Getting fired is a source of anxiety for many Americans, but it has come to my attention there is a group that would welcome this news: Artists. Creative individuals needing more time to work on their passions are often able to do so by collecting unemployment and leading frugal lifestyles.

Traditionally, getting fired and collecting unemployment has been a source of embarrassment for most individuals, but today’s poor job market has made it more socially acceptable to be out of work. According to the Department of Labor, jobless claims rose last week by 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted rate of 429,000 — reaching above 11,000 for the fourth week in a row.

The sentiments in this article do not apply to all artists or individuals, but are just observations I have made since moving to New York.

Unemployment Overview

The unemployment rules vary for each state, the ones highlighted here are based on The New York State Department of Labor’s website.

First and foremost, you cannot just take a sabbatical from work, you must be laid off to be eligible for unemployment. Individuals who quit are not eligible unless they feel their work environment was threatening and could prove it to officials. Temporary and seasonal employees may also be considered for unemployment benefits. Those collecting unemployment are expected to be actively looking for another job during their period of joblessness.

New York state unemployment benefits offer up to $405 a week depending on whether or not you have partial employment. Benefits are still awarded if you work three days or less and make less than $405 at this part-time job, but each day of work causes your benefit rate to drop one-quarter.

The rules of benefitting for unemployment cover a vast amount of situations and exclusions. To see a more in-depth overview check out the FAQ’s sheet on the New York State Department of Labor site.

Getting Fired is a Dream

One of the requirements to earn unemployment is you must be actively looking for another job, and here is where the loophole comes into play. The Department of Labor will basically take an individual’s word on whether or not they are looking for a job; they do not usually fact-check to verify.

When I first moved to New York I was really interested in the comedy scene. After making quite a few friends who had dreams of becoming professional stand-up comedians I noticed that none of them had jobs. This is when I learned they were all collecting unemployment benefits while pursuing their dreams.

“For an artist to work somewhere a while, then get fired or whatever is a dream. Especially if you can be on unemployment for a couple of years.” – N.C.*

The afore-mentioned loophole has allowed the comedians and artists I know to sit back and collect unemployment while ‘working on their craft’. Understandably, working in the corporate world makes it difficult to pursue time-consuming creative endeavors, but is this fair?

Now, there are limits to benefits and certain exclusions, the benefits are also subject to Federal Income Taxes. Claims can last up to one year, but there is a cap of how many times (26) you can receive the maximum $405 weekly rate and of course, unemployment does eventually run out.

Living on unemployment definitely is not the most glamorous lifestyle and I am sure many individuals would try to avoid it at all costs. But those that are young, single and creative see it as a convenient way of making enough to live without needing to work a typical 9-5 job.

Peter Pan Generation Takes Advantage of Unemployment

Similar traits can be seen in boomerang kids, who move home after school. Without responsibilities like rent, utilities and groceries they have no rush to start working.

A widely popular New York Times article, “What is it about 20-somethings?” also talks about this Peter Pan Generation, or the generation that doesn’t want to grow up:

“The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.”

As expectations of being “an adult” shift with societal changes, it seems collecting unemployment has become more acceptable as the younger generations attempt to figure out what it is they want to do with their lives.

Although I don’t think there is a big enough number of individuals unfairly taking advantage of these benefits to impact the economy, I do find it interesting that so many in the New York comedy community have gladly turned to unemployment to sustain themselves as they do stand-up around town.

P.S Oh, and the title is not reflective of what I want — just letting the team know that.

*Name withheld for anonymity.

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Ask a Question

  • Anonymous

    Has there ever been a generation that didn’t say of the next one, “I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today?” (“Bye Bye Birdie”, written over 50 years ago).  The major reason that kids of any generation can get away with this kind of behavior is that THEIR PARENTS LET THEM. The major blame for children not getting on with their lives goes to the kids, but if the parents don’t let them sponge, lounge, and loiter, they have to rise or fall on their own merits and motivation. 

  • Denise Gabbard

    I would be scared silly if my income was only $405 in New York City; costs are so high that even with a few roommates that would be a stretch, no?
    Fair or not, I think many that are laid off are wise to look for a different way to make a living. Life is fairly uncertain nowadays and a back-up plan is no longer optional.