Faces of the unemployed: Always have a backup plan

Like probably most every out-of-work person, Barbara Egbert has a backup plan for when her unemployment benefits expire and she's out of money: Starbucks, McDonald's, temporary office work or some such "emergency job."

While working an average of 20 hours a week since being laid off twice in the past 17 months as a writer and editor, Egbert, of Sunol, Calif., says she has until the end of the year to either find a full-time job or to double her freelance work.

Without the work, she expects she might have to lower her job expectations and work as a fast-food clerk part-time, or maybe do front-office work at a hospital.

The main thing pushing the issue is that her federal subsidy for health benefits runs out at the end of 2009, when her COBRA premiums will increase substantially.

Those are some of the issues we discussed in a video interview:

I doubt I'll ever see her working as a cashier at McDonald's. She has enough writing and editing experience that should lead her to online jobs.

Egbert worked as a copy editor and editorial writer at the San Jose Mercury News for 11 years before being laid off in February 2008. She got a job six months later at Stanford University as a writer, but was laid off in January. Her book about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail with her husband and daughter was published last year.

She spends about five hours per week job hunting during weeks when she has freelance work to do. Otherwise, she's looking for 12 to 14 hours per week, which she expects to increase when the economy rebounds.

Her husband has been a stay-at-home dad since their daughter was born 15 years ago. He's now studying to get a job, so the family basically lives on Barbara Egbert's income.

"We've always been very thrifty, so we had built up our savings while I was working full time," she said.

So far that savings hasn't been pulled from yet, although Egbert foresees the day of that possibly happening. Either that or find another job to bring money in.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net

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