that gaining employment isn’t always what it seems.  Secondly, it points out that there are many unemployed who are no longer receiving unemployment benefits.  And so we’re left with this nagging question of what to do:  Should you take that part-time or lower-paying full time job or just stay on unemployment until something better comes along?  Here are expert tips for both sides of the argument: 

You Should Take That Job 

Many career and living experts say, “Go for it.” Here’s why: 

1.   It Shows That You Have What it Takes  -  “Most employers will find candidates much more marketable and hirable when employed (regardless of how much money they are making) as opposed to staying home and having the government take care of them,” says Jim Luzar, president of Sales Consultants of Brookfield.  He goes on to say that “While the extra money is nice, candidates will in the long run benefit because they are keeping their skills sharpened for the future.  Additionally, it shows courage, drive and guts when you do this, three traits that I personally look for in anyone I hire or place.”   

J.F. (Jim) Straw, of the Business Lyceum, shared a story of a man who took a low-paying job in a TV repair shop during the Silicon Valley tumble years ago (when others in his field were holding out for a better job.)  “He found a job in his career field before any of the others.  Why?  Because the potential employers saw a man who wanted to work ... as evidenced by his taking the low paying job.  It is easier to get a job, when you have a job.”

2.   It Exposes You to More Opportunities – Certainly, there are ways to grow within a company – even if the initial job description is low on the pay scale. Karen Wilson-Dooley, a certified career management coach, encourages job-searchers to ask, “what opportunities are there for advancement with this employer and will I be able to increase wages / position within a respectable length of time? You may consider accepting the position after researching potential opportunities to grow with that company and increase your salary over time.”

3.   It May Give You Back Your Benefits – Karen also echoes the sentiments of many who’ve acknowledged the value of employer-based health insurance, 401K matches, and life insurance.  Unemployment compensation does not provide fringe benefits that a potential employer may provide. Therefore, you need to ask yourself if you are covered under a spouse’s insurance policy and, if so, how much it is costing you to buy coverage under the spouse’s policy vs. a policy you may have with your own employer.”  For many, a decent benefits package may be reason enough to take a lower-paying job. 

You Should NOT Take That Job 

There are many who say just the opposite, however.  Here’s why: 

1.   It Can be a Sign of Desperation – When Beth Colley of Chesapeake Resume Writing Service was asked if there were any benefits to taking a job that paid less than unemployment, her answer was straight to the point:  “None, what-so-ever.”  She says that “Job seekers tend to adopt a desperation mode and give up. When career professionals accept lower paying jobs they typically begin to develop a pattern of instability, jumping from one job to the next for a few extra dollars an hour. This pattern of instability wreaks havoc in terms of resume development and does more to damage a person’s morale and employment opportunities than increase it. Just because someone is earning a pay check, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are being productive.” 

What can job seekers do instead?  Beth recommends taking time to build an effective network of supportive colleagues who can give you quality job leads and do short-term contract work that can provide a livable wage while building their resume.  (Note that contract work must be reported, and may cause you to be ineligible for unemployment compensation.)

2.   It Can Take Time Away from Job-Searching – With many interviews scheduled during working hours, it can be hard to take time away from your new lower-paying job to find better work.  Understand that unemployment may give you the freedom to keep putting 110% into your career search, and that working a lesser job may get you stuck in a rut of not having enough time for better pursuits.

3.   It Can Mess with Your Long-Term Plan – While there are occasions for taking a lower-paying job in the field of your choosing, there’s little to be gained from taking the first job you can get.  “This is not typically the best move,” advises Katie Philips of Snelling Professional Services.  “The long term needs to be considered.  Where do you want to be in 3-5 years?  What path will get you there- does this job take you a step further along that path?  If not, strongly consider looking for a different one.  If the job does take you along the career path that you desire to go down, I’d encourage you to take the opportunity (even if the pay might be less) because it’s an investment in your future.  Maybe you take 1 step back to take 2 steps forward- that’s a good move.  But just accepting any job for a paycheck is not going to better your career in the long term. Period.” 

As you can see, there is often not a straight “yes” or “no” answer for every situation.  By being diligent about creating a long-term plan for your career, carefully assessing each opportunity that comes along, and keeping a positive attitude about you, your chances of landing a career (and not just a job) improve dramatically.  Best of luck with whatever works for you! 

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Guest

Something that has not been mentioned and should be considered is that in some (if not most) states, if you turn down a "reasonable" job offer, even if it pays poorly, consists of requirements which are not acceptable to you, or is just not a good fit, your unemployment benefits can be discontinued.

This happened to me in Ohio a few years ago. I was laid off, then offered a position within the same company consisting of part-time hours, no benefits, little more than minimum wage, and a significant quantity of personal-use vehicle travelling. I turned it down. Then my unemployment benefits were denied due to turning down a "reasonable" offer.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Guest

Very good point to consider. Thank you for bringing this up.

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
Kate

Another good point to keep in mind is depression. I have known so many people to become depressed while unemployed and it spirels them down until they find it almost impossible to find work anyway. At least by working you have a sense of worth.

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Dana

All depends on the job and one's financial situation, no? Good points to consider. Although if the decision is very difficult, then one is not desperate enough ;)

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pam munro

There is also the option of working part time. Actually, the new unemployment rules allow you to do so without a reduction in benefits. Check out their stipulations. So you might explore the job market and get the extra $, too.

As for the man denied unemployment because his old company offered him a much lesser job - companies do that to avoid paying unemployment. I had a temp agency I Had to work for whenever they asked, because otherwise my unemployment $ would have been jeopardized. I LOST $ on those jobs - but I went.

Also remember that if you are a union member, as far as I understand, if you are offered a non-union job, you are not obliged to take it.

Of course, you could also work under the table - but that's a whole other issue...

Guest's picture
Mary

In Illinois you have the option of working part-time while you collect unemployment. However, you can only earn up to 50% of your unemployment benefits. After that, your benefits are reduced dollar for dollar for whatever you earn above the 50%.

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Guest

U can use the part time job to extend out your benfits but the economy has been so bad that it has been extended.

Fred Lee's picture

I think we benefit from staying busy. Keep your feet moving, as they say.

Unemployment is fine if you are in fact motivated to look for work, but if you slip into the abysmal pit of lethargy, which can lead, as Kate pointed out, to depression, it can be hard to climb back out of.

I don't know if I agree that there is no benefit to taking a low paying job, because you can continue to search for work even while you're working, it might even inspire you to search. Also, being on the job can be an effective way to network, and at least it keeps you moving, rather than sitting at home wallowing in self-pity, watching TV.

If you can stay motivated and work hard at whatever you do and take pride in your efforts, I think the boost to your self-esteem is huge. Of course, if you really hate your work and it's taking a toll on you, something needs to be done.

I was unemployed for a short duration after college. I knew I could find a job because of the nature of my work and the fact that I lived close to a major university, but I decided to live the good life and surf and party and survive on unemployment. The major caveat was that I was going to have to live with my parents.

I didn't last three weeks before I was back in human resources looking for a job. I guess it depends on the person, but being at home and being dependent on my parents just brought me down.

While I don't necessarily identify myself with my job, carrying my own weight has value to me.

Linsey Knerl's picture

As a wife to someone who had taken unemployement for the first time a few years back, I totally  understand where you're coming from.  Sometimes working anywhere gives us a bit of hope (even if the monetary value is little.)  Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Linsey Knerl

Maggie Wells's picture

I've been on unemployment for a  few weeks here and there primarily in the summer time when teaching opportunities are slim.

You don't have to get depressed on unemployment. You could look at it as a mini NEA grant. Some of my best creative work was accomplished in these short periods. Did I look for work? Yes. But I wouldn't have taken anything that paid less than I was getting in unemployment and if you are creative odds are, you won't have time to sit in front of the boob tube if you've got projects that need attention.

 

And who knows? Perhaps you'll sell one of the projects you were working on.

 

 

Margaret Garcia-Couoh

Guest's picture

Unemployment insurance runs out and a lower paying job leads to a higher paying job. I would lean to taking it, especially if I am many months into an unsuccessful job search.

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Bartender-ITprofessional

All my lower paying jobs just led to even lower paying job offers. Nothing good ever came from me accepting the low paying job offers. I'm an IT professional (Microsoft Systems Administrator/Analyst) with 20+ years experience, bachelors degree, 4 technical certifications (network+, security+, mcse, mcts) and the offers I'm getting are $35,000! As far as accepting a low paying job offer...all it ever did for me was ruin my career. At 52 years old I'm pretty much finished. 20 years ago I was making about $65,000 and I should be at a much higher salary than that now with my increased skills and experience and certifications etc... It's depressing.

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Paula

I was laid off my job at the end of 2008 because the business closed. For the first time in 35 years I am collecting unemployment and the job market is horrendous out there.

So I am taking this time to not only look for a job that is an even better fit, but when I get tired of beating the pavement, I take time to do creative things, and I may even have a new business for myself.

Getting the new routine down is the hardest part. Just turning off the TV is important. Staying optimistic gets difficult sometimes and that is when I get out and try a new avenue. This is a great opportunity to do some deeper self examination too. Most importantly, just knowing that this is a temporary situation gets me through.

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Julie

I have 2 job offers (not a bad place to be), I am a new college grad, finance, banking, risk management majors
Job #1 - major bank, $30,000/year, match dollar for dollar 401K, insurance (dental and health) I pay, sales, so there are small bonuses, suit all day, in a cubical.
Job #2 - sales for an aquatic company, $22,500/year, 4% comm. on sales, no 401K, insurance (health & dental) I pay, casual dress, in office some days and at sites some days (I love being outside), travel paid.

My mind says get the money, my heart says go for something more enjoyable. HELP

Guest's picture
Guest

Go with the heart.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Having been bound to a cubicle, I'm inclined to say follow your heart.  It is possible, if you think the 2nd job will be available down the road, to take the first and save some money.  But... if the first also means that it's for a major company (who may be hiring often), you should go for the one you love.. especially if it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I wish you the best, whatever you choose!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture
Joan

Thanks...this is helpful to me. I got a call about a well paying job in the area of my career. I would have to relocate and move from a house I have lived in for 20 years. On the other hand, a business opportunity has come up and is as you said "once in a lifetime". I may talk to the prospective employer and tell them I'm looking for something closer to home because it is a very large corporation with multiple locations. Everything has fallen into place as if by fate in my start-up business, and it would be doing what I love. However, it's in the preliminary stages and I haven't yet made the first dollar. Looking at other business models, I believe that I can earn a living in time however. Thank you for your advice, because this is a risky decision when there is a potential lucrative offer on the table. Following your heart can certainly bring an intangible level of contentment that should be factored in! As long as you can truly at least earn a living at it.

Guest's picture

It's always hard to pass up a job but I would only consider taking it if there were opportunities for growth. Otherwise I think it's best to hold out for something while you have the opportunity to look.

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Guest

Out of work 3.5 months. Collecting unemployment which will run out early in April, but I think would be extended. I can earn half of the unemployment amount each week without being penalized; of course the net amount would be about 20-23% lower.

Combining the unemployment and a part-time job, I could make it financially. JUST make it. And I continue to pay nearly $400/month for my health insurance.

I have an opportunity for a "nice" job...with a major corporation in a satellite office...just the boss (whom I like upon first meeting and correspondence) and me. It's a nice office, in the suburbs...no parking to pay and no long commute. I'd be able to leave for work at a reasonable hour..not the crack of dawn..and return at a reasonable hour.

I like the job environment. I'd have to learn a lot of software I don't currently know how to use..so I'm learning the job + the software. I've done it before; I'd have to do it again. I'm a bit worried about that since the person who had the job before no longer lives locally and therefore I'm not sure how the training will work out. That makes me nervous..I like to do a good job! Of course, if I take the job and fail...I guess I'd go back on unemployment...right? (and be embarrassed..never haven't learned to do a job and do it really well)

The money would be $10,000.00 less per year than the unemployment + a part time job. Of course once you net out the health insurance, then the unemployment + part time job is about $5,200.00 more. It makes a difference as to my monthly bills. I'd need family help to make it with the job...unless/until there's a raise...or I decide I have to sell my house and move to a cheaper place.

I considered working a second job so I could make it...but the reality is I cannot most likely. I'm age 60. That's important to know. I can probably pass for age 57 (LOL) and not much less than that due to a serious health problem I had a couple of years ago...took a lot out of me and my face isn't what it once was!! LOL...Now please know that the health issue is mainly resolved; it's not chronic but has left me with some residual issues. Nothing horrific but it took a lot out of me when I was very, very ill.

Oh my last job..which I resigned for hostile work environment situation (violent co-worker had abused several staff members...very violent..boss did nothing...I was awarded unemployment on that basis) - paid me $20,000 more per year than this job but I still paid for my own health insurance. That job I came and went as I pleased...was salaried...and worked from home 2 days per week due to my health. Therefore..I'm not sure I can take on a really hard grind of a job 5 days per week...this job I'm looking into, the work situation..the environment...I think would be do-able.

So...what do you think? What would YOU do? Collect unemployment over the winter and start to job hunt again next spring...or take this job? YOU be the judge!

Just typing this out, I think I know what I might do.

Thank you!

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Guest

Good Luck, I'm almost 60 and my unemployment benefits are more than what I would expect to get working for minimum wage. No one wants us, period. I'm taking college classes online to hopefully improve my job prospects. Your hostile work environment sounds familiar. That's how they weed out the oldies. I am at the end of my rope in all ways.

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Dolores

I've been out of work for a little over a year collecting unemployment. I was in the printing industry-which has been slowly dying for years. I was making 60k a year and now on unemployment I'm getting 600 a week and the job prospects have been less than dismal. I'm in Mass and am eligible for up to 99 weeks. I'm definitely not happy collecting unemployment and am struggling to support myself and two kids. I have been offered a temp job with the possibility of going to perm at $18 an hour. This is 23k less than what I was making previously. It won't include health benefits so that is another expense that I have to consider. If this job doesn't work out for some reason, then my unemployment will be based on this new figure. I'm really torn as to what I should do. I feel like I'm starting all over again. I really need some solid advice.

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Guest

I am at the same "fork in the road" as many of you. I am a full time student and now using my extended unemployment benefits. I honestly have never had such difficulty find a job in my life.

I make $450/wk on unemployment and I think I may have a job offer coming. It would only be part time (maybe 25 hours/wk) because I still have to go to school full time. I am going to be making SIGNIFICANTLY less taking the job. I have two main concerns going against each side though.

One, if I don't take it now I may run into the situation where I can't find anything in the future and risk the chance of being unemployed and having 0 income. The next concern has to do with the fact that I think I may have to get a new car soon. I think the engine block cracked and I may have to get a new car instead of fixing it (depending on how much it's going to cost to fix). Maybe I need to weigh the benefits of getting a new car vs. fixing the one I have that's already paid off.

Any input?

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unemployed 7months

My husband was laid off in Dec.he was already working 2 jobs and the full time job had a huge lay off, so the part time job gave him alot more hours, he never filed for his unemployment because he was getting alot of hours at the part time job, 4 weeks later the full time job called him back to work wanted him to start the next day and he told them he couldnt becasue of the other job but he could go back in a week and finish out his schedule at other job and tell them to put him back part time, well they said no, he had to start back right away well 2 weeks later on he went and filed for unemployment got a check and now the full time place is appealing this because they called him back and he refused? can he be denied for this he really didnt turn it down and what else was he supposed to do you can crap on the part time job that help you out any advice????
Thanks

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Question

Did Unemployment revoked your claim, since your a full time student? Because I under the same situation as a full time student, but was wondering will my claim be denied. I live in NY by the way.

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Kelly Ramirez

Boy, does this all sound familiar! I was laid off almost a year ago and am on extended unemployment benefits right now. I recently interviewed for a company that I thought paid OK, but turns out to be not too great. Now they are offering me a job. Before I was laid off, I was making $21 and hour. On unemployment, I am bringing in $475 week. If I accept this new job, I will be making $10 an hour with the opportunity to earn a monthly bonus that is based on my job performance/collection amounts (the job is with a collection agency). I really want a job. This is the first I have been offered. But I know that with $10 an hour I cannot afford to pay my bills, even AFTER cutting out all UNNECESSARY expenses. I'm wondering if I should decline this job offer and continue to lose sleep every night over when I will find a job, or if I should accept it and begin losing sleep over not being able to pay my bills....Either way, sounds like I'm screwed. Any advice for me, please?

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mommy in il

OMG KELLY, ur situation sounds exactly like mine.... i wonder if its the same job offer... i've been laid off since feb and only starting recieving my unemp ben in may, due to appeals. i interviewed and just recieved an offer for this job, 10/hr plus comm. i use to make twice that, this situation has been plagueing my head in what to do, my unemp benifet amount is way more than i'd be bringing home with the job, and i've never worked in commision before so i don't know what thats like, the hr manager also said my base pay could go down depending on my sales?? ((its not sales cuz its a col agency 2)) but u get what im saying...
i don't know if i should go for it, i just worry if i pass on it what am i looking at in the future,
in my area jobs are extremely limited, especially a day job, which i've never had before ((always worked 2nd/3rd with weekends 2)) so this would be an awesome schedule for my family, but i wander if i should just take this time and maybe go back to school or get training in another field that can offer me better, i have my assoc. but maybe try nursing or something,
Also i've been working non-stop since 15 so im not lazy but i am enjoying this time off especially since i have a 1 year old and my last job was horrible hours too much overtime and stressful so i missed out alot with him already...
so should i take this job and suffer finacially or continue and bond with my kids and find a better job later or what if there isnt one later then im screwed...

Also another question for everyone, i am close to the dollar amount on my unemp statement ((maxium benifet allowed)) do i reaply after that amount has been paid to me, or do i keep getting benifets, hows all that work with extension, ive never been on un employment before

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Guest

I went searching for this conversation because I have just taken a part time job making about 30% less than I get with unemployment. I have been out of work for nearly a year and am on extended unemployment benefits that may even be extended further, but I really started to feel depressed and unworthy after being unemployed for so long and began to feel like I was becoming 'unemployable'. The part time job I found is my 'dream job', it just doesn't make enough money to even bring me above the poverty level, so I have to keep looking (while hoping and praying that the part time job might turn into a full time job is a decent salary). My quandary now is that I feel bad for the company who hired me since I know that they want someone in the job who is going to stay for a while but I know that I will leave as soon as I find a job making even 50% of what I used to make which is 2X what the part time job is giving me (the part time job is a several dollars above minimum wage). Should I feel guilty about taking this part time job, or is that just what the economy is demanding these days?

Guest's picture
Leo

There's one other reason to consider not taking a new job that pays less than unemployment. If you are hired at a new job, and then laid off or fired within a few days to weeks, you no longer qualify for unemployment benefits. Chances are any job which pays less than a monthly unemployment check is one of the first jobs that any company will get rid of if, in this turbulent economic time, the company suddenly needs to shed jobs once again.

According to the American Bar Association Family Legal Guide, there are a number of reasons why an unemployed worker may refuse a job offer and still collect unemployment (http://public.findlaw.com/abaflg/flg-12-5b-5.html).

The listed reasons allowing an unemployed worker to refuse a job are: the job is not suitable work (the worker has no experience in it; it is more hazardous than the worker's previous job; and/or the physical condition of the worker prevents him or her from accepting it); bad working hours; wages well below the community wage levels; excessive travel costs and time; compelling personal problems; a job made available because the entire workforce is on strike; and/or if the wages and conditions of a new job are below those of the worker's previous employment. An example of the last reason is that a skilled craftsperson or technician (such as a carpenter or IT professional) is permitted to refuse a job as a janitor.

Now, these reasons do not have an indefinite period of acceptability. After a few years of unemployment, most states require unemployed workers to "lower their standards" and accept any job. At least initially each of these reasons is a valid reason to refuse a job offer and still collect unemployment benefits.

Guest's picture
Guest

Leo, good point. That had happen to a friend of mine. He took a job and was laid off from the company a month later. The company never paid him for the month he worked there (the company was crooked). The state would not pay his unemployment. He had to fight to get his unemployment.

Needless to say. Thoroughly, research the company before you accept the position.

Also, if you have to pay for childcare in order to work, you might want to seriously consider the cost of childcare vs. accepting a job that pays less than unemployment.

Best of luck to all the job seekers out there. I am in the same boat...heading to the sunrise.

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Eric leyman

Well i live in ohio and i was laid off in march so what did i do went back to school so i am currently in college for medical assisting when i was laid off i was making $13.50 an hour not including the dollar an hour shift differential well anyways they have this random program for unemployment where they call or email you a job number usually twice a day and you have to call them about these jobs and every job i have called them about has not ben more than $8 an hour and when i refuse it they get all mad and argue with me about it and say i could lose my benefits could i lose my benefits for turning down jobs making at least $5.50 less an hour than what i was making when i was laid off

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Unemployed Floridian

I live in Florida, where the max unemployment rate is tragically LOWER than federal minimum wage. So the chances of being offered a job paying less than unempoyment are virtually impossible.

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Guest

In Kentucky when your getting unemployment beneifts, if you get hired for a part time job that only offers minimum wage (7.25) and only 20 hrs a week....do you have to take that job if you make more claiming UI?...what if its not enough to pay your bills and your expecting a baby in 3 in half months?... please help!

Guest's picture
Guest

Being unemployed for 18 months, I am thinking about looking for 'full time seasonal' garden jobs not related to my skill set and schooling. These jobs pay less than my unemployment benefits. This is the type of job that anyone can do. I am not sure if this is considered 'suitable' work for employment since I have a technical degree and have been in the profession for over twenty years. Ideally, I would like to work part time so that I can continue my job searches in my field and keep up with my technical skills at home. Comments?

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Guest

Absent motivation such as impressing a potential future employer, it doesn't make sense to do anything other than collect the unemployment. What this is saying that people are willing to hire only if you are so desperate for work that you will take such a low pay. Right now, you are not quite that desperate. You are getting some insurance coverage for insurance you have paid for. And you can use that time to make yourself more marketable.

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leeanne

I want to know how much lower an hour im required to work while looking for a job on unemployment.For example if i got paid 15 an hour do i have to take a job that pays minimum wage?

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Guest

Wow-just read all of the post! I'm so stuck on what to do as well! Received a job offer in my line of profession. No health benefits, and the benefits that they do offer are limited. I was not pleased at the salary the interviewer threw at me. I was actually speechless. Just started unemployment insurance mid-October. I've turned down this offer on numerous occasions but they keep calling me. I've tried in vain to have them up the pay scale. I really don't know what to do? Do I take advantage of my unemployment opportunity and go for career training? I think I appeared too eager when I went on the interview and the prospective employer took that to her advantage. They were seeking me to work for them when I was working and I turned them down. I bet i was worth more to them at the previous moment. I walked away from the interview, happy to have a job opportunity and insulted at the same time. I couldn't help ask-"Is this what I'm worth?'. It does do damage to your self respect. So now what? Hold on to your unemployment insurance and self respect and pray for the best or accept the position at a low-ball scale with no benefits and pray for the best?!

Guest's picture
help please

ok so i have been on unemployment for awhile now, but looking for employment, i received a job offer today that is an hour and 20min drive from my home making only minimum wage!! will i lose my benefits if i decline this job?

Guest's picture
Guest

No. You are in luck. I don't think that you will lose the benefits if you are offered the job and decline. As it is not a reasonable commute you don't have to take it.
In NY State, a reasonable commute is 1 hour by car and 1.5-2hours by public transportation. Don't hold me to this. Check the department of unemployment rules for your state. Good luck!@

Guest's picture
Guest

I have worked for years as an Adm. Assistant. The Company moved to Dallas.
I have been looking for jobs of any kind including houskeer or nanny with not luck at all.
I'm collecting benefits and is not enough, I have to support my handycap parents that do not qualify for benefits. I got a job offer of $7.00 hour we can not survive with that money, there is no way to wrogh in that Company even the suprvisors make $8.50 hourly. I have to stay in unemployment. Also, Companies are hiring reicruters to choose the personel wich makes worst to find a job.

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Guest

what about commision only sales job that you know wont produce any income - and you have to drive your own car