Hey, Bonita!

My Unemployed Roommate

Hey Bonita,

My roommate lost his job two months ago, and he’s needed a lot of help since then, on top of not really showing much effort to help himself get back on his feet. I’ve been helping cover rent and utilities the best I can, but I can’t afford to keep doing this, and I shouldn’t have to at all. They had two job interviews earlier this week; one was offered immediately after. They didn’t take it. There’s been every excuse that it wasn’t the right job, but at this point I just feel like any job is the right job. I’m not expecting him to settle for a bad situation, but he can keep looking for a better job. Right now we have bills to pay. I just don’t know how to nudge him into getting a job and back on top of bills, let alone paying me back for what I’ve covered. It’s so much stress for something I didn’t do or sign up for.


Going Broke

Hey there, Going Broke,

There’s a certain point during an extended job hunt where a particular type of ennui sets in and makes the whole thing feel pointless. For me it was filling out app after app at the various higher education institutions in our county and getting no bites, which went on for five whole months before I finally found the day job that I still currently have. It can feel like you’re doing every single thing you can, and it can be really frustrating to get no responses when you’re truly putting your best foot forward. 

Now, your roommate isn’t having that specific experience—they’re applying and getting interviews, but then turned down the one offer they did get. For someone who shares a household with an unemployed person, that can be infuriating—like you said, y’all have bills to pay—but I’m sure he’s rationalized a perfectly good reason to have said no. Maybe it’s not the industry in which they are looking to make a career, or maybe the pay was too little to really be helpful. I’m writing this the day after Valentine’s, and my heart feels squishy and empathetic to your roomie’s struggle, because I’ve been there in this town, too, and more than once.  

However, it is 100% not OK to have you paying all of the rent and bills while they look for work. Have you been clear with your roommate about how burdensome this new financial responsibility is for you? If I were you, I’d lay out all the salient ways in which this arrangement is not sustainable for your household, and may require you to make changes that don’t include living with them. I’ve had my room rented out from under me during a stint of unemployment, and it still hurts to think about, and I don’t think it’s necessary to be that shitty to your roomie if you two really are friends. You need to be telling them everything that’s going through your mind regarding your household, especially if it includes getting a new roommate who can actually pay bills. Seeing the writing on the wall may motivate them to accept a less-than-ideal job to hold them over until something better comes along, or maybe they have a relative that they can ask for help while continuing their search. Either way, they need to know that what they’re doing is not OK, and that you won’t continue to let it slide. It is in your best interest to lay down some hard boundaries around this issue (“You have to pay your share of our March bills or move out because I really cannot afford it by myself”) so you two don’t end up having a giant, friendship-destroying blowout over money.

Also, your roommate should be availing themselves of public assistance while unemployed. They can apply for emergency SNAP benefits to cover groceries (yes, single individuals do qualify for emergency food stamps), and they might even qualify for unemployment depending on how they lost their job. This type of assistance is designed to be used exactly for situations like your roommate’s.

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