Thursday, September 3, 2015

William West

19/60 As companies laid off oceans of employees during the recession, Cigna Corp. and other health insurers experienced a ripple effect that was more like a tsunami.

William West

William West
William West Jane M. Von Bergen / Staff photographer

19/60 As companies laid off oceans of employees during the recession, Cigna Corp. and other health insurers experienced a ripple effect that was more like a tsunami.

Unable to afford premiums, the unemployed dropped health coverage. Meanwhile, their former employers simply had fewer people to insure. Insurance companies responded with their own massive layoffs.

That's the wave that knocked William K. West, 63, off his feet and out of his job in corporate communications at Cigna after 16 years. He was laid off in January 2009.

Mostly, West specialized in internal communications, but in the last few years, he worked for a small separate unit, handling all aspects of communication, including media relations.

More coverage
Looking for Work: The 60-day series so far
A walk on the nonprofit side
A man of varied interests
Two generations out of work

"I like everything about writing," he said. "It's very comfortable for me to pick up a pen and start fooling around on a piece of paper. I love to solve communications problems."

West has also edited a mix of magazines, including the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Magazine, the American Kennel Gazette, and Progressive Grocer. "I enjoy going into supermarkets," he said, "because I know a certain amount of what's going on behind the scenes."

Unemployment has been tough. How has the job hunt gone? "The one-word answer is slow, and the two-word answer is very slow," he said.

He has been in the final round of two or three candidates a few times, "but that doesn't get you the job," he said.

He is currently doing some freelance writing and editing, but not enough to pay the bills.

"Between my wife's job and my unemployment benefits, we're making less than half" of the family's previous income. His two children are grown and on their own.

"Basically, this was the period of time that we were going to be saving money for retirement," he said.

Update: As of December, 2011, West is enjoying his parttime work as a writer and editor.

  • WilliamWest
  • Hometown: Philadelphia.
  • Profession: Writing, editing, corporate communications.
  • Experience: Directed corporate publications;
    edited magazines; edited a
    12-volume academic dictionary.
  • Education: Columbia University -
    master's in philosophy,
    medieval history
  • E-mail address:
  • William West's LinkedIn page

But bad things happen. "In the last month, an [electrical] outlet blew up. A bed was soaking wet, so we need a new roof. So now," he said, "our cushion is a little thinner than it was."

Like many other jobless people, West spends some of his time volunteering. He tutors at Mighty Writers, an after-school program focused on writing. He also works for advocacy organizations, including political campaigns and the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.

Having completed 10 marathons himself, he serves as a volunteer runner at Back on My Feet, a running and rehabilitation program for people in homeless shelters.

The Inquirer is not endorsing this individual as a job candidate; potential employers should conduct their own background checks.

Contact staff writer Jane M. Von Bergen at 215-854-2769 or jvonbergen@phill

Inquirer Staff Writer
We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue.
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines.

Comment policy: comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Read 0 comments
comments powered by Disqus
About this blog

Jobbing covers the workplace – employment, unemployment, management, unions, legal issues, labor economics, benefits, work-life balance, workforce development, trends and profiles.

Jane M. Von Bergen writes about workplace issues for the Inquirer.

Married to a photographer she met at her college newspaper, Von Bergen has been a reporter since fourth grade, covering education, government, retailing, courts, marketing and business. “I love the specific detail that tells the story,” she says.

Reach Jane M. at

Jane M. Von Bergen Inquirer Staff Writer
Also on
letter icon Newsletter