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A layoff isn’t so bad for some

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TESS VIGELAND: The employment picture has been getting more grim with each passing month. The unemployment rate now stands at eight and a half percent. Repercussions are everywhere: foreclosed homes, mounting debt. But there’s another side to the story. People with large savings accounts — or whose pink slips came with severance packages. Many are young and single, and for them unemployment is a chance to, yes, live it up. Julie Rose of member station WFAE in Charlotte found some of them.

Julie Rose: The subject line of the email read “LAID OFF!!” — all caps, two exclamation points. It was from my friend Jenny Van Stone, an interior designer. I felt terrible thinking of her down in the unemployment line. But a few weeks later, I started getting emails from her that were like, “Hey, can’t write now. Off to meet a friend for coffee.” Or “Headed to the park. We’ll talk later.”

Jenny Van Stone: As long as I get my resumes out, I make a little bit of an effort to look for work, gosh it’s a great feeling. It is like being on vacation some days. Like ‘What do I want to do today?’

I tell you what I’d like to do is get home from work just once this week before the sun sets. And I know this sounds awful, but I’m jealous of Jenny. She’s doing more yoga, taking road trips and her social life’s booming.

Van Stone: I can stay out later at night because I can take a nap the next day if I’m worn out. Now I have flexibility.

You could say flexibility and freedom are the upside to being laid off. If there is an upside. But the unemployment grass isn’t always as green as it seems.

I meet Yaqui Benson at an after-hours mixer for people who’ve been pink-slipped. She’s been out of work for two months.

Yaqui Benson: I do take time out and go to the movies. I’ll go volunteer. I’ll go and visit with friends. It keeps me from focusing so hard on the fact that I don’t have a job, because it can be depressing.

Nonprofits say they’re getting lots of calls from unemployed people with extra time on their hands. Jeff Steiner’s started volunteering, too, since he was laid off from a Charlotte law firm in August. He says he’s not treating unemployment like a party, but he knows people who are.

Jeff Steiner: People who haven’t done a thing literally since August, that will go out drinking seven nights a week til 2 a.m. every night. You know, I mean it’s dumb.

Maybe he’s not out drinking every night, but Jeff’s also not exactly hurting. With a nice severance package, he has the luxury of taking a little time to decide what comes next.

Steiner: You know getting a job at a large, top 50 law firm these days is an absolute disaster. So you’ve got to use this time to either reinvent your career path, or you can say alright let me tread water doing something I hate and hope that in two years there’s a position waiting for me.

That’s how Jenny’s taking things, too — especially since interior design jobs are hard to come by.

Van Stone: It’s about not jumping onto the first thing available. It’s about finding the right thing for me. I definitely feel like there’s been a huge silver lining. And I’m looking at it as an opportunity, more than a crisis.

Jenny’s fortunate that losing her job didn’t plunge her into immediate crisis, and she knows it. But she’s going on four months without work now. The unemployment checks will soon stop coming and her savings will eventually run out.

So, she’s given me permission to envy her free time. As long as I remember that it comes with a price.

In Charlotte, N.C., I’m Julie Rose, for Marketplace Money.

Vigeland: By the way, one of Julie’s sources — Yaqui Benson — got some good news recently — a temp job in IT at a local bank.

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