Recession tales: Funemployment is here to stay

Perhaps Janis Joplin said it best: Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. While there have always been people who, when handed a pile of lemons find a way to make lemonade, this recession is proving that we may indeed be a nation of lemonade-makers.

The unspoken motto: Make unemployment, funemployment.

Some use the time off to travel the world, visit friends in faraway places or just chill. But others see the break from the daily grind as a chance to chase a long-deferred dream, take a gamble with starting up their own business and test the limits of their creativity.

Many say that when they aren't panicked over paying the bills, they feel invigorated and energized by the process. Take Mike Guerriero, who was laid off from a big-salaried job at Merck, the pharmaceutical giant.

He took his severance pay and drove 14,000 miles with it. He crossed the country seven times and attended whatever event America was celebrating that day -- the Kentucky Derby, The World's Largest Disco, the Mermaid Parade. The result was a book "Party Across America," and being called "the reigning expert for all things celebratory in the U.S." by CNN.

Or take Tiffany Owens, a magazine and dot com editor who reinvented herself and elevated the art of house-sitting into a business venture.

While Owens and her husband call Portland Ore. home, they are literally, modern-day nomads, which is what their business is called. They function as caretakers for properties, moving around as business dictates.

"The care-taking industry is growing," Owens says, "not only for those who have lost their homes in the mortgage/credit crisis, but also for retirees who are looking for alternative ways to travel."

Matt Goodman, laid off from a job at an ad agency, founded his dream business. He calls it a "community of business with artistic or literary tastes and with a business model driven by creativity, not the bottom line."

In the past few months, Bizhemia has launched multiple startups under its umbrella, including Things My Dog, a Web site for frustrated dog owners to vent about their destructive pooches; Nature Calls Studio, an online art gallery dedicated exclusively to the bathroom; and Larry's Male Escorts, a satirical look at the world of "average male escorting."

Melissa Davis, a 26-year-old immigrant from Belize, was laid off in February. She used the occasion of her unemployment to open a bag of chips and start a blog aimed at young, hip, plus-size women. She's taken seriously enough to have been invited to cover New York City's first Full-Figured Fashion Week.

But lest you think that everyone and their unemployed brother is starting up a new business, the official stats suggest otherwise.

The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, which tracks these things, reports just a slight uptick in the number of homegrown businesses started between 2007 and 2008, the most recent period with data available. And not surprising, the age group with the largest increase in entrepreneurial activity was that of 55- to 64-year-olds, suggesting that older workers are having the hardest time re-entering the corporate workforce.
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